Editor’s Note: The following is a post from Sammy Reese, a former Marine Corps Artillery Officer and retired police officer from California. He is a part-time range master for the police department he retired from as well as a life-long martial artist and combatives coach.
- Ep. 1 Should I Shoot? When Lethal Force Can Be Used
- Ep. 2 Should I Shoot? Why You Need a Lawyer Now
- Ep. 3 Should I Shoot? ‘What Gun Should I Get?’
- Ep. 4 Should I Shoot? Probable Cause
- Ep. 5 Should I Shoot? What If the Crook has a Gun Pointed at the Clerk?
- Ep. 6 Should I Shoot? What Gun Should I Get Part II
- Ep. 7 Should I Shoot? The Fleeing Suspect And the Good (But Dead) Samaritan
After I finished up “Should I Shoot?” No. 3, I started thinking about all the times on duty and off where I could have legally used deadly force and didn’t. I have asked myself thousands of times, “Should I have shot?” and I’ve broken each incident down to figure out why I didn’t. I would have to say the No. 1 reason why I didn’t press the trigger was my general level of training and my specific training in other ways of defending myself.
Working as a patrol cop, no two days are the same and no two radio calls are exactly alike. I prided myself on being good at everything a patrol cop has to do. Everyone likes arresting bad guys, but I made sure I was just as proficient at investigating a traffic collision as I was at investigating an assault with a deadly weapon. I watched too many patrol cops “specialize” and end up being incomplete cops. When I was new — say, the first few years — I liked the hot calls the best because I was an adrenalin junkie and I enjoyed the rush. As time goes on, you start to appreciate the saying “only cats have nine lives” and you start to see things differently.
Probable cause exists when a law enforcement officer has specific and articulable information that a person has committed a crime and the officer is placing that person under arrest for the crime. It’s also used when it’s time to employ deadly force to stop a threat that you believe, if not stopped, will cause you or another person great bodily injury or death. We shoot to stop the threat from completing his or her intended act. Oftentimes, the use of deadly force does, in fact, result in the bad guy dying from the wounds inflicted. No surprise it’s called deadly force, right?
The seriousness of choosing to become a cop was made a reality during my very first night of Phase 1 training. Not an hour into the shift, I had my weapon pointed at a car full of gangbangers in a stolen car. It was the first of many adrenalin rushes.
I was working overtime on day shift when I learned a valuable lesson. As a yard dog, I was much more comfortable working under the cover of darkness, but whenever the sergeant called and said, “How about working some OT?,” I always jumped at the chance. I figured he was calling for the coming night shift. Nope, he needed me ASAP since the day shift was down a few officers from guys calling in sick.
The shift was 99 percent mellow. I took a few cold burglaries and wrote a bunch of tickets — it was like shooting fish in a barrel, as I wasn’t used to so many cars being on the road. With about an hour left in the shift, I topped off my gas tank and was writing up my paper when I heard one of the fire units on the radio say a guy was throwing rocks at them as they drove by. I happened to be about three blocks away.
When I turned the corner, I thought the guy would be gone, but nope, he was getting ready to throw another rock at passing cars. I whooped my siren and he turned away from traffic but didn’t put the rock down. When I say rock, I’m talking ¾ of a cinderblock. I positioned my car between the suspect and traffic and told him to drop the rock. He was approximately 20 yards from my car holding the rock over his head like a soccer player getting ready to do a throw in, and he was walking toward me at a slow pace.
I drew my handgun and told him to drop the rock. He looked right at me and kept walking like Frankenstein, pumping his arms in preparation to throw the rock. I probably gave him two or three more warnings — the last one filled with some colorful adjectives and complete with the fact that I was going to shoot him if he didn’t comply. I had made up my mind that if he made it to a certain line I had drawn on the ground, I would shoot.
He made it to the line. Just as I moved my finger to the trigger, he dropped the rock behind him and almost immediately afterward, one of my beat partners blindsided him and knocked him out of his socks. The total time from when I arrived on scene to when the suspect was in custody was approximately 45 seconds. Yes, less than a minute — with about 15 seconds to decide whether or not to use deadly force.
The fire truck had a big dent, which I know drove the fire boys crazy. The suspect was a transient who was way off his meds and ended up being put under a 5150 (mental illness) hold. Me, I finished my paper and headed home, only to run the incident through my head 1,000 times over the next few days. Why didn’t I just shoot the guy? I had the PC. Was I going soft?
I brought the subject up with a buddy of mine who was the senior dog handler on the department. He told me I did the right thing. Sure, I could have legally shot the guy, and others might have. But my reason for not shooting was, at the further distance, I could dodge the rock and use another force option. His crooked Copenhagen smile was followed by words I’ll never forget: “It only takes a few pounds of pressure to shoot someone. It takes confidence, training and experience to not shoot when you legally can.”
I’ve had PC more times than I can count to legally use deadly force. Continued (force-on-force) training, keeping a high level of skill with firearms, training in realistic martial arts where you actually fight and keeping in great physical shape have kept me from having to when I could have. Should I have shot?
For more critical information on the use of deadly force and other firearms and self-defense topics, visit www.uscca.com/GunsAmerica.