Use of Force and Its Aftermath: A Double Tragedy for Citizens and Cops

This article, Widow Share’s anguish of N.Y. officer who committed suicide after TASER incident, posted on PoliceOne.com highlights the difficulty of the utilization of force and the aftermath.

Cops go out on the street and make every effort to protect and serve their communities, using force only in extreme situations and as a last resort. According to Department of Justice reports, cops use force in les than 1% of the encounter they respond to.

This case brings to mind the difficulties in dealing with the scrutiny and public outcry that follow in the rare circumstances after a weapon is used by law enforcement. When did we lose sight of what cops do so well despite the risks, the uncertainty and chaos, conflict and violence? When did we set aside the fact that cops are the “good guys” trying to do a tough job where, at times, people get hurt? You cannot always come out on top winning without fighting, although cops do it very well: the Justice Department’s study shows a 99% success rate in doing just that, Resolving conflict without violence is always our goal, yet the media and certain groups criticize and sensationalize every police incident that ends in death, as if a cop wants to kill anyone. The very idea is nonsense. I know some will talk about the bad cops, and yes, there have been some throughout our ranks, but the percentage of bad cops is very small and agencies today do everything in their power to keep them out of the profession. 

It must be asked: where is the leadership in a case like this one that ended with the death of a violent person after being Tasered and falling to his death. The same scenario might have ended with a physical struggle, where the suspect fell, hit his head and died. When conflict turns violent, there is no way to know for certain its outcome despite our best efforts to peacefully or with the least amount of force resolve the situation.

What are the rules of engagement when using a Taser? Is it right to use a taser only in a deadly force situation? I believe they are used to prevent physical confrontation, yet more often than not these situations end with some type of injury, or the opportunity for someone on either side of the conflict, in the heat of the moment, to escalate the situation, force wise, leading to more serious injury and possibly death. Why is it that these aspects are never explained in the aftermath? Instead, a cop’s gun and badge are taken, his years of exemplary service forgotten in one incident that unfortunately ended in death. Was it tragic? Yes. Was it controllable beyond a certainty? No! Leadership in the law enforcement profession, where are you? Your job is to explain these things, as difficult as it is. Your honest and candid explanation is essential for those you serve, and those who serve. There is no cause to scapegoat an officer on the frontline for political purposes, or because you think the public, the media and others won’t understand the difficulty of our work.

What part of us as thinking human beings allows us to be so critical in circumstances most uncertain and dangerous? It’s similar to getting in a car and driving down the road when suddenly someone pulls out, runs out in front of you. You try to brake and swerve and avoid the hazard, only to hit another person standing on the sidewalk. Was it Tragic? Yes. Was it intentional? No. Did you have control of your car? If yes, then how did this happen? Is it your fault? Should you pay some price? Should you be criticized and scrutinized by your community, the media and the cops as reckless or uncaring? I will leave those questions for you to answer. But I submit what a cop has to do on the street dealing with violence is much more difficult than controlling a car on the road despite the hazards driving does pose.

Cops are sworn to protect and serve their communities and the people in them. On rare occasions, reasonable force results in someone dying. The cop whose actions in reaction to a violent subject leads to that death suffer with the vast responsibility, the sudden shift from community support to being viewed as a suspect himself, and wondering how one thing may have changed the outcome . I recognize this may not be easy to understand for those who do not do what we cops do. It should be understandable to the leadership within the law enforcement ranks. If it’s not, maybe, just maybe, you should not be in the position you are in?

The death of this cop is a tragic situation all the way around. To bridge the gap between myth and reality when it comes to force utilization, we must possess the strength of character to say what needs to be said about violence and its resolution. We must stay the course, do what's right, speak the truth and for God’s sake, if you’re a leader in this profession, LEAD!

Stay Oriented!

Fred