- A few weeks ago, a rookie police officer from a north
Atlanta suburb faced the horror dreaded by all cops and their families.
The suspect, a 20 year-old alleged deserter from the Army, fired his weapon
point blank into the chest of the 28 year-old patrol officer. The stricken
officer, protected from the potentially fatal round by his bullet-resistant
vest, fell to the ground and, although suffering injury from the tremendous
impact of the bullet, returned fire, along with another officer. In a few
violent seconds, it was over. The fugitive from the Army will not have
to be concerned about serving out his enlistment. He died at the scene.
- Once and a while, someone will ask, "Do the police
shoot to kill?" The simple answer to that question is, "No."
But, on the other hand, the answer is not so simple. The average citizen
cannot possibly imagine how suddenly a routine traffic stop, warrant service,
or interview can turn sour.
- In the movies, the bad guys can be seen planning and
calculating their next move and, when the action starts, the cops dive
for cover, call back-up, and a gun battle ensues for the next fifteen minutes.
The cops and the bad guys chase each other through the streets of the city,
firing scores of rounds, and, amazingly, even exchanging taunts.
- In real life, such a scene almost never happens,- for
in real life, the violence explodes without warning, lasts an average of
3.5 seconds, with five rounds being exchanged from a distance of three
to seven feet. Think about that... one thousand one, one thousand two,
one thousand three . . . and then it's over. Someone is dead or screaming
- If the suspect is down, the officer, with shaking hands,
will cuff him and call for an ambulance. If the suspect is bleeding profusely,
the officer will try to administer first aid and save the life of the man
who just tried to kill him. Officers have even been known to pray at such
moments, pleading with God to spare the assailant's life. If, on the other
hand, the officer is on the ground, more likely than not, the suspect will
walk over to him, point his still smoking pistol at the officer's head,
and pull the trigger. He will then steal the officer's own weapon and flee
into the night. An hour or two later, the chief and the chaplain will pay
a dreadful visit to the officer's spouse and children.
- There is no time to talk the suspect down, no time to
"shoot the weapon out of the bad guy's hand," no opportunity
to carefully aim from cover and concealment and fire to wound. Officers
are trained to aim for the "center mass" of the suspect's body
and continue to fire until the threat is ended. "That cop fired nine
bullets!" a civilian might protest. "He shot too many times!
He was out to kill that guy!" You weren't there. You have no idea.
It wasn't your life on the line. You just don't have a clue. If an officer
is inclined to make a mistake, he or she is much more likely to hesitate
to shoot for that all-important split-second than they are to fire prematurely.
- Most officers have strong moral codes, have an aversion
to killing, became cops to help people, and have been well-schooled in
how likely cops are to be sued. This hesitation may well result in the
officer's death. Criminals who would fire on a police officer have no such
moral restraints. They do not hesitate.
- Police officers and deputies are not trained to shoot
to kill. They are trained to "shoot to live." They are not, regardless
of how much anti-law enforcement types might whine, trying to take a suspect's
life. They are simply trying, desperately, in a few terror-filled seconds,
to somehow survive the encounter and go home to spouse and family at the
end of the shift. They are "shooting to live."
- If they do shoot a suspect, and the criminal dies, cops
are more likely than not to have severe depression, to experience sleepless
nights, endure post traumatic stress, and be overwhelmed with guilt. He
or she will be more at risk than other officers to experience a divorce,
become an alcoholic, and take their own life. He will have had 3.5 seconds
to "shoot to live" while the press, the public, and the courts
will have years and decades to second-guess the officer and wonder why
he didn't "shoot the gun out of the bad guy's hand."
- I have two sons who are on the streets as police officers.
Tonight, they will pull over a car on some dark roadside or will investigate
an alarm call. If the moment ever comes, which I pray it does not, I pray
that they will respond to their training. I pray that they will not hesitate,
no, not for one second. Then, if their life hangs in the balance, I pray
that, in that 3.5 seconds of heart-stopping, throat-choking horror, they
will "shoot to live."
- I pray their aim will be true. I pray they will come
home to their families safe and uninjured. And, then, the next night, and
the next, they will face it all over again night after night, year after
year. They, and tens of thousands of men and women like them, are cops.
It's what they do.
- David Epps is the rector of Christ the King Church in
Atlanta E-mail: FatherDavidEpps@aol.com