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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.
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Patrol

The Aftermath of Police Encounters with “Unarmed” Individuals--57 Murders

Just because a person is unarmed does not mean he isn't dangerous.

August 27, 2014  |  by Los Angeles Police Protective League

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it. Fifty-seven times, loved ones of those officers heard the awful knock on their front door, notifying them that their husband, wife, father, mother, son or daughter would never be coming home again. Fifty-seven times, the threat that some loudly continue to claim does not exist, ended with fatal results.

While statistics for officers killed with their own weapons are hard to find, we know from the FBI and www.odmp.org that between 2000-10, at least 51 officers were killed by suspects who used the officer’s own gun. Four officers were killed in 2011, one officer in 2013. While the data for 2014 is not final, we know that Johnson City (New York) Police Officer David Smith was murdered this past March with his own weapon.

Thus asking, “What justification do the police have for killing an unarmed suspect?” and answering “none” as former Police Chief Joseph McNamara did in this blog is pointless. Twenty-five years ago, in the case of Graham v. Connor, the United States Supreme Court set forth the legal standard for evaluating a use of force. The U.S. Supreme Court wrote an officer’s action is judged in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. Crucially, the “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the “perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the “calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”

The reality is that police officers need and wear guns. Those firearms can be taken by “unarmed” suspects and turned against the officer. Many armchair experts across the country sit around their air-conditioned conference rooms, pondering their views on how police officers could kill an “unarmed suspect” and the non-existent threat they pose to officers. We must ask, what did they use to as the factual basis for their conclusions? Is it from fictional police dramas on TV? Gut instinct?

We won’t be so crass as to suggest that we give a gun to the columnists and editorial writers who equate “unarmed” with “not dangerous,” and then tell them that although we are unarmed, we are going to try to take that gun from them. If successful, we will use the gun to shoot them. While we are confident this scenario might slightly affect their mindset on “unarmed” suspects, the tragic reality is that scenario has happened at least 57 times in 14 years.

Until all of the facts surrounding the use of force by any officer are known, the urge to decide whether the use of deadly force was reasonable and lawful is simply a “rush to judgment”—no matter how many times the suspect is referred to as “unarmed.”--Los Angeles Police Protective League


Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

TheRookie @ 8/30/2014 8:24 AM

As a medically retired L.E.O. from a incident of a crack head attempting to strip my duty weapon I disagree with the notion that an unarmed subject is exempt from the use of deadly force. If he would have got my sidearm I'd be dead today. As far as the Feds. never did trust them. And Chief McNamara is a politician & sell-out as a real cop. He hasn't truly cared about line officers for decades. He worried about the Mayor, Council, & His image.

Chicago Sam @ 8/30/2014 3:07 PM

God and everyone righteous help the young officer in Ferguson, MO and everywhere else. Recently in Chicago we held a anniversary memorial for two of our Officers, who murdered in the line of duty together by an UNARMED OFFENDER.

On 13 May 1990, in the evening hours, Chicago Police Officers and partners, Gregory Hauser and Raymond Kilroy were both killed in line-of-duty deaths at 2158 North Nordica answering a call of, "disturbance with the grandson".

There are others, but due to recent events this sticks in my mind, R.I.P. HAUSER, KILROY and all those who sacrificed all or nearly all. There but for the Grace of God could be any one of us.

Bill @ 10/11/2014 2:45 PM

I agree that police must take extra care in approaching unarmed suspects, as well as any suspects for that matter. Police must always protect themselves first, and apply appropriate force when necessary. I researched the aforementioned Tennessee v. Garner, as well as on Graham v. Connor and found that there are guidelines for how and when police can utilize deadly force. Tennessee v. Garner outlined exactly under what circumstances police can use deadly force, and as well there are other cases relating to police use of force guidelines. So, I definitely agree that police must be careful in even approaching unarmed suspects, especially given the heartbreaking statistics above.
But I also think that since police have very clear outlines of when to use deadly force, as well as other use of force, unarmed suspects do not often get shot for no reason; they must have posed a serious threat to the officers involved or to nearby citizens, etc. Unfortunately, as in Tennessee v. Garner

Bill @ 10/11/2014 2:46 PM

and Graham v. Connor, citizens have been critically or mortally wounded. But these cases have given police guidelines that have been on the books since the 1980s, and as such police have been explicitly trained on when to shoot someone. I think as a result of these tragic shootings by unarmed suspects a case should be made for procedural advances in order to protect officers more from potentially dangerous, though unarmed suspects, especially as the guidelines set down in Graham v. Connor have not proved to be sufficient. And furthermore it might behoove officers and the Supreme Court alike for the Supreme Court to revise the Tennessee v. Garner guidelines, or to make them clearer.Other cases as well pertain to this subject, and one of those is the landmark case Terry v. Ohio. Though Terry v. Ohio allows officers to frisk suspects for the safety of the officer(s), this can still prove to be a very dangerous situation because suspects are not handcuffed and have a chance of getting

Bill @ 10/11/2014 2:48 PM

the officer’s weapon. Though this may be a very slight chance, it still is a chance, and sometimes that’s all it takes.

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