The Ferguson shooting and subsequent riots have stirred up emotions in all of us. As a 17-year police veteran and a use of force/defensive tactics trainer, I held my opinions until I was presented with the facts of this case; I did not base them on suppositions or emotions. Nevertheless, there were a couple details I was certain of: Officer Darren Wilson did not wake up that morning wanting or intending to take Michael Brown's life, and Michael Brown took actions against Officer Wilson that caused his death.
How could I have made such speculations without being presented any facts or circumstances of the case? It is simple, really. Every police officer, no matter what state they work in, has straightforward requirements in which they are authorized to use force; deadly or otherwise. Police officers are trained extensively on use of force, the use of firearms and other weapons, and the policies, procedures, and laws that govern them.
I am frustrated that this incident became something bigger than a police-involved shooting. It had nothing to do with race, gender, age, or any other factors that politicians or the media attached to it. Sadly, Officer Wilson became a target to allow them to shape their personal agendas. Ask yourself this: Would the facts and circumstances have changed had both men been African-American? How about both Caucasian? What if Officer Wilson was African-American and Michael Brown was Caucasian? I am confident the outcome of the incident would have been the same.
The fundamental and critical facts in this case were that the officer was confronted with force which he reasonably believed to be deadly force, that such deadly force presented an imminent threat to his own life, and that the officer believed his only action to save his life was the use of deadly force. Not only that, but the Supreme Court has held, in Graham v. Connor, that an officer's actions should be "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them at that moment. That such "reasonableness" must be judged from the officer's viewpoint at the time of the incident, not with 20/20 vision of hindsight. Furthermore, based on these same standards, the Missouri grand jury that heard the case held that there was insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Wilson, and that he in fact acted within the laws of lethal force.
It is easy for those on the outside to pass judgment on police practices and actions. They spend days, weeks, or even months batting around opinions on what actions should have or could have been taken by the officer instead. Yet, an officer has seconds, or maybe as much as a minute if he or she is lucky, to make a choice that will be the difference between life and death.
Lt. Lynne D. Doucette is a patrol supervisor and defensive tactics trainer with the Brunswick (Maine) PD as well as a member of the POLICE Magazine advisory board. Prior to being the first female promoted at BPD, she worked as an undercover detective assigned to the state narcotics task force.