Big brother and lethal nonlethal weapons…

I wish I could get into the head of the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks because I have a theory about why it turned into a clusterfuck.

I need to admit up front that I haven’t watched all the videos in their entirety, but I’ve seen enough of the initial encounter and the ending to, along with my twenty plus years of doing this job, formulate this opinion.

The first officer on scene initially told Mr. Brooks that he was blocking traffic, and that he had to move his car. I’m sure it’s obvious already to this officer that Brooks is drunk or high or impaired somehow.

The officer goes back to his car and Brooks goes back to sleep.

The officer goes back to the suspect’s car and tells him to pull into a parking space, which Brooks eventually, though not without some difficulty, does.

At this point, the officer is in his patrol car and while seeing things through his body cam I’m imagining this is what’s going on in his head:

Man, I want to leave. I could be done with this call and move on to the next one, but look at all these people in the drive thru. They all know as well as I do that he’s probably drunk.

If I let him go and he wakes up and drives off and kills somebody, I won’t be able to live with myself. They’ll probably fire me or try to find a way to charge me with a crime. The family of the people killed would sue me for sure.

I could give him a ride home, right?

Sure, I would tell him that he’s not going to jail but tell him that he has to ride in the car with handcuffs on because it’s an officer safety issue AND the people who called 911 would think I was arresting a drunk driver and we can all move on.

Well crap. My dash camera and my body camera have both been recording this whole time. If my bosses see me not arresting a drunk driver and just taking him home, they’ll ding me for sure.

Fuck it. It’s just easier to just do the proper thing and arrest him. I’m sure he’ll get off easy anyway. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do…

We all know how this ended, which is not well for anyone.

Just like that, we have another man killed by a police officer in a situation that was wholly avoidable.

In a perfect world, a person, especially a drunk one, should never be able to disarm an officer. We are trained to keep that from happening, but things do happen.

Once Brooks has the officer’s Taser though, should he have still lost his life?

No.

Let me say this up front though. This was a legally justified shooting, and the officer shouldn’t be charged with a crime, and probably shouldn’t have even lost his job.

Now let me digress.

A Taser is by definition an intermediary use of force device in police parlance.

On the use of force continuum in most departments, its use is considered a non-lethal use of force alternative when utilized by a trained officer.

You may have heard the term use of force continuum recently as it is part of what is being called the “8 Can’t Wait” reforms being peddled by the Obama Foundation that many city mayors and departments are adopting at the behest of people demanding police reform.

Most of the eight suggested reforms are honestly already a part of most police agency policies and/or training.

Briefly, the reforms are as follows:

  1. De-escalation training
  2. Required use of a force continuum
  3. Restricting or eliminating chokeholds
  4. Requiring verbal warnings before using deadly force
  5. Prohibit shooting at people in moving cars
  6. Exhausting all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force
  7. Intervening when an officer sees another officer using excessive force
  8. Comprehensive reporting of use of force incidents

The idea of a use of force continuum is that the officer using force should use the least amount of force necessary to safely accomplish his or her objective, whatever that may be.

In other words, if an officer is trying to arrest a person and that person is yelling profanities at the officer, hitting the arrestee in the head with a night stick right away is unwarranted.

Verbal abuse with nothing more should be met with verbal commands, which are near the low end of the continuum, and should those fail, then the officer would move up to the next level of force on the continuum.

That doesn’t mean that the officer has to go through each level on the continuum to get to the next higher level, of course.

If an officer encounters a man shooting a gun at him, then he doesn’t have to standby and try to use his words or open hand techniques to save his own life. The officer could go straight to deadly force, so long as he is able to explain his actions.

This officer used a gun when Brooks had a Taser, which you just said was an intermediary device. Why shouldn’t he be fired or charged?

I said that a Taser was a non-lethal alternative for officers trained in its use.

Police officers are wise to not use a Taser on a person with a gun. The only time that’s even an option is when two or more officers are on scene and one of them has his or her firearm ready, in case the Taser doesn’t work on the armed suspect.

If Brooks is able to shoot the Taser at one of these officers, one of the prongs could very easily go through an eye causing serious physical injury or, should the Taser work as intended, this man so hell bent on escaping a simple DUI charge could conceivably take one of the officers’ guns and use it to kill one or both of them. In that sense, the Taser is very much a deadly weapon.

To suggest that this outcome is implausible is unfair to the officers. We’ve all seen enough unbelievable video to know that anything can happen in this world.

The officer who shot Brooks was chasing him with his Taser in his hand, presumably because he hoped to use it instead of his gun to subdue this man and make the lawful arrest.

ONLY when Brooks fired the Taser at the officer did he shoot at him with his pistol, and I suggest he was legally entitled to do so. He dropped his Taser and shot Brooks with his gun to potentially save his life.

What’s legally justified in police work isn’t always what brings about the best or even a remotely desirable outcome, and of course this officer now has to live with his decision. Maybe he’s at peace with it, or more likely, since he appeared to want to let the guy go initially and was chasing him with a Taser before shooting his gun, he’s struggling terribly with what happened.

When I think about these incidents that keep occurring, my struggle is with how we get officers and more importantly, those who are supposed to lead officers, to understand that it’s okay to retreat sometimes and get the bad guy later.

I wonder if this officer had let Brooks run off with the Taser and he ended up escaping how his command staff would take that, even had the officer said he did so instead of shooting him.

Here is part of my department’s police manual, and in fact, it’s literally the first thing in the manual after the index.

The primary responsibility of this Department and each of its members is to protect the lives of the citizens we are sworn to serve. It is also the duty of each member of the Department to honor the established principles of democracy upon which this country was founded. Among these is the most profound reverence for human life, the value of which far exceeds that of any property. In view of this, it is essential that every action of this Department and of each of its members be consistent with that responsibility.

If one of my officers says he let a man he only knew to be wanted for a DUI run off with a TASER because his only other option was to shoot him, I’d fight for that officer to not lose his job, assuming he or she is an otherwise fine officer.

He or she would be punished, of course and subject to more training I’d hope, but I would appreciate the levelheadness of that decision.

I don’t feel as though our training always comports with this ideal, and I have a hunch that this officer’s didn’t either.

He did what he thought he had to do to save his life and probably, with respect to trying to make the arrest in the first place and not losing the Taser, his job.

Those are tough decisions to make in the heat of the moment, but we’re expected to make them all the time.

Ideally, common sense decisions that save lives are supported, but that isn’t always reality.

This entry was posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Big brother and lethal nonlethal weapons…

  1. barbtaub says:

    For days now I’ve been wondering just what your take on this would be. I should have known it would be balanced, fair, and thought provoking.

    Of course, I’m also wondering (although I don’t expect an immediate answer) what you see for the future of policing. We’re both old enough to know that pendulums swing both ways before stopping somewhere in the middle. I am curious about what that new equilibrium will look like.

    I think about you Don, about the people you’ve trained, and about the years you’ve devoted to your job and your community. We’re all luckier for having people like you. Reading between your lines, I see there are many things you think could have been done differently, as well as sympathy for the people making literally life and death decisions in the moment.

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Thanks so much for the kind words, Barb. It’s hard to put these events into words sometimes, but my hope is that it helps in some small way with a dialogue. I’m as curious as you about what changes in law enforcement will look like. I think more of the younger officers being hired are willing to accept change and that will be important.

  2. Maggie O'C says:

    As always, I’m grateful for your voice. Be safe!

  3. gu4rd1an says:

    it is totally justified in my opinion, bad timing though (

    my heart goes out to all the good police, and thank you for your posts

    ________________________________

  4. Kat Lawson says:

    Thanks for the insight.

  5. Julie says:

    I continually look for your insite on these kinds of tragedies, as far as I’m concerned, you’re an expert in these matters, and know far better what may go through the officers mind than I could presume to guess. I try to look objectively at each situation, but I sometimes wonder if my view is skewed. If the officer had let him go, with his taser, and someone else been severely injured or killed, wouldn’t that also fall back on the officer? It truly seems to me an increasingly impossible situation for the majority of law enforcement. Talk about a catch 22!

    As always, God Bless you and yours, keep safe!

    • Thanks so much, Julie. I appreciate you. It’s hard to accept criticism when decisions are made in the heat of the moment, but we need to be open to it to some extent. If we’re going to start being fired at the whims of mobs, that’s going to be an issue.

  6. I feel really bad for this young man and for his family. No way he should be dead because he foolishly got too drunk one night to realize just how drunk he was. But I also feel for that officer, and for all officers who have to make these split-second life-and-death decisions. Thank you for your balanced and thoughtful analysis. I am so grateful for your blog and for your insights. Take care!

    • Yeah, it’s tough for everyone. I know that if I were the officer I’d be replaying it in my head over and over again wondering what I could have done differently. Things happen so fast on the streets though, and we have to make decisions so quickly and on the fly sometimes that mistakes are inevitable. I think without knowing this cop that he wishes he’d have done something differently, but he was well within his rights to shoot in this situation.

  7. Marian OReilly says:

    Thank you for your insight into these incidents. I am not in law enforcement but have friends who are. The closest I have been is citizens police academy with ride along. We flew across the county for an officer in need call.

    Thank you for your service and insight.

    Marian O’Reilly

    • Thanks for reading and for trying to understand the job by doing ride alongs and the police academy. More people should give that a try to get a feel for what it’s like.

  8. markbialczak says:

    The world needs this sort of calm and logical discourse, Don. Thank you.

  9. I appreciate your explanation of the situation. Having an experienced level-headed professional break it down helps me understand the difficulty of the situation.

  10. Sherry Bucalo says:

    Having worked both in the Police and Education field, I have to say that it seems to me that the same people who think teachers make so much money with the “limited” hours they work and the people who think the police should never use force on anyone are very closely related. I hurt for the cops on the street now, and worry with as hard as it is now to get good officers, who well we get in the future? Stay safe out there.

    • Overpaid teachers? Lol. Yeah, those folks are ridiculous. We are hiring a lot of people who probably shouldn’t be cops for certain reasons, but I think these same people will be more agreeable to the inevitable changes that are coming to policing than more traditional cops would be, if that makes any sense.

  11. cj says:

    Perhaps this is the type of situation that could be successfully handled by a social worker, someone to give the kid a ride home. There’d be no need to force him into a police car, no taser to steal, and no fears of being tasered in the eye and having your gun *also* stolen and being shot, thus preventing the *unjustifiable* death of another person, and the internal dilemma of another cop. That’s what “defund the police” is about. Save use of force for when it’s really needed.

    • JJ says:

      Is that a joke? The “kid” was in his 30’s and was so wasted he fell asleep at the wheel. He had been out driving while completely intoxicated. That is a CRIME. What if he’d hit someone and killed them?

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