The following is a headline and lead paragraph from the San Francisco Chronicle on January 23, 2010.
Calif. police department builds the case for stun guns
San Francisco’s police chief George Gascón ordered a study of stun gun use
SAN FRANCISCO — One-third of shootings by San Francisco police over a five-year period might have been avoided had officers been equipped with less-lethal options such as TASERs, a police study suggests.
The article goes on to state:
In all but one of the confrontations, Tabak said, the suspects were too close for police to use nonlethal bean-bag rounds, which are fired from a shotgun.
None of the shootings violated department policy on use of force, the report said. But a number of them, Tabak concluded, could have ended differently if officers had “a viable alternative to the use of deadly force.”
“The study rules out using less-lethal alternatives to guns if a suspect has a firearm, which was the case in seven of the shootings.”
Here what really scares me:
“In five of the other eight shootings, the study suggests, officers needed something to incapacitate a suspect not armed with a gun “in order to stop the immediate threat.” The suspects had knives or had charged the officers.”
I am all for police departments issuing CEWs (like the Taser) to their officers as I believe they can be a great tool given the right set of circumstances. A subject with a knife threatening or charging at officers however, is not the right set of circumstances. The average subject can cover a distance of 11 to 15 feet in a second. In order to use a CEW to stop that threat the officer with the CEW the officer must be within about 15 feet and must have their gun still in their holster. If the officer is alone their CEW should be in their holster and their gun should be in hand. The argument I often hear is that the CEW officer will have a cover officer providing lethal overwatch so the CEW officer is safe. Really? If the subject charges the officers prior to the deployment of the CEW or the CEW fails to incapacitate the subject and they charge does the cover officer have the ability to process that information, and respond with effective deadly force in less than the second it will take the subject to close the gap and begin stabbing the CEW officer? When that subject charges is the CEW officer programmed to immediately move off the line, drop the CEW, and engage with deadly force? Do they even have the time to react in that manner? Have any of the officers been trained to close the distance and shoot the subject from inches away while they are now in contact with the CEW officer and attempting to kill them with the knife?
By using these shootings as justification for being able to purchase CEWs for their officers the department is inadvertently creating an expectation in both the public and their officers that they should use a CEW on a subject with a knife rather than shoot them. There is a strong possibility this expectation will get an officer seriously injured or killed. There is also a strong possibility that if the agency does get CEWs and one of their officers justifiably shoots a subject with a knife that there will be a louder than normal outcry from the public. After all, the city spent all this money at the police department’s request to get CEWs so the police did not have to shoot people who ‘only had a knife’.
The great leadership trainer Bill Westfall has a Leadership Test:
Are you doing:
- The right thing
- At the right time
- In the right way
- for the right reasons
I do not believe this approach passes the test. Be careful of what you ask for and be careful of using the right justification. The department is attempting to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons but is not going about it in the right way and it may blow up in their face and instead of making it safer for officer it may increase the risk in certain circumstances.