Gerald Doane: Asking a lot of officers on scene
Our community recently experienced a police shooting where I live. The incident was about one-half mile from our home, and my wife just happened to drive by on her way home from a medical appointment as the ambulance was leaving the scene.
A few days after the incident, our sheriff posted dashcam and dispatch audio of the incident. The sheriff’s media showed an obviously disturbed and knife-wielding woman with two small children in tow being shot by one deputy as she charged another deputy at the street scene. The woman was armed with a large butcher type knife held in an overhead stabbing position as she ran screaming toward the officer who had attempted to calm her. The woman died en route to, or shortly after, she arrived at the hospital.
There were harsh and vile criticisms expressed by some in our community toward the officers. This criticism was misdirected, unwarranted and expressed by people who know nothing about the nature of police dealing with a disturbed and armed citizen.
If one wishes to criticize, then criticize the real void in the police response to crisis situations, which is generally a lack of sufficient and immediate resources, ineffective less-lethal tools, and often, but not necessarily involved in this case, improper tactics.
There have been constant and increasing drumbeats for decades to disarm and restrict police actions. Apart from lethal weaponry, the tools, methods and resources available to police have been taken away and not replaced with more effective ones, often leaving officers with little options other than the use of deadly force in an armed and violent event.
“The first with the most” is a strategy used in war and other venues. It can also be a police strategy in crisis situations. More police, when managed correctly by policy, procedure,and supervision is always better than less police in a crisis.
Insufficient resources in a crisis have been demonstrated again and again, a most recent example being Jan. 6 in our nation’s capital where insufficient police resources allowed rioters to lay siege to the Capitol building.
In crisis situations, there are multiple activities police officers must perform immediately. One, even two officers are often incapable of responding to all the immediate tasks required.
In the example of a knife-wielding, disturbed woman with children, let us examine the required activities of officers from first contact to a “less-lethal” outcome:
1. Planning, organizing, and communicating with other officers and with dispatch.
2. Containing the subject while using correct tactical protocols.
3. Creating a diversion or distraction to separate or protect the children.
4. Communicating with the subject.
5. Using less-lethal methods and devices to disarm the subject.
6. Using less-lethal methods and devices to restrain the subject.
To think that one, even two officers can accomplish all these tasks in a fast-paced circumstance with an armed and disturbed person and have a less-lethal outcome is ludicrous. More officers are required, not less, and minimally four officers immediately on scene are necessary to limit the use of deadly force in this and in similar circumstances.
Two officers per patrol unit was and is commonplace in many large cities. Not so in smaller agencies. Two-officer patrol units are not only for officer protection but are much more effective in controlling a situation. With one back-up patrol unit available, there would be four police officers immediately on scene to multitask all the activities necessary to effect a less-life-threatening outcome. Depending upon the circumstances, there is always the possibility that even more resources would be necessary to limit the use of lethal force.
The two key factors in limiting the use of lethal force by officers, in my humble but experienced opinion, are immediacy and sufficiency. “The first with the most” is a strategy that will work to limit the use of lethal force by police officers in a crisis.
Crisis communications by officers in any situation is important and is inclusive to tactical considerations, which are: terrain; cover; concealment; observation and awareness; containment; communications including the eight verbal tactics of attending, paraphrasing, reflection of feeling, summarizing, probing, self-disclosure, interpreting, and confrontation; obstacles; avenues; individual movement; and small unit tactics including containment, entry, search, and formations.
It is not easy being a police officer. We need to give them the resources, tools and methods they need to succeed without the necessity of using lethal force.
Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.
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