Lt. Glen Marin (ret.) from Los Angeles Co. Sheriff’s Department commented:
I do not normally respond to your interesting subject areas … but this is DIFFERENT! A tad over 50 years ago, a very face-to-face shooting did confront me (I did look at his face) watching flame come out of the barrel of a gun, I used a shotgun from a range of 1-2 inches from his head to terminate him. In all the time since, I seriously do not think a single day has gone by in which some level of that has not intruded into my conscious thoughts. I did not have any critical life-disastrous consequences, BUT for several months after, I had a serious case of survivor’s guilt. Ridiculously illogical, but very, very real and equally dangerous for me! So how did I get my life around the whole experience?
My wife is a psychiatrist and I thought she could help. Wrong (initially). Her view was that he tried to kill me and lost, what is the problem? Over the next 20+ years, two things happened. I often wrote, privately for her, my feelings and thoughts on the issue as they formed in my mind.
Second, major advances were being made in the science of genetics that she was following in her medical journals. One day on our morning walk, she explained a fully formed theory that was the flood light of logic and understanding that clarified it all for me. She calls it her “theory of the wolf in us all.” Essentially, it is that we carry the genetics of our mammal ancestors (the wolf is an analogy, not a for-real assertion) and they killed for survival from basic genetic commands. And they did not have human emotions about this act. It was natural and normal. Thus, the stimulus of the situation activated my “kill or be killed” genetics, producing my total commitment to the only thing in the universe that mattered at that moment: to kill this guy (which was fundamentally the most disturbing thing). I suddenly understood it! It all made so much sense. And while the memories will never leave or stop intruding, I understand them and just roll with them.
Retired Special Agent Ed Wezain writes:
You are actually missing the first part of surviving and that is the investigation into the shooting, even if it is justified. With many State’s Attorneys Offices led by social justice warriors you might be in for more psychological trauma after the shooting, based on the investigation into the shooting. I seem to recall a case where a DEA Agent shot a person in the New York City Metro area and was charged with the shooting by a DA (who I think was running for re-election). Luckily cooler heads prevailed at the US Attorney’s Office and they had the case moved to federal court where the charges were dismissed. Local officers do not have this option unless they are federally deputized.
Aside from that your points are valid and well thought out. While I was employed as a Special Agent with DEA I read a lot of officer survival books. I read the first version of Street Survival and passed it onto a lifelong friend in a small department for him to read. I still have a cop of Remsberg’s Tactical Edge in my bookcase, as well as many others. I think many officers are unprepared for being involved in a shooting. That said I think DEA did a pretty good job about what you could go thru when I was trained back in 1987. It was drilled into us that you need to plan and prepare in advance to minimize the chances of a shooting. They also drilled us intensively in shooting and tactics for when things did go bad. We were also shown the aftermath of shootings that went bad and people were killed, some in undercover DEA operations and others from early police car cams. As the officer in your example learned, people don’t often die peacefully. There is death rattle as they go. All officers need to be prepared for this and if there agency does not provide this training they need to seek it out on their own.
Retired Det. Lt. Clif Edwards writes:
Once again, a great article. I am a retired LEO with 38 years of service. I was in two different officer involved shootings in the 1980s. At that time, counseling was not required and I was too macho to seek it. Both shootings were ruled justifiable in a short period of time which I’m grateful for. It seems officers of this era often wait a long time for a ruling. The waiting can be the hardest part.
Now, we continue with our post-shooting survival series taken from Calibre Press’s bestselling book, Street Survival II: Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters
Can you imagine making a phone call to your spouse to tell them, “Hello, honey. I’ll be all right, but I’ve been shot.”
Being shot can alter your life dramatically. An 11-year veteran officer in Kansas, for example, was shot in the right arm with a .357 Magnum while responding to a robbery-in-progress call at a liquor store. At first, he said, “I didn’t know if I was hit in the arm, the chest, the head or where. I just remember the pain. The immediate pain.” Because he was still able to give chase to the gunman, he figured that his injury would not affect his work. But when his wound failed to heal properly, he found himself assigned to desk duty.
Because of this light duty assignment, his financial position was strained. Under his department’s regulations he was prohibited from holding a part-time job outside to help make ends meet. His physical condition kept him from doing repairs around the home. He found himself suddenly limited in the activities he could enjoy with his four-year-old daughter, who asked him repeatedly when his arm would be better so they could play together. She also asked him difficult questions like, “Who shot you, Daddy?” and “Why?”
There is no class in the academy that instructs officers how to explain to a child why someone would want to shoot their mommy or daddy.
Not only did the wounds beckon him to leave law enforcement, but the officer’s wife, who was badly shaken by the shooting, also pressed him to resign. His career, physical health and emotional relationships all were seriously altered by his wounds, and his situation weighed heavily on his mind.
Under ordinary circumstances, the everyday stress that law enforcement officers face can be immense. A fatal confrontation is an extraordinary event that adds to that stress.
During the gunfight, you may not be consciously aware of the recoil, the muzzle flash or other experiences that are happening as you send rounds down range. If you are working on strict survival instinct, like trying to stay alive, you may not even be aware of your stress at the time. But afterward, regardless of how justified or imperative your shooting of the suspect may have been, or how seemingly minor a wound you endure, you are almost certain to feel a psychological impact of some form. This stress is likely to be greatest when you take a life.
When you take an assailant’s life in police work, you usually do so to save your own. But how you manage your reaction to that event will, in the long run, determine whether you are indeed able to save the kind of life you had before the incident. Officers who have been involved in shootings know you can never predict exactly how you will react afterward. Men and women who least expect to be sandbagged psychologically may be hit the hardest. What you can do is understand the nature of the subtle and not-so-subtle forces that are likely to play on your mind after an armed confrontation and learn how best to prepare and cope with them. After doing so, you may even become quite an expert at helping fellow officers suffering from PTSD.
Our discussion here generally assumes circumstances in which you inflict injury or death on another individual. But there can be a tremendous impact in a situation when you survive but your partner does not, or even when they do but they are badly wounded. After a particularly violent gunfight, one officer was so badly wounded he had to retire from the career he loved. The other officer, who shot and killed his partner’s assailant, had no ill effects from the shooting because it was clearly necessary, but he was devastated by one aspect of the gunfight: “In 21 seconds I lost the best partner I ever had,” he said.
Remember, your reaction is yours.
Many of us were initially drawn to this profession because we wanted to help people, but we also dreamed of catching bad guys and rescuing damsels in distress. As we walked out of the academy, to those “little kids” that reside inside all of us, our dreams were coming true. However, a career in law enforcement will quickly bring most officers face to face with the ugly realities of life. This career, which exposes you to hangings, stabbings, fatal car crashes, train crashes, and brutal domestic violence, dead children, etc., can cause more stress than some are able to manage. For many officers, the overflow does not come from the drip, drip, drip of constant calls, but from the sudden overload of one event. A shooting can be that event. In a shooting situation, an officer can suddenly transition from a “kid” living a dream to a struggle between life and death.
Know this: Everyone deals with the shooting of another person differently. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel!
Traveling this country and meeting tens of thousands of police officers is eye-opening. We have had hundreds upon hundreds of conversations with officers who have been in shootings and who have shot and killed assailants. The number of different reactions and feelings in the aftermath are incalculable.
Some of the best advice ever given was from a SWAT officer who shot and killed people in two different incidents, both totally justified from every perspective. He related the following (not verbatim): After I shot the first guy, killing him, my sheriff wanted me to speak with a counselor. I didn’t want to and related to him that I was perfectly fine. He insisted. So, I sat down with this woman who asked me how I was feeling. I basically told her the guy deserved it, he was holding hostages, he was armed and threatening to kill children. She told me I was in denial. I told her I wasn’t. She continued by advising me that I would probably have trouble sleeping for a few days. I might not have much of an appetite and I might also lack a sex drive for up to two weeks.
Let’s just say that wasn’t the case.
The officer related that when he joined the SWAT team, a psychologist advised him to: “Decide ahead of time how you will feel if you take a life.”
Great advice. And this veteran officer took it to heart. It may have been what helped him deal with the aftermath. But why isn’t this part of training for all in the profession? The vast majority of those in law enforcement that wind up taking a life are, in fact, patrol officers.
For you, decide now how you will feel if another person puts you in the position to take his/her life. Prepare like you do, or should do, for everything else in this line of work. If you shoot and kill a suspect, you may feel deep in your heart that what you did was bad. It may have been absolutely necessary and fully justified from a legal standpoint, but some officers have rather simplified standards of right and wrong. However, you may rationalize your action, a part of your psyche may be convinced that killing is morally wrong.
Here’s something to consider along those lines. Sgt. Charlie Eipper is a veteran Texas police officer. He wrote a book titled, Jesus Christ on Killing. His motivation to write it was simple—a Rambo movie. Charlie was a helicopter pilot in the army. One day he was challenged by a group of people who asked him why he chose a profession (the military) where he could one day be put in a position to take a human life. As a Christian, they suggested, he should avoid such a possibility.
Charlie was, and certainly is, a very strong Christian. But he explained to this author, “While I was strong with the Lord, I was ignorant of His actual word, especially about killing.” So, Charlie, who surrounds himself with others of a strong Christian faith, learned as much as he could about the scriptures and, in particular, Jesus Christ and His word. Eventually, as he grew in knowledge of God’s commandments and Jesus’ perspective on killing others, he developed confidence about being in a profession where he might have to take a life.
On January 10, 1999, a SWAT call came regarding a barricaded suicidal subject. The distraught man garnered the attention of a neighbor and an off-duty officer attempting to help. They were rewarded with a gun pointed at them. The police and a SWAT team were called to the scene. Charlie was assigned as a cover sniper. Negotiators made contact and spoke with the man to no avail. The man broke off negotiations, came outside with a .357 Magnum, fired a shot, then went back into his house. A short time later he came out again and fired a round across the street. He turned around and went inside again. The third time he came out was his last. As the assault team made their move, the man fired on them. Charlie, in his hide, armed with a Colt Sporter with 7.62 rounds, fired three shots. The first hit the man in the head. Charlie said, “Everything you talk about happened. I got auditory exclusion. I didn’t hear the shots I fired, though the guy next to me had to cover his ears because of the noise. When the suspect was hit, he fell in slow motion. But I knew he was down for good.”
Post-shooting protocol kicked in. Charlie was told to leave his weapon in the hide and come to the command post. His chief saw him and “thanked me for my service. He was very supportive.” Charlie then called his wife, then went to the police station. Soon he was with both his bride and his pastor.
Charlie was put on administrative leave, as was the policy. He said he had trouble sleeping that night, not because of taking a life, but because of the adrenaline.
He received incredible support from virtually all corners; his church, his partners, his bosses, his wife, even the grand jury who thanked him for his service. All except the secular counselor he was assigned to see. When Charlie told the counselor that he was OK with taking the man’s life because he was prepared as a Christian and right with the Lord, the man balked. He told Charlie that he was worried about him because he should be having night sweats, nightmares, and/or general anxiety over killing someone.
Charlie not only survived the shooting event, he survived the counselor.
Then came Rambo.
Sitting at home several years later, Sgt. Eipper happened upon one of the sequels. In it, the former special forces soldier was placed in a position to kill a bunch of pirates in order to protect Christian missionaries. One of those very missionaries chastised Rambo, telling him that it was never OK with God to kill. That scene inspired Charlie; he decided he needed to write a book.
Charlie said he was spiritually, and hence psychologically, prepared to take a life before he fired those three shots. He was aware, however, that many were not. Charlie knew some officers were suffering from “moral injuries” due to some action or inaction that resulted in someone’s death. Charlie said, “I didn’t want anyone to hesitate at the time, nor suffer afterward, believing they were not right with God.”
Everyone, as we said, deals with the taking of a life differently. Preparation for such an event begins by recognizing your values and beliefs. For Charlie Eipper, as with many in law enforcement, being right with God is what matters.
NEXT: Dealing with the opinions of others, what to expect from command staff after a shooting, and more.
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382 pgs., 19 chapters, Available in both soft cover and hard cover.
1. Preparation for Confrontation
2. Approach to Danger: People
3. Approach to Danger: Buildings
4. Approach to Danger: Vehicles
5. Shooting Positions
6. Cover Awareness
7. Reloading Under Fire
8. Final Approach and Subject Control
9. Post Shooting Survival
10. Deadly Force: Know the Law!
11. Communication During Force Encounters
12. Danger Cues and Pre-Attack Indicators
13. In the Fight: Stress, Surprise and Performance
14. Engaging and Defeating the Active Shooter/Killer
15. Edged Weapons
16. Lights and Lasers
17. Firearms Discipline
18. Protective Equipment
19. Fitness in Law Enforcement
Final thoughts: Guardian or Warrior?