Friday, August 16, 2013

It will be worse than your worst case scenario, trust me.


Many years ago I was teaching, part-time, at Minneapolis Community College Center for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement. On that day I was running a scenario wherein two officers confront two men in a very tight and dark hallway at the scene of a possible burglary. I had come to know both of these students, one male and one female, from prior training with them and I expected them to do well.  They had demonstrated good communication and officer survival skills in prior evaluations.

The two role players were full time male cops at a local department and in this case they were playing the role of ex-cons who attempted to break into a business without success and were on their way out when the two students blocked their way.

I watched the event unfold from a point of view where I could see and hear everything that happened. I was not under stress and I was making careful observations about how the students were interacting with the role players. I had run this same scenario several times already with other students and I had some sense of how things should go, if everything went right. What happened next is still etched into my training mindset and forever changed the way I viewed future confrontations when I was on the street.

The students initially took control with good verbal commands and they demonstrated good tactics except - the male student did not get the handcuffs on tight enough on his suspect. I cannot tell you exactly what happened next. I was there. I carefully watched the entire scenario and yet, even immediately afterward, I had great difficulty putting it all together and would not have been able to do so without the help of the role players. But here is the bottom line and the reason for today’s blog.

The female student was the only survivor. Her partner was shot twice in the back, with her weapon. One suspect was shot in the back, with her weapon. The other suspect was shot in the chest by the male student, a contact wound directly to the heart. The female student had no injuries, not even a scratch. The entire incident took about 30 seconds and occurred in a space about three feet wide by 10 feet long. She didn’t shoot her partner. One of the role players did. Her partner did shoot the other role player. She was disarmed early in the confrontation and after all was said and done she did recover her weapon and fire the two shots into the back of the other suspect as he tried to acquire her fallen partner’s handgun. Everyone in the scenario was initially speechless, me included.

In my critique I made three points. One, you have to make sure you put handcuffs on properly. Two, when you go to write this up, as the only survivor and witness, you are going to get things wrong. I guarantee it. You will even have difficulty accurately recalling what happened to you, much less your partner. And three, the most important part of the critique. A lot of people are not going to believe you. If this scenario was real, and this was you and your training officer in the first few weeks of training, most cops will call you a liar. They will blame your gender. They will blame your lack of experience. They will make a hero out of your dead partner. But most likely, your career will not recover from this experience, even though you did nothing wrong and it was your partner’s poor handcuffing technique that was the proximate cause.

As I read the StarTribune article today about the shooting death of Terrence Franklin I was reminded of that training scenario from years ago. My own experience on the street confirmed many times over that you cannot conceive of some of the events you will encounter. If you can dream of a worst case scenario for yourself there is always something even worse that is possible. In the Franklin shooting there are multiple cops involved and I can’t and won’t believe that they are all lying. Most cops do this job the right way. Over the years I witnessed cops that should have been fired many times over perform acts of selfless bravery. I am not a fan of Officer Luke Peterson but I have no trouble believing that he would do the same and I applaud him for his actions. It looks like the officers may have made some mistakes in the confrontation with Franklin. I can live with that and at this point we have to trust to forensics and the fact that there are multiple witnesses to this event.

I have consulted on several cases in recent years where suspects have died at the hands of the police and I feel bad for the survivors in those families. I understand the frustration and anger and I would never attempt to minimize how awful it must be for the parents, siblings, and loved ones who are asked to trust that the police did what they had to do. But in the end, that is why we have cops. And I can’t imagine, in even a worst case scenario, a world without them because it would be even worse than that.