The Use of Deadly Force

knife horiz

Recently our agency experienced an officer-involved shooting. The suspect in this case used a knife to attack two police officers and as a result was shot several times by one of the officers. As of this writing, the suspect is recovering, and is expected to face serious criminal charges for his actions.  No police officers were hurt in the attack.

For the most part our department enjoys widespread community support. There will always be those who don’t support us, even hate us, and as much as we would like to, we won’t be able to change their minds about this. My job is to provide the same service to everyone regardless of their feelings toward us.

Generally speaking, there is a small percentage of people who speak negatively about the police after a deadly force incident and the same is true for our agency. Even more so when the suspect “only” uses a knife. We get some negative comments after using deadly force on a knife-wielding attacker, such as:

  • “I thought the police were supposed to disarm people with knives.”
  • “The police should have used a Taser or martial arts, not a gun.”
  • “Why did they shoot him so many times?”

And one of my favorites:

  • “Why didn’t they shoot him in the leg?”

My first response to these comments is: Thanks, Hollywood!

Bruce Willis, Matt Damon and Steven Segal are actors and when they shoot people in movies, special effects are used. Shooting victims fly backward and almost always die instantaneously.  Sometimes these actors shoot people in the arm or leg and the results are dramatic. Real life is different. Real life is…real.

Police officers are trained to shoot until the threat stops.  Once the situation deteriorates to the point of using deady force, only three things can stop a suspect once an attack has begun:

  • The attacker must receive an injury that disrupts electrical activity in the brain or spine. When this occurs, the person will stop.
  • The attacker must receive an injury that causes loss of blood pressure.  When he passes out, he will stop.
  • The attacker must decide to stop the attack, i.e. receives an injury or realizes he’s been shot and changes his mind.

Based on this, aiming for the arms or legs will be ineffective. There is little hope that martial arts will work.  Tasers are only effective if the suspect is within 25 feet and both of the electrodes penetrate the skin of the assailant and the device works properly. Bean bag shotguns only work as well as a baseball bat and can therefore only serve to change the attacker’s mind, mid-attack. The bottom line: All of these alternatives place the officer in greater danger and increase the chances of being seriously hurt or killed.

Police officers are trained in defensive tactics, offensive arrest tactics, use of Tasers, bean-bag shotguns, and firearms.  A good portion of the training has to do with technique and accuracy.  A larger portion and the more important part of the training centers on WHEN to use force, how much force to use, and which weapon, if any, to use.  All of this must be decided under the stress of a rapidly deteriorating situation.

We give police officers training, weapons, communication equipment and protective equipment. We empower them to deal with the element of society that no one else wants to, or is equipped to deal with. We expect them to treat citizens with respect and dignity and act in a professional manner at all times. We expect them to do these things in the heat, the cold, the wind and rain, the snow, during all hours of the day and night including weekends and holidays. Police officers leave their families to go out into the streets to find and eliminate threats to the citizens they are sworn to protect.

Just for the record, and this should really go without saying: I expect those police officers to return to their families, safe and sound.  I expect them to stay alive, even if that means taking a life to protect their own.

Knives are deadly weapons. We know this because 13.4% of all murders committed last year were committed with knives.  You can believe what you want, but in the final analysis someone attacking a police officer with a knife is taking his own life in his hands, and if the incident cannot be resolved any other way, I expect the police officer to respond in a manner consistent with his or her training.

To the people who expect us to use Kung-Fu on a would-be cop-killer with a knife or other weapon: My police officers’ #1 priority is to stay alive.  Their #2 priority is to protect the lives of innocent citizens.  Their last priority is to worry about the health and well-being of someone trying to kill them.

For the rest of you, thank you for your understanding and support.

About chiefsview

Former police chief. Mildly opinionated.
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51 Responses to The Use of Deadly Force

  1. Lake Co 911 says:

    Well said!!

    ..Julie Wegener Lake County 9-1-1 Communications Madison, SD

    • Lauren P says:

      EXACTLY! Good job Rapid City Police Department!


      you people are heros and your community should stand behind you witch i suppect 95% of the community does. thank you for putting your lives on the line for us every day. SCOTT KRUSZYNSKI FREMONT MI.

  2. malory kirkpatrick says:

    Very well and politely said…. Hopefully this will open up some peoples eyes

  3. Lori Martin says:

    Bless you and all officers who stand between us and those who would do harm. No officer uses deadly force on a whim because it is just that, deadly. I support you 100% and thank you for the job you do.

  4. MikeRodgers says:

    It’s real life people, and real people sometimes lose their lives due to poor choices and actions. Real children’s police officer parents don’t come home at night if they don’t end the threat to their lives. Well put Chief, thank you and the RCPD. God bless

  5. Tamara Snyder says:

    Way to go Chief!

  6. Tammy L. McGaa says:

    You can believe what you want, but in the final analysis someone attacking a police officer with a knife is taking his own life in his hands, and if the incident cannot be resolved any other way, I expect the police officer to respond in a manner consistent with his or her training.

    i think it really boils down to this…when a person decides to commit a crime, especially a crime with violence and/or deadly intent, they have put their own life at risk, no two ways about it. to my way of thinking they have forfeited their life, and should they live through it, then they can thank the law for its mercy.

    excellent job RCPD…keep up the good work and may GOD watch over and protect all of you.

  7. Nicely framed, Chief. I am sharing your post with my officers.

  8. Mark Caldwell says:

    Chief … Very well said & a very good use of social media.
    As a former law enforcement officer for over 30 years I know how dangerous an edged weapon could be in the hands of someone intent on using it. Our training always highlighted to not allow a suspect with an edged weapon who is threatening you (or others) within 21 feet due to perception/reaction time.
    Your officers should be commended!

  9. Jennifer says:

    I am your biggest cheerleader, Chief. Thank you for keeping Rapid City safe and caring about its residents.

  10. James Gentile Jr. says:

    Well spoken Chief ! I Believe in a SAFE community .
    James Gentile Jr.
    Spring 2012 C.P.A.

  11. Pingback: RCPD chief to Hollywood: ‘Thanks’ | Rapid City

  12. Becky says:

    Very well said Chief. This is NOT Hollywood. It is real life. Thanks to RCPD for all they do.
    Becky Eisenbraun
    Current CPA student

  13. Mandy says:

    Very well said. One of the last line sums it up perfectly. The last priority should be the well being of the attacker. Where would we be without the protection of our police department? Thanks for putting your lives on the line for your community.

  14. lefserules says:

    Well said, Chief. One thing the public doesn’t realize about knives is this: I could shoot at you and miss. I could take a swipe at you with a knife and miss and still inflict damage. Do that enough times and the situation can deteriorate rather quickly. I completely agree with the 21 foot policy that Mark Caldwell talks about. Take care and remember that it is always better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  15. Lisa Schenzel says:

    My fellow/former brothers and sisters in law enforcement, I will ALWAYS have so much respect for you all and wish you all safe journeys. Thank you for the job you do. Excellently written!!

  16. Dan says:

    I wish all public officials would use social media and clearly explain issues like you have chief. You are a brilliant example of how simple it is to connect to your citizens and explain current issues. I think your argument also holds water in the conversation of citizens carrying weapons these days. Everyone wants it to be like Hollywood and believe they can be a hero and take a life in a dangerous situation but we don’t understand the total ramifications. Leave the hero work for the officers. Thank you to you and your officers for all the work you do!

  17. Jessica says:

    You have my support! RCPD thanks for protecting my family and friends in RC. This situation could’ve ended very badly without the help of the local law enforcement! Nice job!

  18. Chief, As always your blog is well written and on point. Your use of social media is a perfect example of how public officials can deliver a difficult message to the public in a thoughtful and easily understandable fashion. I’ve watched you work a budget to the last penny, never loosing sight of the impact on those who report to you. Every citizen of Rapid City, especially those who wear blue, should be proud to have you as our “Chief”. Thank you for all you do to make Rapid city a better place to live. Dave

  19. Wilbur Holz says:

    Thank you for your words and more importantly thank you for the leadership you provide to the men and women who do such an excellent job for the city of Rapid City. I have witnessed interactions between the police and some of our downtown “neighbors” which have been nothing but respectful and courteous.
    Pastor Wilbur Holz
    Trinity Lutheran

  20. Coleen Schmidt says:

    I have the greatest respect for the Police Department, its management and the training that the officers receive so they remain as cool as possible under the most challenging and dangerous of conditions. I certainly commend Officer Moore for using excellent judgment in the recent knife incident at the Library, moving the individual away from patrons and citizens who were on the street, and placing himself in danger to protect the public. This is a tribute to the excellent leadership you provide to the Department. On behalf of myself and the community, thank you for all that you do to make our community safer and enhance our quality of life.

  21. Art Janklow says:

    Well said! I agree with not only the your remarks; but also impressed by the thoughtfulness of the comments that followed.. Rapid City has a lot to be thankful for…

  22. Paula Gunderson says:

    Thank you so much for all you and the Rapid City Police Department do to protect the citizens of Rapid. You do an amazing job and my family and I are in full support of ever officer making it home to his family at the end of every shift. Public service is a difficult professional and it takes a special person to do it!

  23. Kd92Mesa says:

    The attacker needs to be thankful also. I live in Arizona, down here if officers are attacked the attacker winds up Dead, with quit a few more rounds in them. Hats off to the Rapid City Police force.

  24. I love your opinion on this. Many people ignorantly think that Police are just out there to get people or shoot people when they’re just trying to protect themselves and the public. Here in Saskatchewan we hear a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter always “upset” that Police are allowed to talk on a cell phone but the public isn’t. The ignorance of some people is simply astounding. We need more chiefs like you.
    Keep up the great work.

  25. Mike says:

    Thanks for Standing up for your officers. There are too many Monday morning quarterbacks and even some administrators second guess those on the front lines.
    stay safe

  26. Lt Anthony Mercurio says:

    Well done Chief. If you send your officers out to do their job, they need to know that you will support them when they are right. Clearly you are leading from the front. Great job by the RCPD and I commend the officers for their actions.

  27. grnhsebldr says:

    Very well written as a means of explaining the situation. Your willingness to take the time to better explain scenarios through your blog makes it easier for all of us to see the challenges you and your staff encounter.

  28. Chief, Thanks for your service and leadership; enabling the RCPD to protect our city. Your critics have likely never been in a life threatning situation and do watch too much TV drama. In 30 years of Army service I fired Expert over 50 times. We were taught to fire center of mass 2 times, relook, fire 2 more. I appreciate your logical expanations to the uninformed.

  29. Oneil says:

    I hope you dont mind my sharing your letter with our governing body. They have unrealistic expectations of our department in matters of use of force and officer safety issues. One of my goals this year is to educate them. This will help. Thank you/

  30. Del Bock says:

    Nicely stated! I appreciate this as I have family members who are in law enforcement (one in Rapid City police department and one in highway patrol). They bravely put their lives on the line everyday and leave their beautiful children every day praying they come home safe and sound to continue to be parents to them. I admire their courage and fortitude and agree wholeheartedly with the words and wisdom you share. Thank you!

  31. J Weber says:

    Great post chief! Your message will be shared here in Wisconsin!

  32. Melanie Shannon says:

    I am always impressed with your articles.
    Long ago, for many years, I was married to a Miami-Dade police officer. Back in the days when the excessive force policies were first coming out, it seemed that there was more worry for the criminals than the officers safety. I used to hear so many stories about how many of their arrests ended up with personnel complaints against the officer. This was very frustrating. Police Officers are not the enemy!

    Some have already said it here, but we have to remember, that when a person makes the (unfortunate) decision to take any action that threatens harm to an officer, THEY chose their path. In those few seconds where an Officer has to act to protect himself, his co-workers and the public, there isn’t time to evaluate if a person is mentally defective, suicidal, just “kidding” or any other number of possible scenarios or mental status. I think there needs to be more education of the public about the consequences of dangerous behavior. What sounds like common sense to most of us, seems to not be understood by too many.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
    Be safe.

  33. Emily says:

    As a wife of a police officer as well as an employee at the hospital, I often hear and see two sides to every story. People are always going to believe what they want to believe, and very often that is nothing more than gossip. It is easy for others to judge when they have no idea of the truth of the situation. “Well, the attacker is in the hospital, and the officers are just fine,” is a comment I often heard. It is very upsetting to me and hard to be unbiased in these type of situations. After hearing several of these comments, I had to say, “So, if the officers were in the hospital, would that make you feel better? Do you recall a certain incident not so very long ago when this was the case?” Police officers are sworn to serve and protect and I have the utmost respect for them. How difficult it must be to protect those that want nothing more than to cause harm to others.

  34. Well said, but you forgot, “Why didn’t they shoot the knife out of his hand?”

  35. akinuwan says:

    Chief Allender,
    I commend RCPD for the many issues and obstacles faced on a daily basis. I have a question which went answered by the RCPD facebook page by being banned from commenting. When will your department ACTIVELY recruit Native officers? Our Native community seems to be blamed for the crimes in the city, the alcoholism/drug abuse and the violence. It seems the majority of R.C.’s non-Indian population shares the belief that we Natives are all the same. The admin of your fb page included) Have you tried to create a position for a cultural liaison to help mediate these situations before lives are lost on both sides? We are a recognized political group of the United States. Regardless of what your admin thinks, a majority of us are law abiding tax payers. Lawlessness had no place in our traditional Lakota ways. Please let’s all get together to improve our beautiful community bordering traditional Lakota treaty lands, He Sapa.
    Thank you for your time.

  36. chiefsview says:

    To answer your question about Native American recruiting: We constantly look for qualified interested Native American candidates. We use Native officers in recruiting and promotion materials, keep an open dialog with Tribal agencies and police departments, we advertise in Native publications and today we are in Pine Ridge talking on KILI radio. We have been doing something similar for years, but with poor results.

    I am well aware that of the 8000+or- Native Americans living in Rapid City, most or almost all are law-abiding citizens.

    We are experiencing the same difficulty in hiring Native officers as the Tribal police departments have. There are too few interested candidates.

    We have not considered creating a cultural liaison because we cannot see how such a position can address violence in the street. If you have ideas that you believe would be helpful, you are welcome to contact me so we can schedule a visit.

  37. Linda says:

    You are a very good police chief, I wish you could come to the Seattle Police Department and visit them. They need some good guidance in police work. They get no respect from the media here.

    • chiefsview says:

      Thank you Linda and thank you for reading. The relationship between media and law enforcement is a two-way effort and when it goes bad, there is plenty of blame to go around. It can become a perfectly good lose-lose situation.

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