Thousands of Words on Officer Safety

The shooting of an officer captured on video is unpleasant to watch, but it can be a great teaching tool.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

David Griffith (Photo: Kelly Bracken)David Griffith (Photo: Kelly Bracken)

You're going to need a visual aid for this one. I'm going to try to describe what happened to Officer Quincy Smith of the Estill (SC) Police Department in narrative, but the video from his body-worn camera does a better job than I ever will. So go to and watch it before you read this.

On New Year's Day 2016, Smith was patrolling when he was called to a convenience store. A man inside was trying to snatch groceries away from the paying customers.

When Smith arrived on scene, the suspect was gone. The clerk told Smith the man left on foot and he was wearing a camouflage coat and a red bandana.

Smith went outside to look for the suspect and caught up with him very quickly. He was walking down the road talking on a cellphone held in his left hand and his right hand was in the pocket of his coat. Smith called out to the man, ordering him to stop. The man ignored the order.

The situation ratcheted up in intensity as the man continued to ignore the officer. Smith moved closer to the man and drew his TASER, repeatedly ordering the man to remove his hand from his coat and stop walking. "If you don't stop, I'm going to Tase you," Smith warned.

What happened next happened so quickly that the human eye can barely follow it on the video. The suspect drew that right hand out of his coat and opened fire.

Eight rounds were fired at Smith from a 9mm semi-auto. He was hit four times. Shots broke two bones in his arm, went through his upper torso, and another severed a vein in his neck.

Bleeding heavily, Smith retreated to his patrol car calling out "shots fired" and "officer down" into his portable radio. Inside the car, his hand covered in blood, he grips the mic and says, "Dispatch: Help." Smith was pretty sure he was dying. His final call to dispatch before EMS and fellow officers arrived on scene was: "Dispatch, tell my family I love them."

Fortunately, Quincy Smith is now able to tell his family he loves them anytime he wants. He survived his wounds and is hoping to resume his law enforcement career next year. As for the shooter, Malcolm Antwan Orr, he will spend the next 35 years as a guest of the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

The other good news from this story is that Officer Smith's body-worn video system captured it in detail. If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the old idiom says, then the dozens of frames per second of the Officer Quincy Smith shooting offers you thousands of words about officers' safety.

I believe every American law enforcement officer should study the video of the Smith shooting. And I'm not saying that to criticize Officer Smith's tactics or decision-making. I'm saying this because the video offers an extremely graphic demonstration of how quickly things can turn in a confrontation with a suspect.

When Officer Smith is giving Orr commands, it appears they aren't registering. The man seems to be in a drugged-out haze as he walks away ignoring the officer and talking on the phone. But he draws that pistol and opens fire on the officer with startling speed.

I don't believe that Orr was trained. I don't think he spent hours at home drawing his pistol to build "muscle memory." He was able to draw so fast because it's a natural motion for human beings. Using our dominant arm and hand to lift an object and point it at something is a very practiced motion.

The officer safety lesson that I want to stress here is that the bad guy doesn't have to be a trained pistol fighter to draw and fire his weapon faster than you. Orr had the advantage on Officer Smith from the get-go. He already had his hand on his gun, which was loose in a roomy coat pocket and not in a retention holster that he had to defeat in order to draw. All he had to do was lift, point, and fire.

The Smith shooting is a perfect example of the action-reaction curve that kills so many officers. You have to wait for the bad guy to take action before you react. I urge you to watch this video and incorporate it into your training. Your life may depend on it.

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