[Rushtalk] Ferguson's 6 top use-of-force questions: A cop's response

Carl William Spitzer IV cwsiv at copper.net
Mon Oct 13 21:00:13 MDT 2014


Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
Passion for the Job
with Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D. 

Ferguson's 6 top use-of-force questions: A cop's response

According to Bureau of Justice Statistics data from 2008, there roughly
765,000 sworn officers in the United States — and an absurdly small
number ever fire their weapons outside of training


Due to the success of American policing, our citizenry is able to remain
blissfully unaware of the terrible dynamics of encountering an attack or
resistance. That success fortunately means that most people are safely
protected from harm but it also means there are some common concerns and
misconceptions about what it’s like to be attacked, and importantly,
what it’s like to respond to an attack.

This is largely responsible for the chorus of questions about the
officer-involved shooting in Ferguson. It probably makes it more likely
that you’ll be asked these questions by the people you protect. 

If you find yourself in such a discussion, here are some facts you might
use to generate deeper understanding for them.

1. “Why did the officer shoot him so many times?”
Shooting events are over far faster than most people think. According to
a scientifically-validated study on reaction times, the time from a
threat event to recognition of the threat (the decision making process)
is 31/100 second. The mechanical action of pulling the trigger is as
fast as 6/100 of a second. 

A decision to stop shooting uses the same mental process and, because of
the multitude of sensory experiences the brain is processing, actually
typically takes longer than the decision to shoot — closer to half a
second. Since the trigger pull is still operating as fast as 6/100th of
a second, it is entirely possible to fire many times within under two

Half of those trigger pulls might be completed after a visual input that
a subject is no longer presenting a threat. 

Further, it can take over a second for a body to fall to the ground
after being fatally shot. This means that a shooting incident can be
over before you have the time you say “one Mississippi, two

Even multiple shots don’t guarantee that a person will not continue to
advance or attack.

This also means that a person with intent to shoot a police officer can
fire a fatal shot far faster than an officer can draw, get on target,
and fire if the officer is reacting to a weapon already displayed. An
untrained person handling a firearm for the first time can easily fire
three times in 1.5 seconds after they decide to shoot. 

Courts have consistently ruled that suspect behavior that appears to be
consistent with an impending firearms attack is a reasonable basis for
the officer to fire, whether or not a weapon is clearly visible. 

2. “He had a bullet wound on his hand. Doesn’t that mean his hands were
Time is always an element in a physical confrontation. If you run any
video and put an elapsed-time digital clock to it you’ll be amazed at
the speed of life. 

Research has shown that a person fleeing the police can turn, fire, and
turn back by the time an officer recognizes the threat and fires back,
resulting in a shot to the back of the suspect. A shot in any part of
the body where the subject is moving is dependent on the trajectory of
the officer, the weapon, and the subject meeting at a tiny point of time
in space. 

Unless a person is immobile and executed by shots from a shooter who is
stationary, the entry point of any single bullet wound has limited
capacity to reveal the exact movements in a dynamic situation. The whole
forensic result must be carefully examined.

3. “What difference does it make if a person committed a crime if the
officer contacting them didn’t know about it?”
If the person being contacted by the police knows he is a suspect in
some criminal activity, it could have a significant effect on his
behavior toward that officer.

Research on fear, aggression, and frustration dates back to the 1930s —
the link between these emotions and behaviors is has been noted by
organizations such as the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

The frustration-aggression link was clearly shown in the surveillance
video in which when Brown repeatedly shoved the clerk who tried to
interfere with his theft of cigars.

It matters little that the officer had no knowledge of the crime which
took place 10 minutes before he contacted Brown and his accomplice. 

Brown knew full well and good about that crime, and having an officer
contact him in such a short timeframe after the incident could very well
have affected the decisions he made during that contact. 

4. “How is it fair to shoot an unarmed teenager?”
If a person is six feet and four inches tall, and weights almost 300
pounds, that person’s physical stature alone gives them the potential
capacity to harm another person. 

In Missouri, the most recent annual murder total is 386 — of those, 106
were committed without a firearm. 

According to the FBI, in every year from 2008 to 2012, more people were
murdered in the United States using only hands and feet than were
murdered by persons armed with assault rifles. 

fists, feet,

 A police officer knows that every call is a ‘man with a gun’ call,
because if he or she loses his weapon or other equipment, the situation
can turn deadly for the officer. If the investigation concludes that the
officer was defeating a gun grab, use of deadly force is quite

5. “What about all these shootings by police?”
According to Bureau of Justice Statistics data from 2008, there are
about 765,000 sworn police officers employed at the roughly 18,000 state
and local law enforcement agencies in America. How many people are shot
and killed by those officers every year in the United States? 

According to FBI data, 410 Americans were justifiably killed by police.
To put that into a little more context, note that civilians acting in
self-defense killed 310 persons during that same time period.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics says that one in five persons over 12
years of age has a face- to- face police contact during the study year
for a total of 45 million contacts. 

Force was reported by arrestees in less than one percent of those
contacts. Of those who reported use of force, most self-reported that
they had engaged in at least one of the following:

•    Threatening the officer
•    Interfering with the officer in the arrest of someone else
•    Arguing with the officer
•    Assaulting the officer
•    Possessing a weapon
•    Blocking an officer or interfering with his or her movement
•    Trying to escape or evade the officer
•    Resisting being handcuffed
•    Inciting bystanders to become involved
•    Trying to protect someone else from an officer
•    Drinking or using drugs at the time of the contact

6. “Why are the police militarized?” 
Ferguson Police Department has no tactical or armored vehicles in its
inventory, and no SWAT team. No extraordinary equipment was in use by
the officer who shot Michael Brown. The special equipment used in
Ferguson was put in use only AFTER the violent response to the news of
the shooting became evident. 

To claim that the gear and the vehicles caused the violence reverses the
cause-effect sequence. The danger was obvious, and the appropriate
equipment was brought to deal with the situation. 

Outside of a crowd-control context, there are many reasons why police
need what some would define as “military” equipment.

If there is a school shooting and there is an injured child on the
playground while the shooting is still active, do you want your police
department to have the ability to rescue the child?  

If yes, that means the department will need an armored vehicle. 

Can you imagine a circumstance where a police officer would be assaulted
by someone throwing a brick at him or her, or trying to hit them over
the head? If so, they need a helmet. 

Would there ever be a time when an officer would be in a hazardous
material environment and need a breathing mask? Then they need gas

We aren’t taking away fire trucks because they are too big or hardly
ever used to their full, firefighting capacity — most fire service calls
are medical in nature. 

It’s the same principle. 

There are a lot of questions related to the Ferguson situation that
don’t yet have answers, and no one should pretend to know exactly what
happened on August 9. But it is important that we educate the public
about issues such as the use of force, the use of specialized equipment,
and the dynamics of human performance during high-stress incidents. 

Let’s begin in earnest to have those conversations with our citizens. 

About the author

Joel Shults operates Shults Consulting LLC, featuring the Street Smart
Force training curriculum. He is retired as Chief of Police for Adams
State University in Colorado. Over his 30 year career in uniformed law
enforcement and in criminal justice education Joel has served in a
variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner,
investigator, community relations officer, college professor, and police
chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational
Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a
graduate degree in Public Services Administration and bachelors in
Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri.
In addition to service with the US Army military police and CID, Shults
has done observational studies with over fifty police agencies across
the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards
including the Colorado POST curriculum committee as a subject matter

Follow Joel on Twitter @ChiefShults.

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