News from ILEETA 2011: Shooting an 'unarmed' man

Day One at ILEETA 2011 was at once energizing and exhausting

Wow, it’s great to be back in Wheeling. Day One at ILEETA 2011 was at once energizing and exhausting. I love this conference because it is jam-packed, wall-to-wall, non-stop learning, and if the remainder of the week is anything like today, well, it will have been an amazing experience (once again). Today I attended four sessions — Officer Safety Training for the Future with Brian McKenna, Criminal Interview and Interrogation with Lou Tessmann, Active Threat Response: Lessons from Mumbai with Don Alwes, and Teaching the Survival Discipline of Staying Positive with Dan Marcou. I won’t — well, I can’t — get deep in the weeds on any of those sessions here, but instead pass along a couple of the moments that transpired which may be of interest.

For example, “There are times,” stated Brian McKenna, “when a police officer can shoot an unarmed man. Not only can they, but they have a sworn duty to do so!”

McKenna went further, “Some officers may even say they won’t shoot an armed assailant until they what,” he asked the standing-room-only audience. “When they...” 

McKenna let that statement trail off into becoming a question.

“When the assailant points a gun at them,” one attendee replied.

But there are plenty of gunmen and violent offenders who need to be stopped well before they train their sights on a cop. One example that should come immediately to mind is Maurice Clemmons. For a few seconds in the gun battle at the Forza Coffee Shop in Lakewood (Wash.) — after he assassinated Officer Tina Griswold and Sergeant Mark Renninger — Clemmons was holding a stovepiped pistol and reaching for his back-up revolver.

When Officer Benjamin L. Kelly of the Seattle Police Department encountered Clemmons a couple days later, he didn’t have to have Clemmons draw the Glock service pistol that had been taken from one of the dead Lakewood officers. Kelly was on a dark Seattle street in December 2009 when Clemmons — who had sworn to kill any cop who attempted to take him into custody — approached Kelly’s squad. Kelly recognized Clemmons, and thought to himself, “OK, I’m kind of in trouble here, and I better do something,” according to one report.

Kelly later testified that when Clemmons was about four feet away from him, that warrior pulled out his service pistol and ordered the cop killer to show his hands — orders which Clemmons ignored, choosing instead to reach turn away and reach for his waistband. Kelly said he fired seven shots, wounding Clemmons (Clemmons died a short time later).

As my friend and colleague Betsy Brantner Smith rightly said in a column the next day, “Officer Kelly trusted his instincts, employed training, and had the mindset to win.”

McKenna — who writes an outstanding column for Law Officer Magazine called Officer Down — used the Lakewood After Action Report as the lens through which the broader discussion about the future of officer safety training would be viewed for his one and three-quarter hour discussion. It was 0800 on day one of a weeklong conference, and it was packed.

“We have looked at the Newhall shooting for police training — people learn from it — but I believe that the Lakewood shooting is the pivotal case for officer safety for the future. Twenty-one percent of our officers are dying in ambushes — that is by far the largest category of all officer homicides. But when we have 25 events a year, all spread out over 365 days, nobody really seems to notice or do anything about it ...when we have four officers killed this way inside 60 seconds, everybody seems to take notice.”

The question becomes — although McKenna did not specifically articulate it in this language — what are we doing about it? Much of the conversation that followed — and McKenna’s session was pretty interactive for such a large group — centered on suggestions for changes in police training to address these new threats.

One interesting example that came up several times was the difference between what one attendee called “the two kingdoms of DT and firearms instructors.”

McKenna offered, “We talk about it, but we don’t train to it... the transition or the blending of DT and Firearms. We need to get away from having two different camps. Extreme close-quarters armed attacks are just a street brawl where there’s a gun involved. Also, cops also have a hard time shooting where there’s an innocent person involved or nearby. In Lakewood, Clemmons was probably wrestling and rolling around with Officer Owens, so maybe that second officer — officer Richards — didn’t want to shoot, or maybe felt like he didn’t have a good opportunity to shoot. How many agencies train for that scenario? Would it have been justifiable use of force for Richards to go up to Clemmons, put the muzzle at the base of his scull, and end that threat?”

In my head, I was literally screaming, “Yes!

Now, that said, that’s not something I’d recommend for inclusion in any P&P manual. Nor would I suggest that this tactic to be tossed into an Academy firearms course — but the fact of the matter is that the battle is changing, and police training will have to change with it.

Clemmons, in that moment he murdered those four Lakewood officers and every moment of his brief and miserable life that followed, needed to be stopped — end of story. It’ll be interesting to see how law enforcement training in the future addresses a Lakewood-style threat.

Check back in throughout this week and over coming months as I (and my columnists) write about what we’re seeing, hearing, and learning at ILEETA 2011.

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