Looking back on 2020, we have witnessed behaviors and emotions in the communities we serve that none of us could have ever imagined. The challenges of the epidemic combined with anti-police rhetoric are pushing law enforcement to change. There is so much uncertainty moving into 2021, but there is one thing we can be sure of: We cannot survive without training!
Maybe in-person classes with direct interactions will be reduced, range time diminished, ammunition budgets chopped, and maybe training budgets will be cut to a point where we barely recognize them. Whatever challenges we face, we can never stop training, never stop challenging our competence or our thought processes and never stop having conversations about what we do and why with our teams. These conversations must be messy. We need to make the decision-making process gray, with questions asked among our team. We can’t just dole out hand delivered black and white, yes or no answers.
Video training or simply creating and dissecting scenarios are easy, inexpensive methods to help generate team discussion. Let me give you an example. Keep your mind open and remember that when making a decision, it is in that moment we decide to use force. We cannot think of all the post-incident what ifs. They are not to be looked at in 20/20 hindsight.
Here is my when/then scenario; when this happens, then how will you respond:
Imagine you are in full uniform at your local 7-Eleven store at about 1630 hours conversing with the many patrons inside. A woman busts through the doors, in tears and screaming for help. She screams, “He’s stealing my car, my son’s in there!” She points to the parking lot and says, “That’s my red Jeep Cherokee.” In that brief second you have many variables to process and decisions to make. The woman definitely appears truthful as she shows many signs of fear and loss. Her emotions speak loudly.
You run out the door as she points at her Jeep. The driver had just back out of the parking spot and was stopped, presumably putting the vehicle in drive. You pull your weapon, point it at the driver and order him to stop. You are not in front of the vehicle. You’re about 15 feet off to the passenger side near the A pillar. You have made eye contact with the driver and also see the child, an 8-year-old boy in the back seat, screaming for his mom.
Here’s where the heavy questions hit and the thinking under pressure come in.
In less than a second, you need to decide whether to shoot.
Are you authorized to shoot?
Would your supervisor support the decision to shoot? Would your police chief and agency support your decision?
How about your prosecutors office? Your community?
What would be the steps to take if you choose not to shoot? Pursue?
Is that justified and what are the polices for those actions?
What risks come with a pursuit and what kind of issues can they result in?
Many thoughts should go through our heads as we ponder this scenario. The first of many, though, should be our understanding of case law that would authorize deadly force. Does this scenario, as presented, fit within Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) or Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (USSC)(1985)?
In the GVC decision we have the totality of the situation and the reasonable officer standard, but do you recall the three-prong test associated with Graham? What is the severity of the crime? Is there an immediate risk to officers or others? Is the subject resisting or evading arrest?
Again, you’re processing all of this before you make your decision and remembering that you’re making that decision during a TENSE, UNCERTAIN and RAPIDLY EVOLVING incident… words directly from GVC.
How about TVG? This SCOTUS case cannot be clearer; An officer cannot use deadly force against a fleeing suspect unless the suspect is a significant threat to the officer or to others.
What do you perceive at the time? What’s the crime? Whose life is at immediate risk? What has your mind processed at the time? What has training prepared you to do? How competent are you with your firearm skills?
I said make this messy. To tell you that the suspect has a gun makes it easy, so I won’t. There is no knowledge of a weapon. The officer is NOT standing in front of the vehicle, creating a “must shoot or I can be run over” scenario. This is about the child’s safety and well-being!
If you’re reading this and thinking that your decision is to shoot, play those shots through in your mind. See yourself making them and visualize what you would do post-shooting.
I would strongly recommend that if you want to use this as a training scenario with your shift, have these messy conversations with your supervisor before you do and see where they stand on the decision process. If you are a first line supervisor, have the discussion with other supervisors and see if you are on the same page as a team. The agency needs to be behind each other in these critical times.
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