Cops Respond to Officers’ Lack of Deadly Force Response

October 29, 2022

Officers from around the country responded heavily to Chief Scott Hughes’ article, Cops Don’t Shoot Imminent Threat. Sign of the Times? that discussed a recent incident where two probationary officers chose not to fire on a homicide suspect brandishing a gun. The officers’ Chief called their decision “inappropriate” and denounced the fact that they “didn’t stop that threat.” Later in the same incident, officers from another agency shot and killed the suspect.

In his article, Chief Hughes asked whether social and political pressures combined with the often intensely personalized backlash that follows an officer-involved shooting, regardless of how justifiable, might be resulting in officers hesitating to fire on life-threatening suspects.

Here’s a sample of what some Calibre Press newsletter readers had to say:

Chief Michael Hawley from Sadsbury Township (PA) PD writes:

I’ve been an active law enforcement officer for more than 40 years, and have worked everything from foot beats to sector patrol to investigations and everything in between. Initially I worked in a large department that bordered Philadelphia. I’m now in a smaller department in the western suburbs and have served as Chief for the last 3 years. I’ve been involved over the years in 3 OIS’s, all cleared as “good shootings,” one fatal, none resulting in injury to me or any people other than the bad guys.

If someone points a gun at me, I will immediately use deadly force to neutralize that threat. If one of my officers encounters an armed subject presenting a threat to him/her or a member of the innocent public and he/she does NOT counter that threat in accordance with policy, procedure and training and, assuming he/she survives that, he or she will NOT work in my department any longer, period, the end.

I sure don’t want a bunch of wild gunslingers looking for a reason to kill people. That’s not what I am referring to. I am saying that when you take that oath and pin on the shield you sure as hell better have already gotten it straight in your mind that you may have to take a life, and if you haven’t already resolved that in your head and heart, go work at Walmart.

Chief Gustavo Flores with Escalon (CA) PD responds:

I agree with the author that “We took an oath to protect the citizens of our community” but with that said, it is getting harder to make life-changing decisions that will affect us police officers, you the public, and our families. I myself was involved in an OIS in 2019 with the suspect shooting first at us and we returned fire, stopping the threat. I had a fourth month trainee with me and he reacted just like he was trained to do. But with every negative comment in social media, I don’t think that the new incoming officers will react the same.

My job as a training officer and supervisor is to evaluate my officers and hopefully I will be able to recognize their short comings and suggest a different line of work. Being a police officer is not for everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. Just like anyone is not fit to be a firefighter or doctor. I guess what I’m saying it is our responsibility as veteran officers to seek the safety of our new officers and avoid any unnecessary dead officers because they failed to act.

From Lt. Darin Bayles with the Special Operations Division at Round Rock (TX) PD:

What a great articulation of how many feel in this career today!  I just completed my 25th year and like many have experienced, there have been changes in that time.  We MUST know officers are faced with a “no-win” situation in a lot of difficult circumstances like those described.  Officers will make the decision to stop the threat, only to be crucified by media outlets, mainstream and social, for a difficult decision that no one wants to make.  I don’t think there is a simple solution to this dilemma.  I do believe it takes a strong and confident administrator to stand up to the blasting of remarks and usually from the vocal minority that will come forward in the “justified” situations.

These are stressful for the admin and the organization as you pointed out.  We need leaders who can stand up for what is right, even when it is not pretty and doesn’t fit the narrative of the minority.  I would encourage administrators, mid managers and every rank to think through, strategize and be prepared for the deadly force encounter AND beyond it.  Talk about how the organization will address these situations…not if, but when they occur.

Article was very though provoking.

Master Police Officer Steve Cherry with Grayson College PD in Denison, TX comments:

The first thing that I thought when I read this story was: We suffered through “The Ferguson Effect.” Will this become “The Uvalde Effect?” I have been a cop since 1972, and have seen a lot of changes, but this is particularly disturbing.

Is this going to be the “new normal?”

I sure hope not.

Sgt. Bobby Bomar with the Lincoln City (OR) PD shares:

You hit some very good bullet points on this topic as a whole, as I am hearing about these types of scenarios way too much these days. I have explained to people in my community who enquire why we are short staffed, that a huge reason we only get 10 applicants for four patrol positions is because qualified persons “don’t want to be on CNN” for whatever reason. Unfortunately, that term is used often now days.

Being a police officer is an honorable career and should be, in my opinion, looked upon with pride and value. Under the current culture we, as officers, are disrespected, discriminated against and face public conviction for merely wearing the badge. The adjectives can go on and on, but I’m not saying something you don’t already know. I just want to point out that public culture and MEDIA are the driving forces that plant hesitation into the minds of officers where deadly force is justified.

It’s a scary job and it’s going to only get worse as time goes on. That being said, this is where leadership roles are so important right now. Training goes without saying, but one doesn’t know how they will react until they are faced with the imminent threat of serious physical harm to themselves or another. It’s very important for leaders to take that extra role in supporting their officers. This should be on a daily basis. It’s as simple as checking in with the officers and letting them know they are cared about. Let them know you support them even if the decision was questionable. Telling them “WE” will work through this. The outcome falls into the hands of the justice system, but if an officer knows/feels supported by leadership on all levels, he or she will more likely make that quick, responsible decision to stop the threat without hesitation.

I have been in law enforcement for nearly 29 years and have been in two deadly force incidents. The first one was a pursuit that ended in a MVA that killed the suspect. The second was an OIS where a man attempted to drive a knife into my neck, which forced me to shoot and kill him.

The first incident was under a chief who cared little for his people, as he was more of a politician with an agenda. Never wore a uniform, carried a firearm, drove a police vehicle, and never displayed a badge. This chief didn’t speak with me until I was cleared of any wrongdoing from an outside agency. Talk about feeling scared and second guessing myself!

After the second incident my chief at the time came into my office and remained with me until I was processed by the major crime team. The chief then provided me with a ride home. He asked nothing of me about the incident, but only wanted to make sure I was okay. I felt supported from the time that man took the office of the chief, and many others did as well. I believe if there were more like him in this profession maybe we could curve the public culture. I honestly don’t know, but I do feel strongly about leadership support. We need to start by weeding out the chiefs and leaders like the one I described in my first incident because it’s those so-called leadership qualities that become part of the problem.

A reader from the east coast writes:

First of all, based upon the chief’s comments alone, I cannot tell if he wasn’t at least part of the problem and that he may have been covering for himself in the aftermath.  I only say this because true leadership at the top levels of law enforcement is becoming rarer as time goes by.

As for the message about hesitation in police to do what needs to be done when necessary; I think this problem is perhaps the most prevalent it’s ever been.  Long before the extra-sharp turn in American culture toward law enforcement in 2020, my partner in the county was shot and killed during a gun battle in 2010.  Back then, my agency’s culture was extremely dysfunctional and quite naïve about the seriousness and requirements of the law enforcement profession.  I firmly believe this contributed to him losing the battle that day, which is supported by the evidence that to me clearly suggested that he had an opportunity to shoot first and win.  But he did not, and instead made repeated commands until he fired only after being fired upon first.

This was also a short time after a frivolous citizen complaint came in about him, and even though he was not reprimanded for anything, the agency response to the citizen was fence straddling at its worst and troubled the officer very much.

What’s been happening in the past 2-3 years has greatly accelerated the trend towards a lack of police leadership and morally corrupt politicians, mostly in the form of DA’s.

A midwest officer writes:

All over America, police have been forced to engage in an uncomfortable calculus where officers are forced to evaluate whether an action is worth their entire future—and often, the future of their families, their departments, and their communities.

It is impossible to estimate the value of an “oath,” in reference to the tangible value of officers’ homes, careers, even freedom. How can anyone reasonably measure an entire future against an action that might occupy a split second?  Without question, the current perception [among officers, certainly, but also the general public] is that there is a very real “war on cops.” This is not a symbolic war, nor is this a euphemism. There is an actual war of violence, hatred, and terror waged against law enforcement.

As cities burned, opportunistic politicians postured and exacerbated the damage by supporting the “defund the police” movement.  Now that the country is in an open free-fall of criminal behavior, those same hypocritical politicians are slowly backing away from their former full-throated contempt for the police.  Apart from the emotional value of an oath as a symbolic representation of commitment to a principle, most officers are simply hard-working men and women trying to do a job, “make ends meet,” and finally reach their pensions.

All of us have seen the effect that the recent social climate has had on our departments and co-workers. Some officers might not make it to that pension.  Police officers operate in a tightly controlled system of laws, regulations, and internal rules whereas the public, generally, has no idea what it takes to complete even the most mundane patrol assignment, let alone confront a major incident.  The media promotes a distorted view of law enforcement behavior that is so often repeated it becomes accepted as fact, without any critical analysis.

Across the country, criminal behavior is being excused and permitted, while officers stand by, baffled by the circumstances. Misdemeanors go completely ignored, riots are encouraged.  There are predictable effects to this behavior, which the country is now experiencing.  It is a hollow argument to point at a police officer and remind him/her of an oath when all signs seem to indicate that the country itself has abandoned law and order.

Instead of the focus on a manufactured epidemic of unethical police behavior, the mainstream/social media would do far better to argue for a widespread return to neutral, objective principles: the foundation of justice.  Those principles–innocent until proven guilty, for example–made our country an example to the world.  Police officers [and politicians] take an oath to defend laws and public order. Those laws are based on the Constitution, and typically so is that oath. The Founders believed that the power of that central document rested in the faith in a moral citizenry with shared values.  If those values, citizenship, and morality are eliminated, what then?

The vilification of law enforcement will have lasting detrimental effects, both physical and social, for the entire country. There is much that could be done to counteract this pattern.  Police officers are increasingly abandoned and yet still required to perform services that expose them to greater dangers every day.  If there is an oath to be acknowledged, a solemn pledge to be honored, it should be honored by all, not just the police.

A midwest Patrol Sergeant follows up:

This article, while making some valid points, is also typical of tone-deaf administrators, Police Chiefs, and Sheriffs.

— How many heads of agencies actually meet with their officers/deputies on a regular basis and discuss the use of deadly force with everyone, especially the ones who are most likely to use it?

— How many heads of agencies coordinate having their local prosecutor/DA come in and talk directly to the officers/deputies and explain exactly what they will be looking for when it comes to a use of force or use of deadly force situation?  (Depending who your prosecutor/DA is, this may well lead to a lot of resignations shortly after such a meeting…probably why certain agencies will never do it.)

— How many heads of agencies get deeply involved in the training program of their particular agency to make sure it’s actually preparing the officers to take action vs the FAR more common “check the box” training?

The answer is extremely few.  But they will happily fire officers who make mistakes or fail to take action.  Heads of agencies almost never point the finger at themselves when a problem in the agency is identified.  They find some scapegoat (usually a young officer or officers) and hang them out as an example to all…and then they wonder why no one wants to do this job any more.

Officers/deputies today, the majority at least, aren’t really afraid of dying in the line of duty.  They are afraid, terrified as a matter of fact, of going to prison.  We see officers/deputies being criminally charged on a regular basis.  Are  Police Chiefs and Sheriffs being criminally charged? Nope.  It’s the officers out there on the street.  The ones making the split-second decisions who are second-guessed by everyone. And it’s getting worse and worse with the proliferation of high-quality cameras everywhere.  Those Police Chiefs and Sheriffs are the first ones to get up and start firing people so they can say, “See, I’m doing something.”

When there’s a high-risk event administrators need officers to work, they beg and plead for people to come work it. But how many actual administrators are out there working alongside their subordinates?  Very, very few.  Why might that be?  Well, administrators aren’t stupid. They have figured out the best way to safely get to retirement is to avoid events where you might have to actually take enforcement action.  Within agencies across the nation, anyone with a brain moves off street patrol as soon as possible and hides from it.  Detective (some detective positions but not all), training, administrative section, etc.  Anything to get away from the risk of being charged for taking enforcement action.

Caliber Press has a class out called “Legally Justified; But Was it Avoidable?”  I have not attended the class but knowing Caliber Press, I’m sure there’s a lot of good information in it.  Young, smart officers today have already answered that question with, “I can avoid every bad situation out there by not being there.”  The administrators in most agencies figured that out a LONG time ago.

I hear from quite a number of retired officers and they ALL say, they are extremely happy to be retired and would not recommend this job to anyone they care about.  This job is becoming something you would wish on your worst enemy.  Why would you risk your freedom for the citizens who hate you, the politicians who hate you, and the agency administration who views you as expendable? Being fired sucks, but sucks a lot less than being fired and then criminally convicted.

Firing officers who don’t take appropriate action “solves” the problem for the moment but it doesn’t address the real issues…so it doesn’t solve anything.  Well guess what, Police Chiefs and Sheriffs?  Better keep whatever forms you need to fire someone handy because you’re going to be needing a lot of them.

Reader Bob Sears writes:

After 30 years as a California Police Officer, it comes down to Duty.

We are obviously there to protect the citizens we serve.  If officers cannot muster the internal fortitude to stop the thug due to fear of a civil suit or public opinion after doing the right thing, they deserve termination. If, on the other hand, they hesitate due to an obvious lack of backing by their chief and staff officers, the chief should be terminated and the officer re-trained as should the entire department.

Police work is winnable. There is no other choice.

From Retired Lt. Dennis Eberly who served with the East Hempfield (PA) PD:

Unfortunately, this does seem to be a sign of the times.

Being a cop has always been a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” profession.

Over the past couple years, the microscope on law enforcement has become laser focused.

There seems to be increasing instances of political and departmental leadership not having the backs of street cops making those instant life-or-death decisions, which are mulled over for weeks or months by lawyers, judges, or juries.

No wonder recruiting has become such a critical issue!  It gets harder and harder to recommend to a young person that they may have a bright future in law enforcement.  Best decision my adult kids made was not to follow in dad’s footsteps regarding employment.

Jesse Mathewson writes:

For over a decade I worked as a civilian consultant and trainer with law enforcement agencies and military units around the United States. I became disabled and in pursuit of returning to work have been working with local schools directly with teachers and administration. Your article is mostly correct. My thoughts, based entirely on numerous studies I’ve read, edited and written as well as years of hands-on work are as follows:

There is a disconnect in information. On one hand you have law enforcement which cloisters itself and refuses to take advice from anyone who is not “them.” They ignore evidence and facts if it does not support their approach. On the other hand, you have the lofty pinnacles of academia, wherein they do the same thing except instead of refusing advice they simply ignore anything that does not fit whatever new approach they have adopted today. Lastly, you have the very bad mixture of politicians and a largely ignorant population who simply doesn’t understand either of the two driving sides in this arena.

These days, the population is being educated entirely by academics who have little or no actual experience on the streets and who refuse to admit their presupposed approaches may be incorrect. On the other side, the individuals enforcing the laws passed by politicians (whose only goal is always re-election at any cost) those same individuals also refuse to learn alternatives and/or different approaches. (These are generalizations and are NOT always specifically reflected in individuals but can be seen in the general population of the two sides.)

The result is what you have noted in the article written.

I can only hope that sooner rather than later Americans will remember what brought them to the point we are at now: a mutual respect for the country and for our fellows regardless of beliefs. However, I would suggest that the divide will get far worse before it gets even a little better.

Paul Reichers who served as a Patrolman with the Nansemond Co., Virginia and City of Suffolk, Virginia Police Departments Auxiliary responds:

The answer to the question posed in your article is a resounding, “YES!” It IS a sign of the times. Any country that allows 2.8 million criminals to come across its southern border this year alone and not only fails to prosecute them but instead GIVES them food, shelter, cell phones and unrestricted admittance into its society has decided that those who break our laws or otherwise pose a threat are to be accepted, and in many cases, even rewarded.

Furthermore, anyone who attempts to dissuade these criminals from their purpose with physical force is to be ridiculed, vilified and punished severely should any harm come to the criminals while attempts are being made to dissuade them.

Examples of accepted criminal behavior are rampant everywhere, from Hunter Biden who was in possession of a firearm he could not legally possess because he is an illegal drug user, to those who were released within hours without charges after they were detained for destruction of private property in the riots occurring in Portland, Oregon to the criminals in California and elsewhere who are not arrested for shoplifting so long as the value of the goods stolen is not in excess of $999.

So yes, police officers beware. Not only are you subject to being injured or killed by criminals when attempting to dissuade them from their purpose, but you are also subject to being punished by those who employ you if you injure or kill a criminal while performing your duty.

 

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