Let’s Be Creative on Use of Force (A Contest)

Isn’t it about time that we quit killing people who are holding knives and fail to respond to police commands?

Aren’t there other methods we could use than killing them?

Quite frankly, I am appalled when incidents like these happen. It usually goes down like this: A man, usually deranged by alcohol or other drugs, or suffering from mental illness, runs amok with a knife. Police are called. The man, more often than not, is surrounded by police with guns drawn. The man fails to respond to police commands to put the knife down and surrender. Then something happens. And the man ends up dead.

Now, it’s hard to believe that some of our nation’s police don’t have other ideas about what to do in these tense situations. After all, most police don’t like having to take a life — even when we they are legally justified in doing so.

But the problem here is not what is legally justified, but rather what appears to be the right kind of actions to take. (If the victim is a member of your family you most likely would support any form of a “less-than-lethal” response.)

Here’s a video about what I am talking about. The man in the video was being pursued by 15 or more police officers, guns out, pointed, and at the ready. The man ended up dead; shot multiple times.

Now these are tough situations. A man with a knife if he is close can easily kill an unwary police officers. This I know.

During my years as a patrol officer I taught defensive tactics to both recruits and senior officers for a number of years. My background is in the Asian martial arts and I have expert ratings in a number of them.

But I don’t want to say here what I think should be done; instead, I have a proposal. I would like to hear from today’s working officers as to what alternatives could be instituted on a tactical basis — creative suggestions about other ways to handle these situations.

And there’s more — I have a prize ($25.00) for the best and most creative submission — plus a free (and autographed) copy of my new book sent directly to the winner in a plain brown wrapper!

Now let’s get the creative process going!

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About improvingpolice

I served over 20 years as the chief of police in Madison (WI), four years as chief of the Burnsville (MN) Police Department, and before that as a police officer in Edina (MN) and the City of Minneapolis. I hold graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota and Edgewood College in Madison. I have written many articles over my years as a police leader calling for police improvement (for example, How To Rate Your Local Police, and with my wife, Sabine, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience). After retiring from the police department, I answered a call to ministry, attended seminary, and was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. At the present time, I serve a small church in North Lake (WI), east of Madison. Sabine and I have nine adult children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is also a retired police officer and we both continue active lives.

19 Responses to “Let’s Be Creative on Use of Force (A Contest)”

  1. Did you receive any ideas? Did anyone enter the contest? I’m hoping so.

    • Nothing so far, Peggy. Are you going to submit an idea? I am going to re-post this tomorrow — maybe folks just forgot. I think it’s an important topic that could be addressed with great creativity and practicality.

  2. Team roping. Like in the rodeo. No problem taking down someone armed with a knife. Will the suspect be hurt? Maybe. If 15 cops shoot at you will you die? Definitely.

    • Nice start. Think it through — exact application, what kind of ropes, training, policy…

    • In an urban setting, if time would allow (and that is a major factor), calling in the Fire Dept for an assist. I realize they may not respond if the scene isn’t secure, but if you could get a water truck there and hit the suspect with water from the hose. Sure it will probably cause some injury, but I would anticipate minor injuries would be more aprreciated than death. This is an option I would consider if I could.

      • I am not sure if firefighters would agree to being used in this manner (such as they were used in many southern cities during the Civil Rights Movement). It may be difficult to muster up an engine company to do this.

  3. Dave, I don’t see what is wrong with using a taser in instances like this, or why can’t the police just shoot to injure? Maybe in the leg? Taser is good because it temporarily immobilizes people, as you well know. Also the quality of cops these days is not like it was back when you were policing, unfortunately. For instance, read the article on the cop in NY arrested yesterday.

    • My understanding is that the Taser is not 100% effective in these situation and that officers are reluctant to use it against someone who could kill or seriously maim them with a knife.

      • Some more here in an email from Greg:

        “I think the changing times are providing us with fewer cops willing to engage physically, and relying on technology to solve the problem. The pervasiveness of the 21-foot rule re edged weapons has been a big factor. The advantage of TASERs is to be able to take the person down from a distance (hopefully with a lethal-force back-up in place). I was personally doing that successfully (or at scenes where someone else was doing that) two decades ago! But you’ve got to have good training. And you’ve got to have a TASER on the scene, often it is not. I don’t think many officers are prepared well these days to physically engage. In 2007, there were 44 fatal police shootings of suspects in the US and Canada where a TASER use was attempted, but failed to end the incident, and the subject’s behavior then resulted in a shooting. That is where training could do better to take a person down without shooting in some cases.”

  4. I understand the historical significance and ramifications, but it is 2012 and no longer the 1960’s. We are talking about one individual armed with a knife and not a group marching or protesting about Civil Rights. I understand where you are coming from, but I would think the Fire Dept. would rather hose the subject down to disarm/disorient them to allow the police to take him/her into custody as opposed to showing up and plugging the holes Police put in them.
    And, that is exactly how I would put it to the Fire Capt or Chief. They can either lend an assist with the hose, or potentially engage in ALS after the Police shoot the subject.
    Everything is about context. A single subject armed with a knife failing to obey Police commands. Hose ‘em down or shoot ‘em. I think the majority of people would agree that using the hose would be preferred.

    • I am not being argumentative, it may seem that way, just offering an option.

      I do get your point and those concerns will be there, but moving forward is the direction we need to go.

      Finding a FD willing to participate is certainly not an easy task, but if nothing else, it may prompt another idea.

  5. Dave, please tell me you are kidding.

    No cop wants to take a life, and most situations in which a subject has a knife do not end in that suspect being killed by police. Rather, most end peacefully.

    However, sometimes a situation ends with a suspect threatening to attack police with the knife. To a working cop, your suggestion that the situation could be handled “better’ than using deadly force, when an officers life is being threatened by a subject, frankly is insulting.

    It implies that the officer wants to kill, and just couldn’t think of a good reason not to. Officers make difficult decisions, with incomplete information, under extreme stress, in less than a second, and you now want to judge that with the clarity of hindsight?

    Are you familar with the Tuler Drill? It is the experiment which is replicated in police academies everywhere which demonstratively shows a suspect can successfully attack an officer with a knife and kill him from 0-21 feet without that officer being able to unholster a gun and fire it in time. The TV show Mythbusters recently replicated this with similar results.

    Anytime manpower and time permits less than lethal force to be used, in my experience, it is. Deadly force is a last resort.

    Are some of the suspects Mental Heath Consumers? Absolutely. Do Officers WANT to shoot them? Absolutely not. Do Officers do everything in their power to avoid it while keeping bystanders safe? Without question. Despite this, do these afflicted souls sometimes die in a hail of police gunfire? Yes.

    What is the alternative? Would you ask the officer to lay down his life because the subject with a knife was sick?

    Unfortunately, the real world does not present such clear cut scenarios as can be presented and deliberated about on a weekday afternoon behind a computer keyboard. Cops make decisions on the fly and have to stand by them. Unfortunately, there are bosses, (read: Chiefs) who sometimes lack the backbone to stand up for their officers when they make deadly force decisions even when they are made for the right reasons. They like to second guess the decisions with the righteousness of hind sight.

    I hope you were not one of those chiefs.

    Re; your commenters — Ropes, hoses… are you f’ing kidding me?

    • John, slow down. I am not suggesting police take a hit. What I am suggesting is that we need to consider SAFE and EFFECTIVE alternatives. Right now we have a gun and a Taser. Could there be more? And I make this point to reinforce what you said — no cop likes to to take a life because he or she knows it will stay with them till the end of their career. I was lucky. I escaped this, but many of my colleagues and officers did not. Yes, I tried to be a supportive chief. I had been a tactsical officer on the street and taught police defensive tactics earlier in my career. I still think we can develop other ways to contain a mentally ill/distraught person who is holding an edged weapon (and I know the distance factor here and we can stay outside of the deadly range). I just want us to think outside the box without getting hurt. Thanks for your input here and willingness to engage on the subject.

    • “Would you ask the officer to lay down his life because the subject with a knife was sick?”
      Absolutely. That is why we give cops the golden salaries and platinum benefits. Any citizen is worth more than any cop any day of the week. If you don’t want the risk and danger, fine we can start cutting pay, ending benefits and making sure you work a full forty years before you draw one dime of pension. Personally I look forward to cutting your pay.

      • Yeah, nowadays a lot of cops are like CEOs – want all the pay and benefits but do not want to earn it and expect everyone else to do their work for them.

    • Gee John, many cops were more than eager to beaten and/or kill people like labor union activists, civil right activists, liberals, progressives, student and/or political protesters and organizations like the ACLU.if you look at the history and in many cases were glad to do so and got away with it and their conscience never bother them for the rest of their life for what they did to their fellow human beings.

      It is a different story when you have to deal with someone who will kill or injure you because they are mentally unbalance

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I’m Not Kidding — This is Real! « improving police - October 22, 2012

    [...] I am not kidding. I really am interested in solving the problem I identified in the blog I posted on September 28 about apprehending knife-wielders without using deadly [...]

  2. Stepping Back: Reflecting On a Police Shooting « improving police - February 5, 2013

    [...] 8. Let’s Be Creative on the Use of Force (Sept. 28, 2012) [...]

  3. Police and the Mentally Ill: From Last Resort to First Resort? | improving police - March 27, 2014

    […] 8. Let’s Be Creative on the Use of Force (Sept. 28, 2012) […]

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