When police officers are faced with someone holding a weapon –
be it a gun, knife or a potentially threatening household item –
the split-second decision they must make puts them in an unenviable
On the one hand, surely they don’t want to kill or injure an
innocent person. On the other hand, however, the natural reaction
must be one of fear for their own lives and the lives of other
officers and civilians around them.
And the problem is, it’s almost impossible to know what the
right choice would have been. If they don’t shoot and the alleged
criminal lives but an officer gets hurt or killed, it’s hard to say
that was the best choice. But if they do shoot and the alleged
criminal gets hurt or killed, it is hard to be sure what would have
happened. Maybe nothing, maybe something worse.
In Friday’s shooting (see today’s front page story) the officers
shot a BB gun-wielding man in the leg after he threatened to kill
himself or his mother and threatened the officers. Right now, it
seems like this was the best choice, although that position may
look different from another angle.
Other times, like with the shooting of Paul Childs by officer
James Turney in Denver last summer, it doesn’t necessarily seem
like the right decision was made. In that case, Turney shot and
killed 15-year-old Childs as the mentally handicapped teen wielded
a knife at his home. The case has prompted criticism from community
leaders that police used excessive force.
The challenge to the community and the police departments is to
find a system of training and support that will help officers make
the best possible decision in a situation as well as a system that
allows shootings to be investigated without destroying officers’