By Steve Pomper
According to a recent story in The Seattle Times, people who sit behind desks continue to second-guess police officers. At issue is a change which, in certain circumstances, prohibits cops from pointing guns at suspects during felony stops.
The King County Sheriff’s Office has instituted a new policy, which stems from a lawsuit brought by two young men against deputies working a concert venue. The deputies spotted a Jeep they believed was possibly a reported stolen vehicle.
The plaintiffs allege the deputies held them at gunpoint, violating their 4th Amendment rights, since the car was not stolen. The plaintiffs, who are black, also raised the specter of racial bias but cited no evidence except for anti-police propaganda on social media.
King County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Ryan Abbot explains, “Approaching a stolen car is considered to be a high-risk stop and deputies are trained to take appropriate measures to protect themselves, including drawing a firearm, until the risk of harm subsides.”
The plaintiff said he “heard the pistol cock… and saw the pistol inches away from his head.” The deputy admits his gun was drawn but not pointed at the suspect whom he described as “verbally uncooperative.”
Reports are unclear, but it appears someone had reported stolen a different Jeep. Nothing suggests the deputies were not acting in good faith. Believe me, while working an off-duty event such as a concert, cops don’t go looking for extra work.
Drawing a gun, and yes even pointing it at a suspect in high-risk situations, are sensible officer safety tactics taught to all law enforcement trainees. Now, some politicians and judges decide they don’t like a tactic because “it looks bad,” or it makes people “feel bad.” So, officials reduce the caution envelop within which officers can operate and severely diminish their officer safety options.
These Monday morning menaces are saying police officers should not point their guns at “unarmed and compliant suspects.” No unsearched suspect is “unarmed.” And a compliant suspect can turn noncompliant in a nanosecond.
Consider the case of Napa County Deputy Riley Jarecki. Her body cam captured her encounter with a “compliant” man sitting in a parked car. The man speaks calmly, as the deputy politely asks him questions. Suddenly, he pulls a gun and fires at her pointblank. Fortunately, the deputy lived to tell the tale—the would-be cop killer, not so much.
So, I guess the people advocating this standard can determine with the naked eye a suspect sitting in a car is unarmed? Any incident can shift or explode into violence in a flash.
Reportedly, “The court had put the [King County] Sheriff’s Office on notice months earlier that pointing a gun at an unarmed and compliant driver risked violating the driver’s Fourth Amendment protections against illegal seizures.”
It’s not whether police holding suspects at gunpoint haven’t been seized; they have. It’s whether the police have illegally seized a suspect? When officers use officer safety tactics based on authorized training, this must signal the legality of the action.
Cops work in a “what if” not a “let’s hope” world. What if the suspect tries to run? What if the suspect fights? What if the suspect pulls a weapon? Not, Let’s hope nothing bad happens.
What’s next? Are governments going to issue cops convenient pocket flow charts? If Suspect A commits action B, the officer may take action C. However, if Suspect A commits action D, then the officer may not, under any circumstances, take action E unless mitigation F has occurred. And if Suspect A commits both actions B and D, then the officer must refer to index iix for a list of approved responses.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision upon which agencies are basing these policy changes. According to these people who sit behind benches, though officers may not hold “unarmed and compliant” felony suspects at gunpoint, they may hold their guns at “low ready.” Many agencies now also mandate officers report as a use of force the mere pointing of firearms at suspects.
Low ready means officers point their guns forward and downward toward the ground. While it takes a fraction of a second to bring a gun from low ready up on target, it takes that fraction away from officers. This can put officers a split-second closer to death.
This is yet another instance of condemning officers for using tactics police instructors taught them. The lawsuit accuses the Sheriff’s Office of having a “pattern and practice of allowing its officers to threaten lethal force during felony traffic stops… ‘where there is no sign of danger and the driver is compliant and poses no obvious threat to the officer.’”
Pattern and practice? Well, these folks are magnificent at their jobs, aren’t they? The suit apparently alleges the King County deputies have a “pattern and practice” of doing their jobs as taught. Brilliant!
How are officers supposed to stay above the madness working in this political quicksand?
If anyone can tell officers how they can know a seemingly compliant suspect, sitting in a car, is not armed, please, share with the class.
It’s scary at both ends of a gun. Admittedly, it’s scarier at the end without the trigger. Still, perspectives matter. I’m not saying the plaintiffs were lying. But being at the business end of a cop’s service weapon can affect a person’s perspective immensely and affect their recall.
For the deputies, evidence indicates they were legitimately investigating a possible stolen car. Cops can’t afford to act as if the car might not be stolen. They must behave as if they have the right car and suspects. To do anything else would be foolish.
Sadly, a court settlement not only awards the plaintiffs $80,000 ($30K for lawyers, and $30K and $20K for the plaintiffs), but the sheriff is to apologize to the young men. While a harrowing experience for the young men, in reality, the sheriff will likely be apologizing to the unfortunate young men for her deputies doing their job correctly.