Are Some Cops More Afraid of Shooting than Getting Shot?

December 27, 2021

On December 8, 2021 a young police officer answered a disturbance at an apartment complex in Oklahoma City. He immediately encountered 40-year-old Antwon Hill in a breezeway. The officer was alone.

Within 30 seconds of the encounter Hill pulled a gun out of his coat’s right pocket which caused the officer to back away and move around a corner. Distance and cover, a tactically sound idea.

The question is: What other tactics could have – or should have – the officer employed at this point? What did he see? How did he interpret the man’s behavior? What did he miss? What did he consider?

Two Particular Training Considerations

When you watch the complete video (not yet…check it out below), ponder two facets of the encounter: The initial interaction behavior and the officer’s response to the gun being displayed by the suspect.

  1. Initial Interaction: Pre-Assault Indicators

The body language, behavior and verbiage used by people almost always indicate future behavior. Several of our courses (Check out Reading People, How to Predict Violence & Influence Outcomes and Deescalation and Intervention)  address these facts in detail. For this video, the primary observation to make is this one: Is the man cooperative and/or compliant? What is the opposite of cooperative? Uncooperative, obviously. Noncompliance is something that matters.

But also look at and evaluate the nonverbals that, by the way, include words used and not used. In this case the man, from the beginning, is blading his right side away from the officer; purposely, noticeably, and obviously. Why?

While about 85-90% of people are right-handed—you should be aware of that—blading to either side in such a manner is something you should pay attention to.

In addition, consider the following as well:

1. His left hand is visible while his right is hidden most of the time (that is purposeful)

2. He uses his left, and only his left hand, to block the officer’s attempts at control (a true block of a person’s advance would involve both hands)

3. He is indexing with his right hand. Feeling through his pocket for the gun in his right pocket.

All clear indicators that the man is hiding something and may eventually attack.

  1. At What Point Do You Pull Your Gun?

Even in the opinion that became the Graham Standard authored by Chief Justice Rehnquist, there is no exact definition that describes the moment deadly force is justified. Objective reasonableness are the two words that all in law enforcement live by when it comes to justifying their uses of force, in particularly, deadly force.

Note the picture here:

The gun is clearly out, but it isn’t pointed at the officer. So, what should he do at this point? Is it reasonable to believe his life is in imminent danger and therefore pull his sidearm?

Did he in this case? It doesn’t appear as though he did before the very end of the video clip.

Concluding Questions & Current Concerns

So here are the disconcerting questions: Why the hesitation? Was the officer afraid to pull his gun and put himself in a position to shoot the man? And if so, what was the fear exactly?

Veteran officers I have talked to about this particular event believe that throughout the profession, many officers are more afraid of the aftermath of a shooting than of the immediate danger they are dealing with in a deadly force moment.

— Have you seen this in your own career?

— Are those in the media, as well as politicians, scaring the ‘life’ out of police officers?

— Are some agencies, bosses, creating the fear of using force among those in their charge? Even if subliminally? How about overtly. I’ve personally seen signs in police departments over the past five years that say, “Don’t wind up on YouTube today.” What message does that send?

Your Thoughts?

Now is a good time to click on the video. It is edited with observations and questions. Watch, consider, discuss, share and comment.

Please send your responses to: editor@calibrepress.com

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