I’ll start off plain and simple; we cannot, we must not, we need not hesitate in our job. The environment in which we work today, with the massive amount of societal and media overlook, presents situations in which officers may second guess and question themselves, leading directly to hesitation. Hesitation can become deadly very quick. The most important thing (and we have heard this so many times in our job) is that we go home at night and that we complete our job to the best of our abilities at all times.
Last night I was presented with a situation that I can be sure many officers have found themselves in before (some maybe numerous times). I will give the brief version of events, for brevity’s sake. Radio traffic indicated that there was an active street robbery taking place in an alley close to my location. Both myself and my partners responded, via foot, to the location. As I turned the corner into the alley, I witnessed a female, on the ground, bleeding from the mouth. I then witnessed the suspect approximately 50 yards down the alley. I ordered this man to the ground three separate times, without successful compliance. The suspect was very irate, turned towards my partners and I, still refusing to get on the ground, and began very slowly approaching us. We had, at this time, progressed to within approximately 25 yards of the suspect. With the little information we went into this situation with, and with the presence of a victim with visible injuries, I decided to draw my service weapon for not only my safety but the safety of my partners and the victim. I could see the suspect’s hands, he was not holding a weapon. I had no way of knowing whether or not he had a weapon concealed on his person. I was out of range in which I could deploy any less lethal option. The suspect successfully complied with our orders once both my partner and I had drawn weapons, secured our position and taken directed aim at the suspect. I became cover officer as my partner(s) secured the suspect in handcuffs.
After the incident was resolved, it was determined that the suspect and victim are married to each other. This was a domestic dispute that, on the surface, took the face of a robbery and, even, a potential aggravated robbery.
It was at this time that I began to rewind the entire incident in my head. I began to ask myself why I went directly to a lethal force option after non-compliance to verbal commands. After monday morning quarterbacking myself, I was able to come to terms, fairly easily, with all the decisions I made. I went into this incident with the pretense that a robbery was in progress in an alley. I then witnessed an injured victim on the ground. I observed the non-compliant subject, who was clearly intoxicated and irate. While, yes, I was able to definitively say he did not have a weapon in his hands, I was completely unsure as to whether or not he had a weapon concealed on his person. The suspect was wearing loose, cold weather clothing. It was almost as if I wasn’t consciously processing this all at the time, but realized, after the incident, that I was making numerous, perhaps hundreds, of split-second decisions. It turns out the suspect was not armed with a weapon and had caused the injuries to the victim with his hands.
I was in a clear alley with no cover and concealment. I was far enough into the alley, where backing out would have been ineffective and tactically unsound. My partners and I had to proceed in a forward direction towards the subject. With all of the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident, known to us at the time, securing a lethal force option was absolutely necessary. Not only was securing a lethal force option necessary, it was extremely effective.
The simple fact is, we did not hesitate to escalate our force options in response to the totality of the circumstances. As well, we did not hesitate to de-escalate our force options as the situation dictated.
An additional fact to this incident is that I allowed training to completely take over, subconsciously. I do not remember thinking to myself, “I remember this from training! I am now going to draw my weapon, bring it to the high ready and take aim.” The training, subconsciously, told me what to do and drove my actions. Our brains are capable of processing numerous amounts of information at one time. We, by nature of being human, have a fight, flight, posture or submit process to our operations. Once verbal contact was made with the suspect, he began to posture, turning towards us and refusing verbal commands. We, in a response, postured back by increasing the volume and authoritative nature of our commands. He then took to a fight response by slowly approaching our direction, in an aggressive state. We responded with a fight response by securing a lethal force option. It was at this time that the suspect submitted. The main difference between our actions and the suspect’s actions was that his were driven by nature and a chemical response in the brain; our actions were driven by training, training that has been programmed into our natural state. Training did not allow us to hesitate. We resolved this incident without any force used.
The moral of this story is to allow your training, the training you’ve been so graciously blessed with, to guide you. In some situations, training forces its way into your head and takes complete control (as was the case last night). Please do not allow societal, media or cultural influences to pull you away from your training. As Patrick McNamara said in a previous article, we must train past the fight.
We cannot hesitate, we must not hesitate. God bless you all.