A good deed with tragic results: A view from the sidelines

All people in crisis — whether mentally ill, under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or simply having a traumatic time in their lives — are potentially dangerous

Earlier this month, a woman committed suicide by shooting herself in the head with an Illinois police officer's gun while he was giving her a ride to the hospital. Stephanie Hicks, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, managed to get hold of the officer's gun from his holster and turn the gun on herself.

As I view this incident from the sidelines, I feel that several points need to be discussed that look at the wider issues that can apply to us all, no matter what the final investigation determines. 

First and foremost, this is a tragic story. It illustrates the need for officers to conduct a practical risk assessment even when assisting the public. The officer was trying to provide a public service to a person in need. This woman was obviously in a bad place. All people in crisis — whether mentally ill, under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or simply having a traumatic time in their lives — are potentially dangerous.

Using Jeff Cooper's Color Codes (see image below), an officer should be at Condition Orange — ready to act — when managing people in crisis. Crisis Intervention Training Tactics are important, but an officer needs to be constantly ready to shift gears to keep everyone safe.

Item number two: Weapon control is always critical, especially in close quarter situations like this one. Any person, any time can attempt to disarm an officer. In this case, the person turned the gun on herself. She could have just as readily turned the gun on the officer. An officer always needs to be ready for a disarming attempt.

Although this incident originated with a street contact by an emotionally disturbed woman to a police officer,  it has applications to correctional personnel.  It involved the transportation of persons in a squad car. 

Correctional personnel are constantly making a prisoner transportation to court, to the hospital, to another correctional facility.  They are in uniform and armed.  If a citizen needs help, they will flag down the officer whether s/he is driving, walking on the street, or moving through a public building. 

Correctional personnel need to be able to balance the needs of this citizen needing help and the security of the prisoner.  Most often, this is limitiedto a radio call to the local law enforcement agency to handle the emergency.  Remember that this request for assistance may be part of a planned escape attempt.  Remain alert, do what you can safely do, but remember your primary responsibility is for the security of your prisoner.

Additionally, when armed, you need to remember that anyone - even a restrained prisoner have and may attempt to disarm you.  Position yourself to keep you firearm out of reach of both prisoners and other persons. Stay alert.

Finally, prisoners need to be transported in the back seat, seat belted in, and in line of sight at least from the rearview mirrow at all time.

Yes, although this incident happened to a police officer in a street situation, it has lessons for correctional personnel.

Our thoughts go out to both victims of this tragedy — the woman who died and the officer. What the officer was trying to do was to just help a woman in need. We just need to make sure that we keep everyone safe in the process.

As Jack Hoban likes to say, officers need to be protectors. We must always remember that we need to keep ourselves physically, legally, and psychologically safe in order to do our job.

Protection begins with you.

An officer should be at Condition Orange — ready to act — when managing people in crisis. (PoliceOne Image)


About the author

Experience, expertise and communication skills are the criteria by which a defensive tactics instructor is judged. By these measures, Gary T. Klugiewicz is recognized as one of the nation's leading control systems analysts specializing in the Use of Force.

Gary is the training director for Vistelar (www.vistelar.com), a global consulting & training firm that addresses the entire spectrum of human conflict. His Verbal Defense & Influence (www.verbaldefenseandinfluence.com) training program is used worldwide in a variety of disciplines to teach non-escalation of conflict and reduce the need for de-escalation tactics. Gary specializes in transforming theory (“fire talks”) into reality (“fire drills”) through the use of Emotionally Safe Performance-Driven Instruction.

He retired from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department in 2001 after 25 years of service, during which he rose to the rank of captain. As a former Street Survival® Seminar instructor and internationally known defensive tactics instructor, Gary’s training has impacted literally hundreds of thousands of officers.

Gary developed the Principles of Subject Control (P.O.S.C.®) for Correctional Personnel that have been adopted by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Training & Standards Bureau and Wisconsin Department of Corrections for their correctional training programs. He has been instrumental in the development of Correctional Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) training programs throughout the United States. Gary has revolutionized crisis intervention training through the development of the “First Responder Point-of-Impact Crisis Intervention (PICI) Training Programs for Persons with Special Needs” training program. PICI focuses on keeping people safe through a system of time-tested crisis intervention tactics and the development of Special Needs Strategies.

Gary Klugiewicz has spent more than 30 years as a line officer, supervisor, and a control systems designer. He currently serves as a defensive tactics consultant for numerous police and correctional agencies throughout the United States.

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

logo for print