I often hear that no matter what a member of law enforcement is telling you to do, you should obey the officer immediately. People often argue that the only safe thing to do is to comply. Because that officer has the gun, the armor, the training, and if you scare that officer they are going to act in accordance to their training, and you are going to lose, maybe even die. I’ve heard this advice directly from members of law enforcement with no lack of bravado. There seems to be the general belief among many police forces and the public that you just better do what the officer says because they will always come out on top. Except when they don’t . . .
According to the Officer Down Memorial page there have been 24 police officers killed already this year as the direct result of assaults. Tell them about their invincibility, and how they will always win. Oh, you can’t. They’re dead.
Now I am willing to bet good money that the vast majority of these police officers died because they were doing their job, and doing it right, and some scumbag(s) just got the better of them. I am just as sure that there are police officers who have been killed or badly injured because they incorrectly identified a threat, started a cycle of aggression and wouldn’t back down.
As an EMT and military medic, I’ve seen law enforcement interactions with the general public go wrong when one or more of the parties involved misjudged the situation and then someone refused to back down. Many times the person who won’t back that cycle of aggression down is the professional police officer. I’m saying that there are times when cops back people into a corner and become perceived as the threat themselves, correctly or not. When that happens, it’s not always the citizen who gets hurt. Cops don’t always end up going home at the end of their shift. So I’d like to point out some dos and don’ts to law enforcement personnel in dealing with me, as a member of the general population.
First, don’t point a gun at people.
This should go without saying but it can’t. Although I have never had a member of law enforcement inside the U.S. point a gun at me, I have seen this happen to other people both in person and in videos. I am referring to people who were clearly not an immediate threat who ended up getting a duty gun aimed at them. In every case I can remember, an officer had justifiably recognized a threat. BUT after that threat was over, he continued to aim a gun at non-threats while talking to them or giving them instructions.
Don’t ever do that to me, or anyone else trained to counter a lethal threat with lethal force. If you do, you’ve left us with nothing but bad options. Like many vets and trained civilians, I’m likely going to take the best option I’ve been trained to take. And that option, when faced with an aggressive threat in body armor pointing a weapon at me, is to draw and shoot to stop the threat. Quite simply, if you are unsure of the threat, lower your weapon and the holster it.
Next, keep your damn hand off your gun.
Sometimes officers are not attempting to be aggressive when they perform this action. Putting a hand on their holstered gun is an approved “rest position” for some law enforcement agencies. And if you are the one with a belt loaded down with equipment and your pistol hangs off your hip, resting your hand there is a comfortable position. I get it, I really do. But that comfortable position for you is step one of the draw for me. The rest position is pretty much identical to step one of drawing your weapon.
If you just want to be comfortable, don’t make things really uncomfortable for both of us by confusing me as to your intent. If I think you are drawing your gun, I am certainly drawing mine. Unfortunately, I have also seen this action, simply placing a hand on a service weapon, as a tactic for intimidation. This is never acceptable. Fear tactics are never the right thing to do. They are not even the right thing to do tactically. Healthy, rational people often act irrationally when frightened. Maybe you scare gun owners into backing down, but maybe you just scare us into killing you.
Don’t lie to me.
One time I had a state trooper pull me over leaving a billiards parlor. He told me that he knew I had been drinking and that he could smell alcohol on my breath. I hadn’t had a drop to drink in years, and that night was no different. During another traffic stop, I actually had a city police officer tell me that my friend, who was being questioned by another officer, told his partner that I had drugs in the vehicle. Of course I didn’t, and my friend said no such thing.
In both instances, these law enforcement officers were fishing, and with some pretty rotten bait. In both cases, I was never arrested and released on the spot. But the simple fact of it is that when law enforcement uses these tactics, they are attempting to rid me of my property and liberty through deception and coercion. They become thugs, and it is difficult for a rational person to see them as anything but that.
If you become a threat, that makes me treat you as a threat. You make me put my guard up, and make me much more ready to be aggressive. At that point, after you have lied to me, something seemingly small, like resting your hand on your weapon because you are tired, is much more likely to get you shot. So don’t start lying to me.
Professional includes words like “please” and “sir.” It includes a calm tone. If you don’t have to yell over traffic or crowd noise, don’t yell at me. Don’t be cute. Don’t ridicule or insult me. All of those things are aggressive actions that signal to me that you might be a threat. They will make me treat you like a potential threat.
To be clear though, I will never yell at you. I won’t insult you, even if you insult me. I might not follow your orders if they are unlawful, but if I don’t comply I will do it in a non-violent, non-threatening manner. I will always be respectful. Always. I practice smiling while in the interview position. I even practice smiling through the draw and fire. I expect the same level of professionalism and politeness from you.
Use the camera, because the camera is both your friend and mine.
I know that if a car is behind me, I’m being filmed. If I can see a body camera, I know I’m being filmed. If I’m near a stop light in central Austin, I know I’m probably being filmed. When I encounter law enforcement, being filmed gives me comfort. In fact, telling me that I am being filmed really helps to calm me, because if I’m being filmed then so are you. And I like knowing there is a third party record out there.
On the other hand, any time an officer asks someone to walk away from the vehicle, or even the one time I’ve seen an officer reach up and cover the camera with his hand, that makes me very nervous. It makes me ask, what is this officer doing off camera that he doesn’t want anyone to know about? All sorts of alarm bells go off for me there. At that point, it is my story versus the officer’s story. I am not without means, I can hire some really great attorneys. My story will get told. And if things go really bad, and you try and assault me off camera, maybe you don’t get a chance to tell your story at all.
Finally, bring a friend.
I, for one, don’t feel more threatened when there are more cops around. I like the additional eyes and additional witnesses. Yes, I realize that means more guns and more TASERs and more handcuffs, but I’m not really worried about gangs of rouge cops. Has that happened? Ask Frank Serpico. But what I am much more concerned with is the individual police officer who has a bad day or a bad career and is taking it out on me by making some even worse decisions all by himself. Just like “Homeland Security,” I’m not nearly as worried about groups as I am the lone wolves. It’s just in this case these self-radicalized gunmen also have badges.
In this day and age, when police/civilian tensions are so high, professional law enforcement can do a whole lot with just a few things to de-escalate a situation. It’s pretty simple really. Don’t insult people, don’t threaten them and don’t needlessly endanger them. And if you are insulting, threatening and endangering situationally aware gun owners like me, don’t be surprised if they respond appropriately, just like you, in accordance with their training.