While on patrol two Phoenix, AZ police officers came across an altercation between a man and a woman in the street. They stopped to investigate in order to find out what was happening.
Here’s video of the encounter:
Initially, the man involved walked away from the officers as they approached.
Well, I guess it would depend on what they saw and what they believed to be happening. There was certainly an indication the man was possibly being abusive to the woman and there are CCTV videos of the event that verify he was.
Either way, the officers in the moment have to decide if they should/could simply let the man ignore their requests and leave, or not. In this case, the officers did what almost all officers would do in like circumstances; they followed the man and attempted to engage. They probably determined, based on experience, that walking quickly away from two uniformed officers is a sign that he has something to hide or did something he knows he could be in trouble for.
As the officers followed the man they gave him multiple commands to stop.
He ignored each and every one of them and continued walking away.
Now what? What would you do at this point? Allow him to go on his way? If you do, then there is essentially zero chance the situation would result in the officers using force, which I’m quite sure is the end result the officers desired, not using force against the man.
But what is the consequence of not stopping the man at this point? There is certainly cause, based on what the officers initially saw and how the man is avoiding the officers, to believe he committed a crime. If they let him go and they discover he did batter the woman, someone at some point would have to arrest the man.
Either way the officers decided to continue following the subject through parking lots and around cars.
At one point, the man pulled a gun from his pocket, and the situation changed immediately. Both officers were exposed as they walked in the open behind him. To get cover would mean that the man would continue walking and be lost to them. So they had to proceed as they were.
You can hear the change in stress in the officers’ voices…aware they were in danger.
Throughout the next several seconds as the man walked around a corner and toward a street, the man’s back was to the officers.
Again, now what?
Imagine how many processes were happening in each of the officers’ mind in these moments?
For most in law enforcement they don’t have to imagine it. They’ve dealt with such circumstances. And such circumstances…well, frankly…suck!
Think of the potentials in these dynamic and ever-evolving moments.
Once the gun comes out the man needs to be viewed as a deadly threat by anyone with a minimum of objectivity and common sense. Who pulls a gun out while ignoring orders given by armed officers? What is the point of pulling it out at that moment? And how fast can he turn toward the officers and fire the gun? Without question, based on research; as fast as a third of a second.
One third of a second! It would take the officers more time to pull the triggers of their service weapons as they would have to consciously recognize the imminent threat, make a decision and physically act. As always, action is faster than reaction.
The officers, with their guns drawn, ordered the man to drop his gun over a dozen times, breathing heavily as they did, stress now being a factor in both of their emotional and physical states.
But the man simply ignored them and continued walking.
A few seconds later the man turns a corner and is walking steadily toward what appears to be a fast-food restaurant on the other side of a fence, its parking lot, and a street with cars and pedestrians.
One of the officers says aloud to the other, “We have to draw a line somewhere.” Again, you can hear the stress in his voice and relate to the stress he is experiencing in the moment.
The officers clearly advise the man that they will shoot him if he doesn’t immediately stop. He immediately turns towards them, not with the gun pointed at the officers but up against his own chin.
What do the officers have now? Homicidal subject? Suicidal subject?
The data points detected by the officers are changing in moments and that data has to be assessed, accurately, just as quickly. Those assessments will lead to decisions and those decisions will dictate the officers’ subsequent behavior. Behavior that will be viewed and reviewed over and over. Behavior that will be judged by people not in the moment, and not experiencing stress, and not having to make life-or-death decisions.
The man continues walking backwards, facing the officers. The officers plead, beg and order the man to drop the gun to no avail.
Suddenly he turns away again and places the muzzle of the gun against his right temple. At this point he is approximately 10-20 yards from the street, cars and people.
What do you do now? What would you do now?
I’m not asking that question using the hindsight of 20/20. The officers will eventually shoot the man and the criticism will be swift. Some of the headlines are egregious and incendiary. The, “They should have” and the “They could have” opinions flowed freely afterwards.
But none of those people writing the provocative headlines or offering their subjective opinions were experiencing what these officers were experiencing. They aren’t considering any of what we are addressing in this article, even after the fact.
Now the man with the gun to his own head is starting to walk around the end of the fence onto a sidewalk. Cars and people are now at risk but his back is towards the officers.
What do they do? What should they do? And what are the possible consequences of doing nothing to a man who has indicated irrationality while armed with a handgun?
These officers acted. They fired their weapons to stop the man from hurting anyone else, for they know that man can move the gun from his own temple, point at a car or pedestrian and fire that weapon in less than one third of a second. He could kill someone right in front of them. They weren’t going to let that happen. They made a decision that will impact them forever. And they did it, I firmly believe, with the best of intentions.
What no one seems to ever think about is those officers in any context other than them being another example of evil cogs in a systemically corrupt wheel.
Those doing most of the criticizing never stop and think about the humanity of the officers. The decision to take a human life. A life they clearly tried to save. These officers in this instance, like in most instances, proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that they did not want to shoot this man. Beyond any shadow of a doubt.
They warned, they begged, they ordered the man to drop his gun over and over and over.
When the man, with a gun in hand, turned toward the officers, they did not shoot him, even though they knew how fast he could raise that gun and fire at them. They continued to show restraint and compassion.
They acted as a last resort. And they will, to some degree, suffer from that decision forever.
The man lived in this case.
The officers rendered aid.
The officers went home to their families. To their agency.
Who will consider their humanity? Their pain? Their suffering?
Will they be treated fairly and with compassion? By their agency? Their friends? Their families?
I’m sure they will.
Making these decisions, whether to use force or not, isn’t as simple as it is on TV shows and in movies. It took me over two hours to write this article. To delve into the minds of the officers and to offer up my opinion on what they were seeing, feeling, experiencing, and assessing. Two hours! For them, all of what I wrote and what took you five minutes to read, was happening in, at times, milliseconds.
They had to observe, assess, decide and act in an incredibly short amount of time. They have to live what they processed and decided forever.
That’s the humanity of the job. A job less and less people are willing to take because they don’t want to find themselves in such positions.
Let’s remember that humanity.