Are we breeding a police culture of “additional victims?”
By Charles Remsberg
Part 1 of a 2-part series
Law enforcement agencies “should build a police culture that accepts, validates and rewards a fighting spirit.” Instead too many are creating “additional victims,” hesitant officers who shy from using deadly force when it’s legal and urgently needed. The result: “Some officers today are more afraid of being sued than being murdered!”
That sobering message was delivered passionately in Milwaukee earlier this month by one of a rare breed, a tell-it-like-it-is administrator, Chief Jeff Chudwin of Olympia Fields (Ill.) PD. Chudwin spoke on “Surviving Officer-Involved Shootings and the Aftermath” to kick off an intense tactical operations seminar produced by the Assn. of SWAT Personnel-Wisconsin, hosted by the Milwaukee County SO and attended by nearly 200 SWAT-team operatives.
A former street cop, former prosecutor, long-time president of the Illinois Tactical Officers Assn. and a PoliceOne contributor, Chudwin across a rapid-fire, provocative two hours presented graphic illustrations of what can only be called the wimping of American policing, and issued a stirring call for change. In some cases on-scene video drove home the impact.
• A plainclothes officer is being slashed in the face and neck during a ground fight with a knife-wielding suspect. Under life-threatening attack, he hands his gun to another officer because “he’s afraid he’ll discharge the weapon accidentally” during the struggle. “He gets praised by the media for ‘showing restraint,’ but what he did makes my skin crawl,” Chudwin declares. “Why didn’t he shove the muzzle in the suspect’s eye and pull the trigger?”
• Another officer responds to a man-with-a-gun call at a food mart, sees the suspect with a gun in hand but stays in her patrol car. The suspect grabs a citizen whom he forces to the ground at gunpoint. The officer fails to intervene. The suspect murders the captive by shooting him in the head. Still no action by the officer beyond “officially observing.” Responding backup finally kills the offender. A disturbing footnote to this event, Chudwin says, “is that some of her peers feel the first officer did nothing wrong.”
• An offender who has murdered his girlfriend is outdoors in a residential neighborhood firing a gun randomly. He’s surrounded by SWAT but the officers take no action other than trying to maintain a loose perimeter, even when he points his revolver directly at them. The standoff drags on through many threats to police and public until he eventually is shot when he closes in on an officer and points the gun at him. When Chudwin asks the officers why they didn’t fire earlier, they explain: “Our commander told us not to shoot him.” “An outrage!” Chudwin declares. “If you’re putting an offender at the top of the list for safety, then you have your priorities screwed up. Why are we catering to the person who created the problem?”
• SWAT officers are offered rapid deployment training by a tactical organization but back away from the concept because they consider it “too dangerous.” “We don’t run into the muzzle of a machine gun,” Chudwin chides, “but we do run into danger every day, and we should be prepared to do it.”
• An active shooter is inside a fast-food restaurant killing people. A SWAT team is ready to make entry or to fire through glass to take him out. A commander en route but 10 miles out orders the officers to stand down until he gets there….A commanding officer instructs his street personnel, “You can’t shoot at anyone until you are shot at first”…. A chief states that anyone who can’t control an aggressive offender with a knife from 5 to 7 feet away without using deadly force should not be a police officer—all examples of “lunacy,” Chudwin says.
“That kind of thinking can put you in a black hole you can’t get out of. This is the culture we have to get away from. There is no obligation for you to be injured, wounded or murdered” rather than shooting to stop a lethal threat.
Chudwin made clear that he is not advocating the development of rogue officers who pursue vigilante missions on the street. But he does feel that officers and agencies should embrace a greater willingness and readiness to use lawful deadly force in appropriate circumstances.
“Predators are out there, not afraid of us, willing to attack us,” said Chudwin, who has had two friends who were murdered on the job. “But officers often back away from aggressively finishing the fight.”
Part of the problem, he suggested, is unrealistic training that teaches officers to rely on tactics and equipment that in many real-life confrontations don’t work.
Field experience has well established that pepper spray, for example, “won’t work against people who are committed and willing to fight to the death.” Yet he showed dramatic video of a determined naked man moving threateningly down a city street with a knife after having cut off his own penis. Responding officers attempted—futilely—to control him with endless verbal commands and bursts of OC. Their solution ultimately was to risk their own safety by dog-piling him.
Why waste time and heighten your personal risk “by trying something that cannot work, like pain compliance against a crackhead who can’t feel pain?” Chudwin asked. “Why create false expectations of success?”
He deplored the tendency, again often reinforced in training, to over-verbalize. “Show me a Supreme Court case or statute that says you must give verbal warning before using deadly force,” Chudwin challenged. “There isn’t one.
“It’s not necessary to talk to somebody when they’re trying to murder you. You can do it, but there’s no legal obligation to and tactically it’s not desirable. There are some offenders you simply can’t negotiate with. Yet officers want to take things to the last instant because they have imprinted in their mind ‘I don’t want to shoot.’”
Reacting properly in threat situations depends on having the right mind-set, Chudwin stressed. “When you go out on the street, the first thing you say when you get in your patrol car should not be, ‘Oh, God, I might get sued today.’ You really have nothing personally to fear from liability when you follow law, policy and procedure. But fear of liability has led to the murders of police officers.
“If you’re more concerned about getting sued than getting murdered, you can’t do the job like it needs to be done. You’re a threat to yourself and to others.”
Regarding deadly force, “you have to know what you can do and when you can do it, and be prepared to do it immediately, without hesitation. If you fail any part of this equation, you will fail on the street.”
The willingness to emphatically stop a life threat needs to be part of your mind-set off duty as well as on, Chudwin reminded. “Only 25 per cent of officers in some areas carry off duty, and then they carry no extra ammunition,” he said in disbelief.
“Have some firearm on you always. You will be some place someday with your family and some antisocial s.o.b. will come up to you and want to cut your throat and take your children away—and you’re not going to let him.
“Remember, there is no coming back from the dead. If you understand that, you will come home at night. You may be a little battered but you won’t be full of holes because you gave some predator verbal commands rather than shoot him.”
NEXT: “7 Reminders that Could Save Your Bacon After a Shooting”—Chief Jeff Chudwin’s practical considerations that can help you survive after the smoke clears.