When most officers think of officer survival, we think of cover and concealment, keeping a reaction gap, marksmanship, back up, etc. We think of keeping the upper hand physically, kill or be killed type issues. While the violent murder of a fellow officer is a horrific thought and we all need to take steps to assure we do not fall victim to the hands of a violent criminal, there are other aspects of officer survival we often overlook. This aspect is keeping our jobs. Most officers are not independently wealthy and the loss of a job would be financially devastating to the officer and his or her family. Still we see officers getting in that last good punch or kick, doling out some “street justice.” Don’t get me wrong, in most cases the street justice given out probably fits the crime better then the sentences imposed by the courts. Also, most law-abiding citizens do not care if one of their P.D’s finest “lays the smack down” on Joe the Mope the gang-banging dope dealer. But remember when the smack down is over, Joe the Mope might be coming back with his lawyer, claiming you violated his “civil rights.”
In most instances the case is settled out of court with Joe the Mope receiving little to no money, and there is no more than a small investigation by Internal Affairs done on the officer. A small number of cases, particularly cases when Joe the Mope has some type of evidence, might turn out a little different. In these cases your department might get sued for a large sum of money, you might be sued, or you could receive disciplinary action, which could include termination and possible criminal charges brought against you. All of these things would be both emotionally and financially devastating to you and your family.
How does Joe the Mope get this damaging evidence? He gets it from witnesses, medical reports and videotape. In Chicago, there have been reports of gang bangers driving around, with a video camera mounted somewhere in their vehicle. As the gang bangers drive around, they violate traffic laws and try to get the attention of the police hoping the police will initiate a traffic stop. Once the traffic stop is initiated, the occupants of the vehicle attempt to bait the officer into a physical confrontation. During the confrontation the gang bangers hope the officer lays the smack down on them. The next day the gang bangers’ lawyer shows up, armed with the videotape, claiming the officer(s) violated his “poor” clients’ civil rights.
In these cases, if the officer(s) violated the gang bangers civil rights, in the eyes of the courts, the officer has nowhere to hide. We can protect ourselves against losing our job over incidents like these. First, we should know our department’s use of force policies and procedures. Also, we should become versed in our department’s use of force continuum. If your department does not have a use of force continuum, use another department’s. Use of force continuums do not vary a great deal from department to department, and have been accepted in the courts as a good guide for an officer’s level of force which is dictated by the offender’s actions. Lastly, we should not take any action we know would be looked down upon by our department or the courts as a violation of someone’s civil rights.
Lawsuits, citizen’s complaints and excessive force investigations are unfortunately a part of our job, but if you do nothing wrong you give them nothing. Joe the Mope the gang-banging dope dealer gets no money from your department, you keep your job and you continue to give your family financial security.
If someone’s actions put your life, your partner’s life and/or the life of an innocent person in jeopardy, by all means, take swift and appropriate action to end the threat. Remember we are not the judges, the jury and executioner, we are the arresters. The courts have clearly shown us they do not want us to punish, even though oftentimes we would like to. Remember the number one rule of police work. Always go home safe and alive at the end of the shift. But also remember to wake up with a job the next day.
Brian Drees has been a FTO, SWAT team member and patrol officer for the North Chicago Police Departmentfor about 5 years. Brian is a policeone.com member and requested we post his article. If you would like to submit an article to be posted, email Mike@policeone.com.