Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Last week, there was a high profile shooting outside of a juvenile courtroom in my county. While details are still very sketchy, it seems that a deputy sheriff working security for the court was attacked by one of the juvenile offenders appearing in the courtroom. Some folks reported that members of the juvenile criminal’s family also participated in the attack.
We still don’t know exactly what happened, but the deputy was beaten and taken to the ground. The deputy drew his gun and shot the 16-year old boy who was pummeling him. Maybe there were some unreported factors that would make this shooting a little easier to stomach (a gun grab attempt, presence of other weapons, extent of the deputy’s injuries, etc.), but more than likely this situation was simply the result of the deputy being physically outmatched by the aggressive teenage suspect.
The newspaper did a public records request on the deputy’s personnel file. They found that in spite of nearly two decades of experience as a deputy sheriff, this particular deputy had never been involved a single incident where he had to subdue an aggressive criminal suspect by himself. In every one of his previous use of force experiences, he had at least one other deputy with him when the fight kicked off.
The shooting will likely will be considered “justified.” Being legally justified doesn’t mean that the use of the pistol was an optimal choice or a choice that the deputy could have avoided with better training and hiring selection.
This individual case isn’t really what is important here. The long term trend in police hiring practices and training is what matters.
Although I know it isn’t possible in all cases, when a citizen calls an officer for help, I would generally feel more comfortable knowing that the officer could physically handle a 16-year old without using a gun.
The reality that many folks refuse to understand is that if you are a police officer, you will occasionally have to physically fight a criminal.
Many fights can be avoided through better planning, better tactics, and better verbalization. But no matter how hard you try to avoid the fight, occasionally you will meet a criminal who has only one goal…to hurt or kill you. Officers must be prepared for that eventuality.
The police agency will never give the officer enough training to win in a fight against someone younger, stronger, faster, and more violent. Learning how to prevail in that environment takes years of hard work, dedication, and pain. Very few officers are willing to undertake that journey.
If the police agency won’t train its officers up to this level and the officer won’t do the training on his own, what happens in a case like this?
The deputy likely tried to calm everyone down with his agency-approved verbal de-escalation techniques. It didn’t work. De-escalation requires the criminal’s cooperation. This criminal didn’t want to cooperate. Instead he wanted to beat the deputy’s ass.
A 16-year old criminal suspect threw down on the deputy and struck him in the face a few times (the article stated the deputy suffered a black eye and facial lacerations). The kid knocked the deputy to the ground. The deputy probably got scared. He had never been in a one-on-one fight with a criminal suspect in all of his years of law enforcement.
He’d likely never been punched hard in the face or taken to the ground. Even though the suspect was only 16, the deputy knew he couldn’t win the physical confrontation. The deputy shot and killed the boy.
This is a predictable outcome when police agencies try to hire deputies and officers who don’t appear “intimidating.” When departments purposely hire officers with no combat, fighting, or hard contact sports in their background in order to reduce “use of force” incidents, they end up with cases like this. Because the officer wasn’t a skilled fighter, he pulled his gun and killed a teenager.
If society wants fewer unarmed citizen suspects killed by police, they should ensure that every police officer is capable enough to handle most situations physically. The department would also have to conduct much more defensive tactics training in both the initial academy and at least monthly as in-service training at the department. No city wants to fund such a massively expensive project.
Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways. If you want cops to avoid using their guns in physical confrontations, you’d better hire officers who can physically dominate a situation and then provide regular and continuing high quality defensive tactics training sessions for those officers. It isn’t going to happen
I predict that we will see an exponential increase in shootings like this in the coming years. Be careful what you wish for….