The Elephant in the Corner

My heart was racing and adrenalin was surging through my body when I woke with a start.

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In my dream, another officer and I were approaching a man seated at an outdoor cafe table. He had his back to us and his table was up against the big picture window of the cafe.  As I walked around the railing separating the patio from the sidewalk, my reflection in the window followed as I moved to position myself so as not to startle the man.

His face did not register surprise when he looked at us.  Instead, it appeared as though he were waiting our arrival.  His gaze tracked us and he slowly moved his one hand away from his body, sliding an object onto the table.  I watched his hands and his body language as my mouth started to speak in the slow, deep, inarticulate tones of a nightmare.  Whatever I was saying was having little effect.  The man released the object and reacquired his grip around it. The item was a black handgun.

My dream self shouted as I tucked behind a nearby car for cover and drew my service pistol. The man’s empty soul bore right through me as he raised his weapon and it was his eyes I looked into over the sights of my gun.  I shouted again and again.  Nothing; his gun kept coming.

My finger pulling the trigger back was what jerked me awake, my gun hand curled into a fist and my breath coming fast.

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I’ve got fifteen years of street policing behind me and have had a couple of close calls when it comes to lethal encounters.  Mental preparation is a daily occurrence and I pay attention to other cases to learn as much as I can about officer and subject behaviour.

What I’ve learned is this: you can be as prepared as you possibly can.  You say and do all the right things.  You can be in the right place, the right time and the right location and a situation can still go off the rails.

The intense media scrum and resulting public opinion when lethal police encounters happen is alarming.  The pressure on the officers involved is enormous and is only made worse when the coverage is negative.  Yes, there needs to be an intense investigation in the wake of every lethal police incident, but to put the officer on trial in the media is akin to blindfolding them, giving them their last cigarette and lining them up in front of a firing squad.

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What alarms me the most isn’t that I’ve lost sleep over this issue but that there exists the real possibility of an officer failing to use lethal force in a future incident in order to avoid being crucified in the aftermath, and that the officer, or someone the officer is trying to protect, will be killed.

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Train, train, and then train some more.  Be justified, act accordingly, articulate why you did what you did and make sure you go home at the end of your shift to your family and loved ones.

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