On the video embedded below, you’ll hear a statement from a law enforcement agency about an officer-involved shooting that happened during a traffic stop and you will see the dashcam recording of the events that led up to the shooting. As ordinary citizens, it would be tempting to think that such things could not possibly apply to us, or that there’s no information we could gather here that would be useful for us to know.
That would be incorrect.
First, the video. If you’re in a hurry, you may want to start it playing at around the 2-minute mark.
Now, the food for thought:
- Have you ever pictured yourself holding someone at gunpoint? (See here for one recent example of how that could happen; see here for another.)
- If you have never considered this issue before, what is your plan for dealing with a would-be attacker who throws down his weapon, throws his hands up into the air, and starts apologizing?
- What is your plan for keeping yourself safe during an ambiguous but potentially life-threatening situation, such as protecting your family from a potentially violent home intruder who is mentally disabled or plainly too drunk to realize where he is?
- It’s tempting to believe that we would never be put in such a situation, or allow ourselves to be there. But that’s not realistic. Nearly all defensive gun uses do not require the defender to fire the weapon in order to defend herself effectively. This means we can and should know what to do about it if the criminal surrenders before we have pulled the trigger. “I’ll just shoot him!” only works if the elements of Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy are all present at the exact moment we pull the trigger.
- Do you know how to produce — and have you practiced producing — a strong and easily understood command voice? Many of us think of it as “Mom voice,” because it’s the same voice we use to stop a 5-year-old in his tracks when he’s about to run into the street. It’s not hard to do, but it is something that must be practiced.
- Do you know — and have you practiced using — a series of commands that would lessen the danger of an uninjured criminal being able to attack you?
- How many pre-attack indicators can you spot on the video?
- Can you see the physical behaviors that led the shooter to believe his life was in immediate danger?
- Can you explain the physical behaviors you see, and why they are dangerous?
The officer very likely had, in his mind, a very clear decision tree that included a specific distance that would trigger his decision to fire. There’s a clue there, for us.
There’s no doubt that the officer was able to explain his decision in a way that helped the people involved in the legal system understand why he made the choice he did. More than that, when he made his decision to shoot, he almost certainly leaned heavily on the things he learned in his formal training. He may have even been able to bring in testimony from the expert instructors who taught him how to deal with noncompliant people being held at gunpoint, and what specific behaviors to look for that would indicate life-threatening danger.
Probably a lot more potential lessons for all of us on this video. What do you see?