It is getting harder to accept the statements some police officials keep making about some police shootings and is even more frustrating for a professional police officer to look at some situations and be able to predict (in advance) what will be said in an attempt to justify them. We often are able to recognize ‘good’ shoots vs ‘bad shoots’ after having enough information to make a judgment. We also are frequently able to decide whether a shooting was preventable from reviewing the circumstances. Video (and audio) certainly can help with making preliminary decisions. Witnesses and scientific evidence also contribute to re-creating the situation.
The recent shooting death by the Cleveland Police Department may be ‘legal’ but it was preventable… in so many ways!
The impetus for improvement (and prevention) should be the dead body of a 12-year-old boy. Let’s forget what the boy did or didn’t do causing him to get shot, and focus on what the police did and didn’t do and who was in control of most of the situation. After all, who is the trained professional here? Even if the boy was distraught and wanted to die, the police should be in control when they have the opportunity.
If we disregard the fact that the person holding the gun was a 12-year-old, and disregard the fact that the gun was a fake, we should not disregard the fact that the boy had not fired at anyone. He had not pointed the gun at the officers as they approached and he had not made any specific threats in the time prior to police arrival. The ‘story’ is that he reached for his waistband as he was being given commands and he was shot less than two seconds after the passenger officer jumped out (almost into the lap of the suspect). How do we know this? Because there was video from the scene and audio recordings of the circumstances of the call.
Every single police officer in the U.S. should find FAULT with how a police car pulled up to the suspect before this shooting! It was an example of absolutely horrible police approach tactics. It was an example of a major violation of officer safety. It was an example of what one partner can do to compromise the safety of his partner (as in ‘get him killed’). It was an example of how the POLICE should be focused on control of the outcome and should have the ability to de-escalate. The police should do what they can to control the opportunity to ‘preserve human life,’ but they virtually eliminated that opportunity due to their poor tactics.
CBS broadcast the video from a nearby security camera. CNN also reported, “A Cleveland police officer shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice about two seconds after the officer and a partner pulled up in a car to investigate reports that someone was brandishing a gun at a park, surveillance video that police released Wednesday shows.” http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/
Due to potential civil unrest about this shooting in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the Cleveland PD went public with information and immediately called the shooting a tragedy. The family urged ‘calm,’ but communicated that they believed the situation could have been AVOIDED and that their son should still be alive. If you are a cop and view the video and say, “Too bad for him; he should have followed police commands,” you are a disgrace to the badge (in my opinion). Nobody with any integrity and honor (and who has been properly trained) can ignore all of the contributing factors at play.
Sure, the last instant shows an immediate and deadly threat to the passenger officer, but that was absolutely unnecessary. It simply did not need to happen! Was it ‘rookie fever’ that contributed to the poor approach and safety tactics? A ‘rookie’ was identified as the shooter of an unarmed black man in New York recently, but he also claimed to have accidentally discharged his firearm in a dark stairway.
I’m not calling Cleveland ‘criminal’…but the POLICE contributed many of the causative factors to the mix. The police can start taking some important steps: 1), acknowledge the poor tactics and safety problems; 2), state that this is not how they train (at least I hope it isn’t); and 3), promptly discipline the officers involved. No, they don’t need to be criminally prosecuted but they need to be disciplined and probably fired! This stuff is endangering other officers and destroying public trust.
Bill Bratton with the NYPD admitted that his ‘rookie’ officer shot the man in the stairwell due to an accidental discharge. I’m assuming that comes from a statement given by the police officer. Was he making excuses after he realized what he had done or was it a situation of poor firearms handling or ‘bare fear’? Guess what? If a shooting like this happened in Las Vegas the officer would not even be required to describe his actions at the scene and before a union attorney was on scene! This is the unfortunate reality of what has been allowed to happen with the LVMPD. Thank goodness, officers in other departments handle police shootings with more urgency and get more than a Public Safety Statement at the scene of the crime.
Laypersons viewing the video from Cleveland can list all of the steps they think could have been taken to arrive at a different outcome and to try to preserve human life. They do not need to be police officers to come up with a list of other options. They do not need to be police officers to realize that almost all options were eliminated because of how the police handled this situation. There are basics such as time, distance and cover. There are ‘tools’ and tactics (such as parking at a safe distance and yelling commands to turn around, get on the ground, or to hold hands in the air and to ‘freeze)… There are loudspeakers to deliver commands from cover, use of rifles from cover, use of low lethal [weapons] from cover, use of shields, use of K-9, calling out SWAT/Tactical Teams, and even use of robots if the suspect refuses to comply and will not drop the gun. These types of incidents occur frequently but they are usually resolved without death or injury. In my opinion, the Cleveland officers gave themselves no other option. Sure, they can say they had to use deadly force and faced a
suspect with Ability, Opportunity, Imminent Jeopardy, and Preclusion, but who created the ‘preclusion’ where they had no other options?
The public has the right to expect well-trained police officers who use restraint, and yes, officers who hesitate, if it might save human life. Sometimes I want to say, “Grow a pair” and take some physical action other than shooting people! These two officers are both responsible for how they approached. One was driving and the other was actually exposed to a potential life or death situation. For some stupid reason, they pulled right up to the person with a gun. They gave themselves no distance, no cover, and virtually no time for verbal commands. In my day, an officer would be non-confirmed or fired for such an unsafe approach. This incident resulted in a dead kid… other incidents could result in a dead cop (or two).
What if the victim was an open-carry advocate and he was handling a real firearm? He may have violated rules for firearms-handling in public and he may have put himself in a position to be arrested, but citizens can lawfully carry firearms in many communities! They don’t even have to disarm themselves in all cases — even when a police officer is making contact. Would these Cleveland cops gun down an open-carry advocate because the radio said, “he has a gun” or even after the officers make a tactical approach and verify that there is a gun involved in the call?
There may have been no compliance with a split-second verbal command to do something with his hands or do something with the gun or to
‘freeze’ and do nothing, but we don’t know what was said (the officers apparently did not wear body cameras). I’m afraid that we might not want to hear what was actually said. There may have been conflicting commands or just misunderstanding during the intensity of the incident. There is no DEATH PENALTY for failing to understand or follow commands. There IS a deadly force justification when the police must immediately react to the movements of the suspect which pose a deadly threat. If the suspect squirted water from his gun on the windshield of the police car and the officers noticed this before firing upon him… (and it was a pink-colored squirt gun) and they were still in their car — please don’t tell me that we need to accept another shooting as ‘justified.’ There are some meat-heads that still say, “Don’t point anything at me that looks like a gun or I’m putting you down.”
In the end, what do we expect a ‘normal’ 12-year-old boy to do when approached by a speeding police car that almost parks in his lap? How much can we expect from a child? How much can we expect from an EDP (Emotionally Disturbed Person) or a person suffering from some other mental health problems? How much can we expect when the police ‘rush in’ to a situation that can be made ‘static’ and contained to allow time to reach a safe resolution? “Make no mistake people,” this was NOT an active shooter and you can’t use deadly force just because you think he might start shooting indiscriminately.
In the aftermath of a tragedy, what can we expect from the media? They often ignore important issues and seem to focus on the age, race, type of weapon and other details and give a ‘pass’ on the incredibly horrible police tactics such as those demonstrated in this video. As a matter of fact, I have not yet read or heard anyone criticize the officers for their approach.
If the police are not willing to wake up and make some changes even after all of the scrutiny that they are facing, then the future may be bleak. We can do better!
EXPERTS POINT OUT VALID OPTIONS
A recent newspaper column addressed Officer Darren Wilson’s explanations for his actions during his grand jury testimony. Here are some excerpts and what some ‘experts’ had to say: Darren Wilson, the white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., was asked whether he could have done anything differently that would have prevented the killing. His answer, broadcast on Wednesday, to the question from George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, was unequivocal: “No.”
MY INPUT: This may be the essence of a huge issue in policing! I don’t find fault with what Wilson did (‘legally’) when he was charged by Brown. I do have issues with his claim that he wouldn’t do anything different. That is a form of tunnel vision and what the public probably perceives to be a ridiculous arrogance of the police. This attitude is, “we will do what we want to do and you really have no right to question us” Another excerpt from the story: In his testimony, Officer Wilson said he never had any thought to fall back, even if only to make a tactical retreat to reassess and perhaps wait for backup officers. Part of the reason is training, experts said. In the heat of a violent altercation, police officers in many cases are trained to engage, not back down.
“To back up and maybe follow him until backup arrived, in retrospect it might have been a better choice, but we don’t know that Officer Wilson saw that as a valid option,” Mr. Henry said. “Who would want to get punched in the face and then kind of say, ‘Let me just back up and
follow this individual.’ A natural emotional reaction is to ratchet it up.” MY INPUT: Wilson said, “I know that I did my job right” and this may be true about the final use of his firearm to stop the threat. It is also true under the law that pertains to self-defense and fleeing felons where probable cause exists that they are a deadly threat. If Brown was shot while unarmed and continuing to flee, Officer Wilson would have had to explain why he believed Brown was going to find someone, somewhere, to harm or kill during his flight.
Justifying or attempting to rationalize every shooting is doing a disservice to the profession and the community. ‘Legal’ justification is one thing… but police trying to explain and support bad decisions and bad approach tactics is continuing to cause a decline in trust from the community. One final excerpt: “Just because you’re a police officer doesn’t mean you have to go into a situation head-first.” Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former police officer told the New York Times.
From the time Officer Wilson first encountered Mr. Brown walking with a friend in the middle of the street on a hot afternoon in August, to the point the teenager lay dead on the pavement, there were several opportunities to de-escalate the confrontation, said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City police officer. Mr. O’Donnell pointed in particular to the initial moments of the confrontation, when the officer and Mr. Brown are said to have struggled through the open window of the officer’s police cruiser.
“There certainly wouldn’t be a prohibition of him driving a little further along and regrouping, calling for help and thinking about nonlethal weaponry,” Mr. O’Donnell said, referring to Officer Wilson.
“Just because you’re a police officer doesn’t mean you have to go into a situation headfirst.”
MY INPUT: NEWSFLASH… police need to train and announce to the world that they are NOT required to die ‘taking the hill’ and to unnecessarily expose themselves to death or injury. Police are not required to stop a ‘monster’ (as Wilson described how Brown was acting) all by themselves! If any reader had a ‘petite’ daughter as a police officer and they learned that their daughter spotted Michael Brown after the robbery and they think that their daughter would be expected to approach without backup, exit her vehicle without backup, and engage Michael Brown without backup then they might hesitate for a moment and say, ‘stay in the car until you have backup, daughter’…
Contrary to popular opinion (and mistaken understanding of policing), there is no police officer who is required to jump out and get beaten to death by an ‘unarmed’ suspect who easily will overwhelm them. This almost happened to a female LVMPD officer near Sam’s Town and also to a male officer in a fast food restaurant. My understanding is that one had an opportunity to call out the incident and wait for assistance and the other was attacked while alone and could not have foreseen what happened to him. A citizen intervened and saved the second officer. Police officers that use common sense (and don’t succumb to peer pressure or dangerous expectations imposed on them) have a chance to save lives — including their own and also to improve trust with the communities that they serve.