Editor's Note — "When a suspect points a gun—or something that looks like a gun—at an officer, time becomes that officer's most critical ally or enemy," says Dr. Bill Lewinski, a law enforcement expert on time and response under stress and Executive Director of the Force Science Research Center. "His or her ability to make a split-second decision to fire can, and often does, mean the difference between that officer living or dying.
"Speaking from a physiological standpoint, it’s virtually impossible for an officer to visually distinguish between a real gun and a fake one when faced with something that looks as realistic as some of the 'toy' guns on the market," says Lewinski.
"When a suspect points a gun—real or fake—at an officer, that cop has to immediately decide whether his life is at risk. That decision alone takes up precious milliseconds. It's important for officers to remember that an untethered weapon (something tucked in a waistband, for example) can be brought on target with some modicum of accuracy in just one-quarter of a second. If that gun is already pointed at you, the suspect can pull the trigger in six-one-hundreths of a second.
"If you add to that the need for the officer to take even more time to stand there and try to visually spot clues that might indicate the weapon a suspect is brandishing is fake before firing, you are clearly putting that officer at alarmingly more risk. Even the slightest unnecessary delay can kill an officer. That’s a risk I am not willing to take.
"If it looks like a gun, if it’s pointed at you and if you have reason to believe that your life may be in immediate jeopardy, you need to respond with deadly force…quickly."
By The Associated Press
WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — A 12-year-old boy who was carrying a toy gun was shot to death Friday evening by a West Memphis police officer, who apparently thought the gun was real.
Police Chief Bob Paudert said officers were on surveillance at an apartment building near a hotel about 10 p.m. when the boy appeared.
"The child had a toy pistol that looked identical to a real weapon. He did have a toy pistol with him and the officer saw it and fired shots. Two shots, I think," Paudert told the Memphis (Tenn.) Commercial Appeal. "It's a very tragic and unfortunate incident that happened."
The child, whose name was not released, died at the scene, Paudert said. The officer, who was not identified, was placed on suspension with pay, pending an investigation.
Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler confirmed Saturday that the state police were investigating the fatal shooting of a boy by a West Memphis police officer. He did not provide further details, but said once the "use of force investigation" was completed the findings would be turned over to the local prosecutor to determine if charges are warranted.
Paudert did not immediately return a call Saturday.
According to WMC television station, there were two boys and two police officers involved in the incident. Police were in the area because of a rash of armed robberies, the station reported. West Memphis Police Assistant Chief Mike Allen said when two police officers approached the boys, the officers saw a gun.
"When the police confronted the 12-year-old and told him to drop the weapon, he made a gesture toward the officers and (they) fired," Allen said.
The other boy, a 14-year-old, was not injured.
The police chief said the officer who shot the boy has been with the department for more than 10 years. "He is taking it very hard right now," Paudert said.
Since the incident involved an officer, Paudert asked the Arkansas State Police to investigate.
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"We're all saddened by the fact that this happened. But it will be thoroughly investigated by the state police," Paudert said.