Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

Arm Chair Quarterbacks Abound

On Wednesday March 27, 2018, PLEA was contacted by ABC News 15 in regard to a story they were putting together on officer involved shootings.  Information they had developed showed 24 such incidents had occurred valley wide since January 1, 2018 and that 12 of the 24 occurred in the city of Phoenix.  This is not surprising considering Phoenix covers 530 square miles with a population of approximately 1.6 million people.  The city continues to grow and we struggle to keep pace with appropriate police staffing.   

As is often the case, PLEA was contacted and asked to provide a law enforcement perspective which we were more than happy to do.  In order to obtain another viewpoint, local pastor Warren Stewart Jr. was contacted for his opinion.  He also obliged and provided comment.

When asked about his reaction to 23 shootings valley wide,his statement was; “That’s out of control.” 

PLEA understands that in a perfect world there wouldn’t be any police shootings.  In fact there would be no need for police.  Unfortunately, police officers have to deal with the real world.  We are expected to deal with the worst in society.  We operate in a world where bad guys aren’t always impressed with badges, guns and police cars.  They often refuse to submit to lawful authority and will attempt to injure or kill officers or citizens.  Police are largely reactionary.  In most instances they are thrust into situations where the suspect drives the scenario. 

Based on this, we aren’t sure what Reverend Stewart means when he says “that’s out of control” unless he’s  referring to the out of control criminal element police are forced to deal with.

He further stated: “We have to get more police training and the way they [police] respond under control.”  There are two parts to this statement.  Most officers will generally agree that increased training is a good thing and most are not averse to good practical training that will help them operate more effectively in a street environment.   However, when dealing with a large major city police department it is easier said than done.  Training and the amount of it is only limited by two things; time and money.  Training can be both time consuming and expensive.  Most large police departments are pulled in many different directions when it comes to budgetary constraints.  Police Chiefs are constantly fighting the battle of diminishing resources, diminishing manpower, and budget cutbacks with the the age old mantra of having to do more with less.

With regard to having police “respond under control,” most would refer to this as de-escalation.  The entire Phoenix police department has received de-escalation training.  Despite this, officers can be thrust into situations that unfold so rapidly they have to react instantly and are often forced to make a split second decision on whether or not to use lethal force to defend themselves or a citizen.

The news report went on to state that community activists complain: “There are many cases where police have fired after mistaking cell phones for a deadly weapon.”

While officers nationwide have shot persons who pulled or brandished objects such as wallets, phones, or shiny objects mistaken for weapons, instances such as these are the exception to the rule.  When it does happen it is usually because a suspect has fought with or run from police, failed to obey numerous commands often combined with exhibiting other contextual cues that would lead a reasonable officer to believe a weapon is being or about to be presented. 

Reverend Stewart went on to say: “They [police] have Tasers, they have rubber bullets, they have mace, they can use all these other methods before a lethal weapon is used.”

While it is true that police officers have a variety of force options they do not always have the luxury of progressively moving through each force option prior to using lethal force.  Police/citizen contacts can escalate to a flash point in a split second necessitating the use of lethal force.

Hearing Reverend Stewart’s comment, some officers have jokingly asked when they are getting their rubber bullets.  Rubber projectiles are a specialized munition deployed by specially trained personnel utilizing special equipment.  They are deployed in crowd control/riot situations and are not carried for day to day use by rank and file patrol officers.

De-escalation  tactics can be extremely useful and officers are trained on them.  Like many other tools and tactics available to law enforcement, de-escalation is not a magic wand and it is not a one size fits all solution.  In certain situations de-escalation can be very effective and in others it simply may not be an option.  The tactical response to a given event is dictated by things such as time-distance factors, amount of information available,  location, weapons, speed of the given event, and the degree of threat posed to officers and citizens to name a few.

Rather than resorting to simplistic knee jerk reactions that seek to blame law enforcement for a certain frequency of shootings, perhaps we should lay blame squarely where it belongs, at the feet of the very criminals who engage in the types of activity that result in them getting shot.  This usually starts when a person commits or is sought in connection with a crime.  The next step is when said person refuses to submit to lawful authority and decides to either flee from or fight with the police.  The third step is further refusal to follow directions, making furtive movements, exhibiting contextual cues consistent with presenting a weapon, or actually attacking with a weapon resulting in the use of lethal force.   

In any case where a suspect is injured or killed as a result of a police contact there is one consistent yet conveniently omitted fact that many choose to willingly ignore.  The fact that had the suspect simply obeyed commands, not run, not fought and submitted to lawful authority, they would be alive and and uninjured.

CLICK HERE to watch the related ABC News 15 story 

Watch the video below of an officer involved shooting out of Clayton Georgia. 

For all the armchair quarterbacks, social media critics, and church pastors out there please feel free to explain how this scenario should have been “de-escalated” more than what it was and what force options other than deadly force should have been used?  What “additional [police] training” would have prevented this?  After you watch the video scroll down below the video for our analysis.

The first amendment grants freedom of speech, it allows all of us the ability to have a public voice and the free and open expression of opinions.  Most cops aren’t theologians and most church pastors aren’t cops.  A cop can be critical of his or her pastor and what they preach and likewise a pastor can certainly be critical of the police.  It doesn’t necessarily mean either knows what they are talking about.      

 

The Breakdown:

  • Traffic violation(s) observed
  • Suspect failed to yield (a felony in most states)
  • Suspect crashes his vehicle disabling it
  • Suspect failed to obey verbal commands from the officer
  • Scene well illuminated allowing suspect to see the officer had his gun drawn 
  • Suspect kicked back window out of the vehicle
  • Suspect exited the vehicle in a fast aggressive manner
  • Suspect charged over the roof of the vehicle with edged weapon in hand
  • Suspect did a running leap off the roof of the car towards the officer
  • Suspect crawled rapidly on all fours trying to stab officers feet
  • Suspect got to his feet and sprinted toward officer
  • Suspect failed to heed continued verbal commands 
  • Officer shoots suspect to end the threat

Was de-escalation employed, if so how?

Yes, as fast as this situation played out there were elements of de-escalation.

  • The officer immediately gave verbal commands
  • The officer did not immediately rush the vehicle or otherwise try to further escalate the situation
  • The officer most likely knew if the suspect was contained in the vehicle the safe course of action would be to wait for backup 
  • The officer did move around the vehicle in a circular manner to keep eyes on the suspect
  • When the suspect exited through the back window, the officer continued giving verbal commands
  • Despite this the officer did not immediately begin shooting
  • When the suspect executed a flying leap off of the roof of the car the officer rapidly backed up while continuing to give commands 
  • When the suspect was able to get back to his feet the officer continued to back up and give commands almost to the point where the suspect was on top of him prior to firing.