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Departments : Shots Fired

Survival Stories

It’s painful to analyze the performance of other cops under “kill or be killed” stress, but it can save your life.

June 01, 2005  |  by - Also by this author

Novelists have a maxim about writing: Nothing is original. As proof of their assertion, they note most stories can be boiled down to a few basic themes, a popular one being "man against man."

If fiction's dictum has the ring of truth, perhaps it's because the postulate and the example apply to real life as well. For, time and again, our community finds the same story being played out: Cop confronts suspect, guns blaze, and someone dies.  And, unfortunately, it isn't always the bad guy that's hauled away under a sheet.

The recurrent nature of these episodes underscores the wisdom of philosopher Georges Santayana's warning that those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

So it follows that if we study deadly force incidents for what went right and what went wrong and, most importantly, act upon what we learn, we can maximize our odds for future success. A natural byproduct of such investigation is the identification of errors, a recognition that things could have been done differently...perhaps better. Which can, of course, lead to accusations of Monday morning quarterbacking.

But perhaps Monday morning quarterbacking is what we need.

In a profession fraught with diminishing resources, one of our most valuable resources is the experience of officers who have already faced our worst nightmares and come back alive. Therefore, we must encourage honest dialogues with one another. And we need to drop the veils of machismo and arrogance and assist others who very well might one day be in the same fix we found ourselves in.

Toward that end, Police is launching a new monthly feature called "Shots Fired." Each "Shots Fired" story will examine one officer-involved shooting based on interviews with the cops involved.

As the author of "Shots Fired" I can tell you that it is not my intent nor the intent of the Police staff to point a finger at any cop who has been forced to defend his life with deadly force. We will only examine shootings that have been cleared by the department involved. So we will not attempt to say whether a shooting was righteous or not. That's not our job.

Our mission for "Shots Fired" is to make it a place where the officers involved in deadly force incidents can speak about their experience and tell you what they did right and what they did wrong. And we thank all of the officers (now and in the future) who have agreed to tell their stories.

In the coming months, "Shots Fired" will examine a number of officer-involved shootings. You will hear from the officers who were placed in a situation where they had to respond with deadly force. They will open their hearts in sharing what they did to prepare for such an eventuality, what happened at the moment of truth, and how they dealt with the outcome.

They invite others to examine their shootings, to think about what went right, what went wrong, and what might have been improved. They do so in the hopes that others might profit from the lessons the officers themselves have learned.

And to facilitate this discussion, Police is making "Shots Fired" an interactive feature. After you read each month's story, you can use the forum at to tell us what you think and what you would have done differently if you were in that situation.

Like the officers who have volunteered to participate in "Shots Fired," we believe that by examining past shootings you may be able to learn something that will mitigate the likelihood of you being involved in a shooting. Maybe you will even learn something from the stories of these fellow officers that will help you win if you do find yourself in a fight for your life.

Cops helping each other by talking about what they did right. And what they did wrong. Now, that's a novel idea.

Dean Scoville is a patrol supervisor with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and a contributing editor to Police.

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