According to Bozarth, many things factored into his survival, not the least of which was Castro’s fateful decision to rely on an unreliable girlfriend. While Castro and his homie parked their vehicle around the corner from the location and approached it on foot, Castro had his girlfriend stay outside the location as a lookout. When the officers showed up, she left the scene without alerting Castro.
Bozarth also believes his involvement in a prior shooting helped change his tactics and led to him winning the confrontation with Castro. In that earlier incident, Bozarth and a fellow officer had fired eight shots at a knife-wielding suspect who was still able to advance on them despite having sustained multiple fatal hits. That episode caused Bozarth to re-evaluate the range training he received. Knowing that the way one trains is the way one responds, Bozarth conscientiously retrained himself away from double-tapping, to firing three and four shots at a time.
Finally, Bozarth cites his mindset as the reason why he has survived so many deadly encounters. He has been involved in multiple shootings and has been forced to kill five suspects.
At the time Bozarth attended the San Diego Police Academy, the San Diego PD had the highest mortality rate of police agencies in the nation. The concept of officer survival, driven home by academy instructors, resonated with him. So even though at the time Bozarth would have said the odds would be against his getting involved in a shooting, he was not going to assume that would be the case. As such, he went beyond the department’s quarterly firearms qualification testing, firing a hundred rounds down range every month. He also worked out regularly and attended officer survival seminars.Finding Peace
Today, Bozarth continues to work as a police officer. He is also one of 20 Peer Support members for the San Diego PD, responding to critical incidents such as officer-involved shootings. Bozarth has an undesired empathy with these officers.
He never wanted to have to take a human life, but he knows that failure to do so can result in the loss of innocent lives. Even so, intellectualizing the realities of the job did not keep the nightmares at bay, especially in the aftermath of the Castro shooting.
For a year after the event, he was plagued with some of the worst dreams that he’d ever experienced, nightmares that still have an occasional recurrence. To this day, the image of Castro’s face is easy for Bozarth to recall.
“His eyes stuck with me,” Bozarth explains. “They were dead, long before I shot him. He just didn’t care. I am sure that he thought I was still at that back door and that his game plan was to double-back and kill me. There was no reason for him to have his gun in his hand. He knew he was going to get caught.
“Most suspects when they know the cops are on top of them, the first thing they’re going to do is dump their guns. Castro obviously had different intentions. He just didn’t expect me to be at the threshold of the living room.”
While he owes a debt to family, peers, and friends, Bozarth cites his faith and a pilgrimage that he made to Israel during the year following the shooting as the biggest factor in his ability to cope with this incident.
As a Peer Support member, Bozarth recognizes full well that there are those whose grounded beliefs run from the secular to the religious, and he is sensitive to the personality of each officer. But for those who are Christian, he shares one of the biggest coping mechanisms his faith has offered him.
“There have been some officers who felt extremely bad at having taken a life. They felt as though they themselves had sinned—that they had violated the Word of God. But often their beliefs are colored by the King James version of the bible that was released in 1611. It says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ The most recent and most widely accepted translations say, ‘Thou shall not murder.’
“For Christians in doubt, I would point to Romans 13, verses one, three, and four, which reads, ‘Everyone must submit himself to governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established….For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong….But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’”
Bozarth says these words of scripture give great comfort to many of the officers that he has counseled. He says they leave no ambiguity about the Christian officer’s need to occasionally use deadly force.
Dean Scoville is a patrol supervisor with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and a contributing editor to Police.
What Would You Do?
Put yourself in the shoes of San Diego Police Officer Philip Bozarth and ask yourself the following questions:
• Would you enter the apartment by yourself? How do you feel about splitting partners? What is your agency's policy regarding foot pursuits?
• How would you handle containing the crime scene, detaining the second suspect, and clearing the rest of the location?
• Do you train to "double-tap" in close quarters situations? What alternative courses of fire do you practice?