Being a cop is a scary job, and one often finds him or herself alone on the side of the road at night, approaching a vehicle, hoping the passengers don’t jump out shooting like all of those suspects did in the videos we were shown
Training to Make Split-Second Decisions
As I was training to become a police officer, I was often told that we needed to be able to make split second life and death decisions every single day. In my book I mentioned that cops do not have the luxury of making a mistake because the public is always watching and lives are often at stake. A police officer is trained to protect life with force and violence. Officers are trained to engage, and if necessary, eliminate a target threatening the life of another person. During my training, we drilled through countless scenarios trying to quicken our decision processes in determining whether or not to shoot. We were shown numerous videos of officers who failed to shoot which resulted in the ending of their own lives.
Being a cop is a scary job, and one often finds him or herself alone on the side of the road at night, approaching a vehicle, hoping the passengers don’t jump out shooting like all of those suspects did in the videos we were shown. I remember watching one video that exemplified the deadly results of an officer’s failure to engage a target during a traffic stop. A younger cop, somewhere in the south, stopped a middle-aged man in a pick-up truck. The man got out of his vehicle, and the officer immediately began yelling at him to return to his vehicle. The man ignored the officer and started reaching into his truck, behind the seats. The officer continued to yell at the man, and remained at his police vehicle. The man then produced a rifle from his truck as the officer continued to yell. Slowly and casually, the man raised the rifle and took aim at the officer, continuing to ignore the officer’s commands to “put the gun down.” The man then shot and killed the officer, leaving him to die in the roadway. This video has always stayed with me, and as a cop I thought of it during every single traffic stop I made. There are people who want to kill cops, and will do so at their first opportunity.
Making the Wrong Choice
In the video below, an officer’s dash cam depicts a situation that is eerily similar to the one I just described, except for one crucial detail: There was no rifle. The gentleman had reached into his truck for his cane. He ignored the officer’s commands to drop the weapon because he was not holding one. As the man pulled the cane from the vehicle, he unintentionally pointed it in the direction of the officer resulting in the officer’s immediate discharge of several rounds down range, one of which imbedded itself in the belly of this defenseless old man (who is currently recovering in the hospital).
The dash cam then shows the officer immediately running to the defenseless man’s aide and calling for an ambulance. His voice is filled with emotion as he informs dispatch the man has been shot in the belly. “I’m so sorry,” the officer pleads with the victim. “I’m so sorry…”
The video is very hard to watch, and upsetting on many levels. I feel terrible for the old man who was shot in the belly, and I feel bad for his wife who witnessed it. But I also feel terrible for the police officer who had seconds to make a life and death decision and made the wrong choice. What took merely seconds to play out will now follow this officer, and every other officer, for many years to come.
My Poor Judgment and the Life it Almost Ended
When I was working as a police officer, I pulled out of a parking lot one day and made a left onto the roadway. A vehicle was parked across the street, and a gentleman quickly jumped out of the car and faced me. At the same time, he raised a dark object up from his waist and pointed it at me. I quickly grabbed for my gun, but because I was driving and wearing a seatbelt, was unable to get it out in time. Within half a second later, although it seemed like much longer, the man continued to raise the object to his ear and he began talking… on his cell phone. I remember thinking that had I been standing outside of my vehicle, I would have shot the man. Although nothing actually happened, this was a horrible realization for me. I shook the whole way back to headquarters and felt sick to my stomach. I berated myself for being so careless and felt the need for even more vigorous training and situational practice.
I am not alone in my self-criticism after an incident or potential incident. I worked with so many police officers who were constantly trying to improve their performance on the job; officers who cared about the citizens we encountered each and every day; officers who never wanted to make the wrong choice when time was a luxury they were not afforded.
“I’m sorry,” said the officer who shot the man with the cane. “I’m sorry…” He had only an instant to make a life and death decision and unfortunately made the wrong choice. He shot someone because he believed his life was in danger. I can’t imagine what that officer must be feeling right now, but I am certain he is facing a level of self-reflection far more intense than I did with my cell-phone incident. Police are not afforded the comfort of mistakes. Their choices need to be instantaneous and their choices must always be correct. It is unfortunate that this innocent old man was shot and it is unfortunate that this officer mistakenly shot him thinking he was protecting his own life. It is also unfortunate, however, that this incident will be used to further demonize police officers and the jobs that they do each and every day. Imagine for a moment that your job held a similar standard: you had seconds to make an important decision, and if you chose poorly either you, someone you cared about, or someone undeserving, could die. Imagine the stress and anguish that would put on you, and then imagine willingly doing it every single day on the hope that you will always choose right and protect the lives of your fellow citizens.
Please, I ask all of you, in order to help build a stronger relationship between citizens and police, share this article. Please help citizens to understand the challenges a cop faces instead of contributing to propaganda that only further divides our communities. We are living in a dangerous world, and we cannot make it alone. We all make mistakes in our lives, some of which are deadly. But we should learn from those mistakes, and evaluate them with an open and honest desire to understand and improve our journey through life, together.