By Steve Pomper
Police Chief Brandon del Pozo seems to believe America’s law enforcement officers should only pull their guns out as a last resort. Shouldn’t the chief know pulling a gun is not the last resort; pulling the trigger is. If cops wait until the “last resort” to pull their guns, it could be the last thing they ever do.
Del Pozo, the activist, reformist chief of the Burlington Police (VT) Department wrote recently in the New York Times, “One problem is that we teach our police officers to lead with the gun. We tell officers that a knife or a shard of glass is always a lethal threat….” He thinks there are better, more enlightened ways to deal with people threatening cops with knives. Maybe on paper, where the chief is able to ponder at his leisure, but not on the streets where cops work.
Think about the misdirection here and the lack of appreciation for what words mean. A knife or other sharp object held by an uncooperative subject is always a lethal threat. In every instance where an officer faces a suspect armed with an edged weapon, the ultimate potential is a threat to the officer’s life if the suspect cuts or stabs him or her. The chief uses the word threat, which shows, the potential danger that exists in every encounter a cop has with a person armed with a knife.
It’s not only about lethality but also about grave bodily injury—or any bodily injury. Should officers consider a risk acceptable and not draw their firearms, if he or she might only get cut? Is a cut to the face, shoulder, or hand acceptable? You know, if it’s only a small cut.
This chief’s article reads like a Grimm’s fairy tale:
“Unarmed officers will cultivate an instinct to de-escalate: They will keep a safe distance, they will try to assess the true level of threat rather than see a weapon as a cue to rapidly escalate, and they will communicate in ways that reach people.
“There is good psychological research on what type of communication stands the best chance of calming people in distress, regardless of what is in their hands.
“And it is certainly not yelling at them or threatening their lives.”
One more time people. And sorry in advance for yelling: COPS ALREADY DE-ESCALATE! according to the specific circumstances. Unfortunately, the de-escalation sometimes involves lethal force. That’s just reality.
The problem is the anti-cop left sees every incident that deteriorates to a cop using force as the officer’s fault. As if the anti-cop activists have some magical tactic or phrase that could have ended the incident peacefully—if only an untrained, “woke” lefty could have spoken to the armed person.
Stunningly, Chief del Pozo says he believes officers should only be given guns and firearms instruction during a “last phase of the academy.” He wrote, “By the end of the academy, the officers will have learned that yelling at a person as you threaten to shoot is a panicked, last-ditch effort, not a sign of competence.”
So, this chief of police believes, up until he came along to dispense his enlightened brilliance, officers acting prudently, as their defensive tactics instructors have trained them, is “panicked” and incompetent? He seems to assume all people armed with knives are simply misunderstood and merely in need of mental health counseling. While many armed subjects may also have mental health issues, that includes a wide range of concerns and does not preclude criminality. In fact, apparent or obvious mental health issues often signal danger for officers.
This is the mind-numbingly dumb statement to which I alluded above:
“Only during the final phase of a police academy should trainees be presented with a firearm and taught how to use it.” He says this as if bestowing a firearm on an officer is magical, imbuing the officer with a nearly automatic proficiency and competence. As if a firearms instructor can just, “during a last phase of the police academy,” “present” student officers with their guns and just teach the officer “how to use it.” With this statement, the chief shows a complete ignorance about and a total disrespect for guns, for firearms instructors, and for the importance of officer survival skills.
My department’s defensive tactics/firearms (DT/FA) instructors often told us it takes 3,000 to 5,000 repetitions of a DT/FA technique to become not just familiar but proficient with it. This includes the safe handling and competent shooting of firearms. And instructors teach cops an awful lot of tactics and techniques of which firearms proficiency is only one.
Gun proficiency means not only being able to handle the gun safely and shoot it. It also means hitting the target reasonably near where you intended, sometimes under rapidly changing dynamics, is also a component of gun proficiency.
Aside from firing the weapon, officers need to decide under what circumstances is it necessary to deploy the firearm, if and when to shoot, and to assess all of this while dealing with myriad distractions, in all kinds of conditions.
Is it light or dark? Are you inside or outside? Are you in the pouring rain, howling winds, or blinding sunlight? What’s your backdrop? Are there innocent bystanders, agitated bystanders, or hecklers nearby? The list of potential challenges while an officer is dealing with an armed person—even only with a knife—is too long and adding elements all the time.
To reiterate, an officer pulling a gun is not the last resort; firing that gun is the last resort and either a lot can happen between the two actions, or the officer may have to draw and fire in an instant.
As with de-escalation, cops have always drawn their weapons when they feel it’s necessary based on training and instinct and will always do so. But if the officer doesn’t have his or her gun drawn, the extra time it takes to draw it could be the difference between going home or to the medical examiner’s office.
Law enforcement officials with politically radical ideas like Chief del Pozo, often employ the fantasy I mentioned above that if an officer “fails” to “de-escalate” a situation, it’s the cop who has failed. They speak as if every scenario can be de-escalated without force—lethal or otherwise. They talk about scenarios as if officers always have plenty of space, time, and no distractions to worry about when dealing with armed people.
Let’s remember this: cops (or anyone else) cannot reason with some people in some circumstances—no matter how “enlightened” their intentions or their politics. It’s a police officer’s reality that some people insist on going to jail, and, yes, some people, some armed with knives, insist on getting shot.