As I wrote in my last post, I support LCPD 100%. I worked that job 22 years and like a lot of you reading this, when you dedicate your life to a career in law enforcement you maintain an affection for the agency you served and the people in it. The job becomes your life. You commit to a stricter standard of comportment and accept that you will be under a microscope with regards to your personal and professional lifestyle. Your fellow officers dedicate themselves to the same level of public scrutiny, both on- and off-duty.
No cop ever wants to sit in judgment of another cop. We understand the stress of the job and how those pressures impact decisions in the field. We know that experience and training help in difficult situations and utilize that professional development to maintain a standard that our fellow officers, and perhaps more importantly, the public, expects us to display in a critical incident. As I told my officers during a briefing one night years ago, following a critical incident the night before where expectations were not met regarding professional behavior: "There are no points for panic. We respond to situations in a professional manner and maintain that level of professionalism throughout regardless of what is going on around us. You don't get paid to lose your cool."
By now, everyone reading this has seen the video released (finally) by LCPD administration on the shooting of Amelia Baca. It is a textbook example of what not to do when responding to a mental health crisis, and I have no doubt that this video will be shown nationwide in law enforcement training venues for years to come, and for good reason. Everything taught in critical incident training with respect to dealing with a person experiencing a mental health crisis was disregarded. And the odd thing is, the officer knew going in that he was dealing with an elderly woman with dementia armed with a knife. So why the obvious panic when she appears in the doorway with a knife in each hand?
There is an old adage: You play the way you practice. True in sports, true in police work. Every bit of police training regarding deadly force teaches officers that a suspect holding a knife (or any bladed instrument) who is within 21 feet of the officer can cover that distance and stab the officer before the officer can get his gun from the holster and shoot. That is not a made up scenario to justify shooting suspects. That is a harsh reality learned at the hands of bad guys and plenty of police funerals were conducted for cops who didn't think it applied to them.
That being said, a 75 year old woman experiencing a mental health crisis is not reacting with the same swiftness and motive of a punk on the street. And if an officer's first reaction in a situation of this nature is to draw down, go into a combat stance and point his firearm at granny's center mass while yelling orders to drop the effing knife, then something is wrong with the training he received, both in deadly force and in critical incident. It has been proven over and over that under stress an officer will react the way he has been trained. So what part of the puzzle is missing?
LCPD administration needs to evaluate both training courses and determine why this happened and what, if any, steps can be taken to prevent this sort of tragedy in the future.
Will the officer be terminated? Two types of investigation occur in police shootings: internal and criminal. It has been the time-honored tradition of police administrators to wait and see what the outcome of the criminal investigation is before taking action internally. In other words, if the officer involved in this gets charged with a crime, his employment will be terminated. Why does it work that way? Imagine how a police chief would appear to the public if he deemed the officer's actions appropriate, but the officer is later charged with a crime.
Will the officer involved in this be charged criminally? Hard to say. The answer could lie in Graham v. Connor, the standard applied by the Supreme Court regarding police behavior: "Given the facts known at the time, would a similarly trained and experienced officer respond in a similar fashion?" How the DA interprets that will determine criminal charges.
Options available to the officer, given what he knew at the scene:
Wait for back up officer.
Create distance between himself and Amelia Baca.
Use a calm voice.
If things go to hell in a hurry, what options besides shooting were available?
Canine (I didn't know this in previous posts, but he is a K9 officer so a dog was already on the scene).
My professional opinion on this debacle? Could have and should have been handled differently. There was no need to shoot this woman. There were too many options available to the officer and I find it incredibly hard to believe that a cop with nine years of experience and 70 hours of post-academy critical incident training could think of no other alternative. Does that mean it is a crime? No. Does that mean termination of employment is justified? Let's wait and see what the chief and city manager decide. Much of that decision will have to do with how the officer has responded during the interviews, what is in his personnel file, and what discussions occur in closed session between the chief, manager and city council.
Stay safe and Semper Fi.