Before their careers are over, most metropolitan officers and many small-town cops will have seen their fair share of violent assaults, horrendous accidents, and all manner of intraspecial mayhem. Along the way, these officers will step up and take charge of the situation at hand, obtaining necessary information, marshalling resources, and coordinating personnel. I’ve seen my fair share of squared-away cops take control of many a volatile and dangerous situation and will readily acknowledge a huge debt to them.
But I have seen other, perhaps similarly well-intentioned officers, who did not perform nearly as well. Unfortunately, their lackluster performances were exhibited in situations that demanded their “A” game.
By and large, the thing that’s most likely to cause cops to lose their discipline and professionalism is an emergency involving a fellow officer.
Is this phenomena simply analogous to gardeners whose own lawns are unkempt? Are cops so conditioned to be emotionally detached when dealing with incidents that their vision becomes clouded once the situation involves one of their own?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I do know this: I have never seen cops screw up in so many ways as they do in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting, especially when a fellow officer is down.
Fortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even in officer-involved shootings, cops usually conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. But not always, and that’s what concerns me.
In the aftermath of one deputy-involved shooting that occurred when I was on the job, deputies ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, not communicating anything about the suspect’s description and failing to establish a command post or containment. Meanwhile, precious minutes ticked off, giving the suspect time to put distance between himself and his would-be pursuers.
Deputies from another station also rolled on the call and later shared their observations with us. They said that not only had our guys been chasing ghosts, but they’d also failed to roll on another deputy's request for backup when another deputy said he saw a man running into a garage.
It turned out that the man seen running into that garage was a citizen. But the reason he was running in the first place was that he'd witnessed the deputy-involved shooting and fled when he saw the suspect running in his direction—which did not coincide with where the containment was belatedly effected.
Throughout, radio discipline was non-existent. People were keying microphones and asking questions, but they were ignoring answers and discarding suggestions in the same manner that monkeys throw poo and with just about as much positive effect. When it came to substantive communication, coordinating search efforts, establishing containment perimeters, requesting logistics, deploying resources, and updating suspect information, they proved mum.
I wish I could say this was an isolated occurrence, but it wasn’t. And I think the problem is that our responses to such situations are not routinely discussed, dissected, or otherwise Monday morning quarterbacked. That degree of critical attention is usually reserved for the incidents that precipitate officer down situations, not our responses to them.
Our responses to such incidents should be examined just as critically. Given that few things can get a cop’s adrenaline pumping harder than an “officer down” call, it’s really a no-brainer.
We can honor fallen comrades in no greater manner than by training on the front end for such possibilities. In exhibiting discipline and professionalism in such emergencies, we will ensure that injured officers get the assistance they need and maybe even the justice they deserve.