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Why I didn't shoot: When cops' guns fall silent

This was the closest I have ever come to shooting someone

The three of us sat in the parking lot talking about the activities from last night. I saw the truck drive by.

It was distinctive, jacked up with a chrome roll bar and bumpers with an out of state plate. We had been looking for it for the last few weeks. The FBI had contacted us to keep an eye out for the three suspects. The suspects were wanted in several states for charges ranging from drug trafficking to attempted murder, two brothers from a neighboring state and a Mexican who claimed ties to the most dangerous drug cartel at the time.

They were in the area trying to set up a new smuggling route into Canada. Informants indicated they would be in possession of $30,000 of seed money and they were armed and considered dangerous. Prior to leaving on this business trip it seems the Mexican had an argument with his girlfriend. He ended the argument when he had pushed her out of a car, unfortunately for her the car was traveling down the freeway at the time.

No Backup Available
We followed the truck and its’ lone occupant as it turned into an apartment buildings parking lot. We did a felony stop and the drivers was ID-ed as one of the brothers. The manager of the building came out and we determined that the other suspects were in an apartment on the top floor on the opposite side of the building.  We hoped they hadn’t seen us drive by following their now in custody partner.

It was a small town... no other officers were available and call for back up went out. The deputy stayed with the suspect in the squad car. I had the manager evacuate the first two floors and my partner and I covered the top floor from opposite ends.

We got the pass key and evacuated and checked all the other apartments to make sure everyone else was out. We retook out positions behind concealment at the ends of the hall. A short time later the door opened and the other brother walked out having a discussion with someone inside about why it was taking so long for his brother to return from the store. He walked down the hall, as the door shut, towards my partner apparently in search of his tardy brother.

As he reached the end of the hall he was greeted by a .357 in his ear. My partner arrested him, as I covered from my position with the shotgun. He took the suspect out to the waiting squad car.

Alone on the top floor I impatiently waited for my partner to return. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was impatient. The door to the apartment opened, I ducked back behind the corner. Hearing footsteps I leaned back out around the corner to see the accused attempted murderer walking away from his open doorway and toward my unsuspecting partner returning to his end of the hall.

Not having time to use the radio to warn my partner I yelled at the suspect that he was under arrest and not to move. He turned and looked at me, paused and then started to walk back towards the open door of his apartment.

I didn’t see any weapons or indications that he had one on him. His return to the apartment could mean several things: taking cover to engage me from the doorway with an undetected weapon, going inside to get a weapon and returning or an escape attempt by locking the door and exiting out a window of the unsecured side of the building.

I thumbed the safety off the Mossberg shotgun and shouted, “Stop or I will shoot!”  Apparently convinced I meant what I said, he stopped a few steps away from the door. My partner, hearing my yelling inside, came running up the stairs.

A (Relatively) Happy Ending
The suspect was taking into custody, a warrant obtained and a search conducted of the apartment. A small amount of marijuana was located, small in that they generally smuggled tons not pounds. The cash and weapons were in another vehicle that would escape once the word of their capture spread in the small town. After a full investigation by the feds the arrest led to the recovery of around million dollars in drugs and property in several different states and the prosecution of few more of his fellow smugglers higher in the chain.

So my tale has a happy ending. This was the closest I have ever come to shooting someone. The safety was off, my finger was going towards the trigger to shoot if he continued toward the open door. I was authorized under state statute since he was a suspect in an attempted murder, considered armed and dangerous, attempting escape, and posing an imminent threat to the community if he was allowed to escape.

I didn’t have to give him the additional warning but I did. I chose not to use deadly force when I was authorized.

And I am not alone.

Restraint in the Use of Deadly Force
In a recent study entitled Restraint in the Use of Deadly Force (created by the same people who compiled the Killed in the Line of Duty (1992), In the Line of Fire (1997), Violent Encounters (2006) and The Deadly Mix (2007) studies take a look at the use and non-use of deadly force by law enforcement officers in the United States). If you aren’t familiar with the aforementioned studies they are available at the FBI website and are a wealth of information for the LE trainer and safety conscious street officer.

The results indicate that 96 percent of the officers involved in the study draw a weapon at least once a year. The study revealed also that 83 percent indicated “that they had been involved in at least one critical incident during their careers.” Of those incidents, 20 percent ended up firing their weapons. 70 percent indicated that they had been in situations where while legally authorized to use deadly force they made the decision not to.

When totaling up the 1,189 situations the officers in the study were involved in where deadly force was authorized it was actually employed only 87 times (7 percent). In the 1,102 (93 percent) other incidents the officers made the decision not to use deadly force. This shows a remarkable level of restrain on the part of the officers in the study, and that translates to same or greater level of restraint by officers on a nation wide basis.

The study doesn’t delve into the reasons-psychological, moral, or tactical reasons that the officers didn’t use the authorized level of force. So I asked a panel of experts for their reaction and opinions to this study. In coming weeks and months, we’ll present their responses — I’ll collect them and send them to PoliceOne Editor-in-Chief Doug Wyllie, who will try to post them at reasonably regular intervals. If you want to also send him your own conclusions, Doug tells me he’d entertain the idea of posting your submission as a PoliceOne First Person essay.

Just send him an email

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