Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Shootings

"The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision." Maimonides.

Maimonides was a philosopher born in the middle of the 12th Century. He studied the philosophies of we would now call "The Classics." Likely, he never served as a police officer.

Recently, two separate decisions by officers in Charlotte and Tulsa resulted in the use of deadly force. Two men died. Both situations seemed to begin relatively routinely, but did not end that way.

"Relatively routinely." There was a time when we could name on one hand the number of weapons calls to which officers were summoned. Now, they are commonplace. "We're actually getting pretty good at them," a friend said recently. "There are a couple every shift."

One night not long ago, officers responded to a gun call. They were confronted by a man with a shotgun, who fired several shots at them. He missed. Return fire struck the suspect, who retreated into an apartment (and later surrendered, with serious but survivable injuries).

Men and women who work in risky professions continually face critical situations in which lives hang in the balance - often, their own. Four Wilmington firefighters fell through a collapsed staircase last night. Two died. In Westminster (CO) police responded to a robbery. The confrontation ended in the death of one suspect. Douglas County deputies dealt with a suicidal person shooting randomly - the detective wounded in the exchange is just now regaining some semblence of consciousness.

Two years ago several of my coworkers responded to a welfare check. What could be more routine? Someone is acting in an unusual manner and it is law enforcement's role to assess their behavior. My friends came under sniper fire. Two were seriously wounded. 

What makes being a first responder unique - fire service, law enforcement, EMT, HAZMAT - is that we are rarely able to walk away from an unresolved situation. We have to engage. We have to make decisions. Sometimes, it involves people who may be armed. There is that moment, one critical blink of an eye, when the mind says "I"m about to be killed."

What happens next?

I have no firsthand knowledge of either the Tulsa or Charlotte incidents. One officer got to see his city in flames. The other has been arrested.

The risk of being wrong hangs as a dark cloud above. No matter how well trained a human being is, that is a risk we all live with. We saw, we perceived, we concluded. Officers must act.

And, we have to live, or die, with what we do next.

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