Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Shoot Until You Know the Whole Story

Jacksonville police in right place at right time for shooting; 1 injured, 3 in custody. The headline tells the tale: police officers aren’t often at the right place at the right time. And when they are, there’s never a civilian witness there when you need one. The most likely time the general public becomes aware of these “cop meets bad guy as bad guy’s being bad” coincidences: when they see a moron running a red light in front of a cop and the officer makes the collar. I’ve probably been at the right place at the right time on a handful of occasions during my career . . .

The one that stands out the most was during a night shift on my way to an armed robbery at gas station; I witnessed another robbery taking place in a warehouse parking lot. Two guys beat and stripped another guy practically naked, literally stealing everything he had, while he was walking home from work. Needless to say the bad guys were pretty surprised to meet me and I wound up catching one of the two hoodlums.

In the vast majority of criminal cases, the old adage is true: when seconds count the police are only minutes away. Most times the police arrive after a shootout and try to bring some sort of order to what’s often a chaotic scene: identify and arrest the bad guys, help the wounded, interview witness, preserve the scene, call in the investigators, etc. That’s one reason I support armed citizenry; you are more likely to be the first responders than us.

In this case, an undercover cop “just happened” to be on the scene of a gunfight between bad guys. firstcoastnews.com:

Around 3:30 p.m., at Fort Caroline Road and Townsend Boulevard, some undercover Jacksonville Sheriff’s officers in the area saw people in two different vehicles shooting at each other, according to Sgt. Joseph Farhat, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

One undercover unit followed, then stopped a blue Chevy Impala on Wompi Road after it appeared that was the vehicle one of the shooting suspects jumped into.

Setting aside our default skepticism for a moment, let me walk you through this shooting from an arriving cop’s perspective . . .

There’s gunfire in a busy shopping center with lots and lots of people running from the scene. As you run in, gun drawn, you scan for the shooters. And there, before you, among the chaos there is a fight between men that erupted into gun fire. Now. Your heart’s pumping from the run, your adrenaline is flowing through your fingertips from the excitement, and fear courses through your veins.

And now you learn that there are two undercover cops on the scene.

This adds an additional level of complexity and danger for everyone. The arriving officers must ID the undercover team and then immediately re-assess the situation. Where are the threats against the undercover officers, where are the threats against the arriving officers, and where are the threats against civilians? All that all at once.

And yes, cops shoot cops. Here’s an example from dailymail.co.uk. It describes the tragic case of NYPD Undercover officer Omar J Edwards, who gave chase to man he caught “rummaging” in his car:

Edwards - who was black – called emergency services and began chasing the man.

The young father pulled his gun as he ran after the criminal – but did not fire it.

He was spotted by other officers in an unmarked car, who, thinking that Edwards was the criminal, immediately gave pursuit.

The officers yelled: ‘ Police! Stop! Drop it!’ – and Edwards turned towards them, the gun still in his hand.

Commissioner Kelly said one of the officers – who is white – leapt from the car and fired six shots, hitting Edwards in the arm and chest.

Edwards was not wearing a bulletproof vest as he was off-duty. He died at 11.21pm at a hospital in Harlem.

Note: TTAG never takes any story for granted. But these incidents do occur. They’re a warning to both police and civilian shooters: know your target and know what’s beyond the obvious.

As a police trainer, instructor and an FTO (Field Training Officer) I like to mentally prepare officers and new recruits by “table topping” scenarios. What if that bank was robbed? What if someone in that store held hostages? What if you there was an undercover cop holding a gun with a gun to his head?

The big difference: I’m training police officers. Their job: protect the public. They have to sort things out. You’re a civilian. Your job: protect yourself and your family. You have to survive.

Bottom line: don’t engage a bad guy unless you know FOR SURE that A) he’s a bad guy (i.e. you actually witnessed him or her doing bad stuff) and B) he poses an immediate, credible threat to life and limb.

You may be in the right place at the right time for an armed self-defense, or defense of others. But try to think very carefully before you use deadly force. Take it from a cop: no matter how bad things may seem initially, they can always get worse. Things are not always what they seem.

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About Christopher P. Fusaro

Christopher is a supervisor assigned to road patrol and Adjunct Instructor at the police academy. He has a portfolio that has accumulated years of training certifications; taser instructor, defensive tactics instructor, OC Instructor, drug identification, firefighter, EMT, just to name a few. He has received numerous commendations and letters of appreciation. You can follow Christopher on Twitter by clicking here: @FusaCmee

11 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Don’t Shoot Until You Know the Whole Story

  1. avatarJOE MATAFOME says:

    About ten years ago we had an off duty cop who pulled his gun on two perps, and suddenly two uniformed cops arrived and yelled for him to drop his weapon. He started to turn in their direction and they killed him. They thought that the two bad guys were in danger and ended up shooting the wrong person.

    • avatarMike says:

      Makes me wonder if training for CCW should include “What to do when a cop mistakes you for a bad guy.”

      As in, you’re going through a role-playing scenario, and suddenly the instructor jumps in and yells “police, drop the gun.” Make people practice *not* trying to turn around with the gun in their hand, or something.

      Of course, I always wonder why every midnight robber doesn’t shout “police” when he enters a house.

      • avatarRalph says:

        Make people practice *not* trying to turn around with the gun in their hand, or something.

        If we do that, the BGs will practice yelling “police, drop the gun.”

    • avatartdiinva says:

      Armed citizens are less likely to shoot the wrong guy than LEOs because they are usually defending their property against a known assailant. The environment is less dynamic and there are few if any innocent bystanders. The guy rummaging around your living room at 2AM is not there by accident or mistake.

      • avatarTTACer says:

        Joe Zamudio wasn’t in his house.

      • avatartdiinva says:

        You were quoting George Will’s article which showed a statistical difference between blue on blue engagements for armed citizens and police. A single case confirms nothing. You never hear about it when the police make the right choice and don’t shoot the wrong guy.

  2. avatarTexan says:

    Thanks for the great post, Chris. It’s always a pleasure to learn from those who are in, or have been in, the field/trenches and their experience/training. I look forward to reading more of your tips.

    Thank you.

  3. avatarThe Noob says:

    I work at the large university just down the road from where this happened. Glad I’m not allowed to defend myself with it being a borderline demilitarized zone just a couple blocks away. (1 or 2 blocks south or east: you will be murdered, sometimes more than once. 1 or 2 blocks north and you’ve got million dollar homes).

    Fun fact: the university has a shooting team but they have to store all their guns off campus because of the stupid laws here.

  4. avatarJ Nemo says:

    It’s a pretty hard situation.. it is unfortunate that undercover cops, being undercover, tend to deliberately dress like dirtbags.

  5. avatarEric says:

    This is a pretty cool product for this situation:

    http://www.dsmsafety.com/home.html

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