In a discussion on a law enforcement officer’s Facebook page, I came across a common response to officer-involved shootings during an arrest:
“As a police officer, you have to wonder — why would someone ignore commands at GUNPOINT to get to a certain location?” [what is so important that they will look down the barrel of a gun and blatantly disregard lawful commands]
I thought it was important to shed light into what goes on in someone’s (anyone) head before they pull the trigger. It’s NOT race. It’s not gender, age, sexual orientation, religious belief. It’s simply this, “is this person going to keep me from going home today?”
I agree with him, but only to a point.
In fact, immediately following the Kajieme Powell shooting in St. Louis in 2014, local law enforcement were quick to post a bystander’s video in the hopes that it would set the record straight. Unfortunately, most people who have never been an armed confrontation jumped to all sorts of wild conclusions, including believing the shooting was unwarranted, that the suspect was unarmed, etc.
I spent the entire night translating the video to text and adding small bits of commentary where appropriate.
The resulting post proved invaluable on various message forums discussing this incident, as it highlights the misperceptions and misconceptions, leaving little to the imagination while clearly delineating why the officers needed to fire: The deadly knife-wielding suspect charged them.
On the other hand, I’ve also seem a number of videos where a suspect clearly suffering from some sort of physical disability that renders certain movements difficult, slow, or impossible, is pushed, shoved, punched, kicked, and beaten, even after finally arriving at the commanded position.
Bottom line, no matter how high the adrenaline rises — on either side — for a successful outcome both law enforcement and suspects must recognize, know, and most importantly, demonstrate understanding, professionalism, and restraint.
Despite the undesirable outcome, that occurred in the Kajieme Powell shooting. They gave him plenty of time to comply, and his response was to rush them while wielding a knife, with obvious consequences.
In the other videos to which I have referred, I’ve seen rampant brutality resulting from a suspect whose only crime was that they didn’t respond at the same adrenaline-fueled time dilation that was occurring in the minds of the responding law enforcement officers.
What law enforcement officers often either do not understand or respect can lead to abysmal outcomes:
1. Under adrenaline-fueled situations, the time dilation experienced by responding officers can easily exceed a factor of 10. That is, they will swear under oath they gave a suspect at least five seconds to respond to multiple commands, whereas video shows the commands are strung together in a nearly unintelligible one-second burst with half a second between the last command and the officer’s first physical action taken against the suspect.
2. Behavioral scientists, sociologists, and anthropologists all concur that under extreme duress of rapid onset, roughly half of all human beings exhibit an evolutionary “freeze” response — even (especially) in the face of yelled commands. At other times, the survival instinct that kicks in involves either a slow retreat or a rapid defensive attack (law enforcement officers are not immune). These known and often-demonstrated phenomena are shared with many other creatures throughout the animal kingdom, and is likely a major component as to why suspects “ignore” commands. In fact, these very deep-rooted, even instinctual behaviors are not acted upon by any conscious determination of the suspect. They are literally “fight-of-flight” behaviors deeply ingrained into the sub-conscious part of the brain.
In fact, as a career military aviator, one who has seen more than my fair share of combat, I have experienced all of these phenomena. A fair amount of our emergency procedures training, however, is specifically designed to replace these evolutionary behaviors, which could easily prove deadly in the aviation environment, with measured responses designed to maximize the likelihood of a successful outcome. As one who holds a masters in Management Science, I find the evidence strongly suggests these outcomes can be significantly improved by incorporating modern behavioral science into the response matrix usually employed by most law enforcement departments and agencies.
In light of the above, law enforcement could greatly enhance their own safety, greatly reduce personal and departmental liability, while greatly improving positive outcomes of various confrontation if they took some time to study all three phenomena, along with modifying their approaches to conflict in order to take these well-known, proven phenomena into consideration, incorporating them into their own trained responses.
No, it won’t be easy. It is, however, necessary.