Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I Felt Threatened

"I felt threatened" has become the tag line that is driving a very solid wedge between police and the communities they serve. I don't want this to be a political blog, but I saw a video this morning that motivated me to write something in hopes the police community might one day see it.

There's video of a South Carolina officer who shoots an old man as he lightly jogged away, then a second officer plants an object near where the victim fell. This is pretty clear, and thankfully, the officer involved has been charged with murder. The excuse for the shooting was "I felt threatened".

Closer to home, a woman in Burlington, Iowa was accidentally shot and killed by an officer who "felt threatened" by the woman's dog. The officer slipped and fired twice as he fell. He claims the dog took him down, but the P.D. was unable to show medical records, photographs, or even a torn uniform in support of the dog attack claim.

Ladies and gentlemen of the police community, we have a problem. Or rather, two problems.

First and foremost, stop feeling threatened by EVERYTHING. I understand that police work is dangerous. I was a police officer for several miserable months. I was also an infantryman, and did two tours in a particularly bad neighborhood of Afghanistan. I'm no stranger to hazardous work, nor being on the wrong end of a gun. You officers of the law need to learn a new catch phrase. One that I think might do nicely belongs to Travis Haley: "Thinkers before shooters."

Think before you pull the trigger. That's all I'm asking. Do a quick mental risk assessment. Is the risk of using your gun greater than the risk of not using it? In the Burlington case, the officer was allegedly trying to avoid getting bitten by the dog. I get that a dog, especially a big dog, can do serious and even life-threatening damage. But what about pulling the trigger? Where will that bullet actually stop (rule 4: Identify your target, and what is beyond it)?

That leads me to the second problem. The police community refuses to punish officers who act recklessly. The officer in Burlington will face no disciplinary action whatsoever. None. He killed an innocent person and will face no punitive action. Other cops need to step up and denounce this guy (and others like him) and his poor judgement. Police need to shun officers who put the public at risk, and make it known that there will be no "Blue Wall of Silence" for officers who betray the public trust.

Start speaking out before public trust is totally gone (and it's nearly there now). I have friends who are still officers and I want them to be seen as defenders of their communities. Acts like those outlined above make the police as a whole seem reckless, if not bloodthirsty. I know that's not the case. So from now on, all you policemen who read this, think before you shoot. And if a colleague is acting a fool, correct them before they end up as the next headline.

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