Serving the Public can be Deadly
Headlines blared “sheriff’s deputies killed a man who had a gun.” The follow up was “deputies fired at least 18 shots.” Definitely eye catchers for readers. Lots of interest in these days of gun control battles.
Without question the occurrence in Mount Airy is tragic and devastating to the late19-year-old and his family.
It, too, is concerning to all the men and women in law enforcement. It’s no joke that these sworn officers of the law and public safety daily face these heinous situations and take no joy in them.
I don’t know the boy who was shot or his mental condition, nor do I know his family. Also, I don’t know the deputies involved. I do know there is no easy answer when an armed citizen aims a pistol, shotgun or any other weapon at deputy sheriffs, local police and State Police.
Split-second decisions must be made in these circumstances. Any delay in response can quickly result in the death of the protectors of the peace. Pay attention to daily newspapers, broadcast and online news reports. There is no dearth of attacks on police with guns and knives and sticks and stones.
In addition to journalistic efforts for more than a half-century I have been a longtime member of the National Sheriffs Association. This group concentrates on the highest ideals of law enforcement. Its work is outstanding and serves the law enforcement profession everywhere.
One of the easiest things for the general public to do is criticize deputies and police. It’s always “why didn’t they wait.” “Why did they have to shoot?” “Why are they carrying side arms?”
None of Frederick County’s finest – nor does any sheriff’s deputy – want to draw a weapon. When forced to do so, there is no choice. These situations are not quick-draw episodes as seen in western movies. There is no shooting a pistol or rifle out of the hands of the bad guy or gal. There is no shooting the alleged miscreant in the leg to cool down the situation. It’s serious business.
When faced with that awesome moment, the deputy aims for the critical mass – straight at the heart – to bring the event to an immediate close, safely protecting any and all who may be around the situation.
It wasn’t too long ago in Fairfax County, VA, when two veteran detectives were gunned down by a disgruntled teenager who didn’t even know the officers. The shooter, dressed in all black, just caught them off guard during a shift change. Both detectives were fine family members, churchgoers and respected by their peers. The boy’s parents were afraid of him and hid his weapons in the ceiling of their home.
There was another time when a disgruntled husband was ordered to leave his ex-wife and children alone. On a spring afternoon, across the street from his church, he grabbed a child and mother at gunpoint. He dragged them to the front porch of their home. Horrified and panicky neighbors called police. Police responded and pleaded with the guy to end the threats. They asked him courteously to put down the pistol but he adamantly refused and aimed the six-shot revolver at police a few feet away on the sidewalk. When the officers saw and heard him cock the pistol, they had no choice but to shoot and kill him.
In the Mount Airy incident, the veteran deputies were within eight-feet of the teenager who, according to news accounts, refused to drop his shotgun after repeated requests.
After all of the investigations by local and state investigators, the event will undoubtedly end up in court and a lawsuit.
The fact of the matter is simply respect for authority – a must in every case.
I recall the story of the police officer who stops a woman driving too fast. He is polite, says thank you for the driver’s license and registration. He writes a ticket and asks her to sign the document only to acknowledge she’ll go to court. The offender becomes belligerent, won’t sign the ticket and has to be arrested. She’s given the ticket anyway and later tells the judge she didn’t want to admit guilt. Stupid is as stupid does.
Here’s a lesson to be learned: don’t point a gun, loaded or unloaded, or any weapon at a policeman or anyone for that matter.