Friday’s Heroes: Remembering the Fallen

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Officer Houston James Largo, 27

Navajo Tribal Police – Public Safety Division

March 12, 2017 – Officer Houston James Largo was shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call.

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Trooper Brian S. Falb

New York State Police

March 13, 2017 – Trooper Brian Falb died as a result of cancer he developed after his extensive involvement in the search and rescue efforts at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Trooper Falb is survived by his wife and four children.

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Officer Michael Hance, 44

New York City Police Department

March 12, 2017 – Officer Michael Hance died as a result of cancer he developed after his extensive involvement in the search and rescue efforts at the site of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Officer Hance is survived by his two daughters.

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Edged Weapon Attacks: The Twenty-One-Foot Rule … maybe

Recently, I had the pleasure of presenting a fun workshop to the San Francisco Area Romance Writers, and sometime during the workshop someone asked about the 21-foot rule. They inquired because they were curious to know if what they’d heard—that it is nearly impossible to … well, read on. You’ll see why she asked.

So, here we go … Confusion at the very onset.

Edged Weapon Attacks: The 21- 30-foot Rule Suggestion

Police officers are forced to make many split second decisions during the course of their careers, and one of those decisions is when to use force, and which level of force should be employed, if needed.

Should a Taser be used when a combative suspect is holding a knife? Should the officer go for her firearm if the suspect is swinging a baseball bat at her head? Is an officer ever justified to shoot an unarmed suspect? Are there situations when officers must retreat? All these decisions are made within one-half to three-quarters of a second. That’s about how long it takes the average human to react to a given situation.

Let’s first examine the scenario pictured above. Here, an officer stands facing a knife-wielding suspect who clearly presents a danger. The bad guy is holding an edged weapon (a knife) in the classic “ice pick” position. Years ago officers were taught that a suspect could be shot, and justifiably so, if he were wielding a knife in a threatening manner while positioned within a distance of twenty-one feet (the 21-foot rule), or less, from the officer. The reasoning was that the suspect was without a doubt an immediate, deadly threat.

Officers were also taught that they’d not likely survive this scenario without using deadly force. The fact is, it’s doubtful that an officer could draw his weapon and squeeze off a round, without aiming, if a suspect began his charge from a distance of twenty-one feet or less. Many agencies and officer survival instructors (I taught this at the academy) have pushed that distance back even further, to 30 feet. This distance plus the time is takes the officer to decide a course of action is called the “reactionary gap.”

The reason for the increased distance is because not every scenario is identical. Not every officer reacts in precisely the same manner. People perceive things differently. Some suspects are faster than others. The list goes on and on and on. Twenty-one feet is not enough distance in many instances.

Suppose the officer properly assessed the incoming threat and managed to draw his weapon and fire. How long would it take to think about and perform those two basic tasks (draw and fire)? Inquiring minds wanted to know so they conducted a series of experiments.

The fastest officer tested was able to draw his weapon from a security holster in a little under 1.5 seconds. The slowest was a about 2.25 seconds. Sounds pretty fast, huh? Maybe not, and here’s the why not.

The average suspect can cover the distance (21 feet as seen above) from a standing still position to the officer in as little as 1.5 seconds, nearly a full second quicker than the slowest officer is able to defend himself.

Today officers must rethink the twenty-one foot rule a bit. Sure, the thug (a universal term for a “bad guy”) is potentially a deadly threat, but not an actual deadly threat until he makes some sort of hostile movement toward the officer. In other words, the 21 foot (or 30) distance is not automatic permission to shoot. There MUST BE a THREAT!!

Of course the officer should have his firearm in a ready position as soon as he perceives the threat. By the way, this is definitely a situation where the officer should always choose his firearm over a non-lethal weapon, such as a Taser or pepperspray. Remember the the old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight?” Now there’s a new addition to that rule—“Never bring a Taser to a knife fight.”

The key to knowing when it’s time to shoot is simple. If the officer feels that his life, or the life of an innocent person, is at risk, then the shoot is justified. However, the officer must be prepared to articulate his reasons for pulling the trigger. Was the suspect making stabbing motions while advancing?  Was he charging the officer? Was his/her or the life of someone else in jeopardy? Was there a threat of serious bodily harm?

There are reasons, too, that may not justify the shoot, such as the suspect being so intoxicated that he couldn’t possibly have followed through with the threat. In short, the threat must be real, or at least perceived as being real in the eyes of the officer.

The officer must also be able to recognize when a threat is over. If the suspect drops his weapon, the justification for deadly force ends immediately. The same is true when a suspect uses an automobile as a weapon. When a driver uses his car to charge an officer, the officer may shoot to stop the threat. However, when the car speeds past the officer, heading into the sunset, the threat is over. In most circumstances the officer may not shoot at the fleeing car. Where would those rounds go? Besides, bullets won’t stop a moving car. Suppose the driver is shot? What happens to a driverless car that’s careening down a busy street at 50 mph?

When any suspect points a firearm of any type at an officer, deadly force is immediately justified.

In situations like the one pictured above, it’s not uncommon for officers to hesitate briefly before using deadly force to stop the threat. Why? Interestingly, officers sometimes perceive women and children as being less of a threat than a male suspect. That’s why simulated firearms training sessions, like the ones we use at the Writers’ Police Academy, use both women and children in the shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.

The woman in the picture above is very much a deadly threat, therefore, the officer is justified in using deadly force.

Interestingly, but not surprising, a couple of people at the RWA session last weekend said the woman in the photo above was in no way a threat to the officer. Of course, I immediately asked why they felt she wasn’t a threat. My favorite response was, “Because she’s wearing sandals.” Another was, “He’s bigger than she is.” And, “She’s a woman. He should be able to handle this without shooting.” These responses are fairly typically among citizens (and writers) who’ve never been involved in a deadly encounter like those police see on a regular basis.

No doubt about it. This IS a deadly force situation. The small, sandal-wearing woman is very much a threat to the officer.

The 21- (or 30) foot rule is not actually a rule. Instead, it is merely a guideline officers use when determining the outer edge of the reactionary gap.

Obviously, officers do not pull out a tape measure to examine distances during a dangerous and deadly situation.

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However, they should practice the drill over and and over again until they’re comfortable with how and when they should react and to learn which method works best for them. Retreat is certainly an option to consider if the officer feels that’s the best move at the time.

The big takeaway from this piece is that officers are legally permitted to use deadly force whenever they feel their lives or the lives of others are in jeopardy. And, that the courts have ruled that we, as ordinary citizens who were not at the scene of an officer-involved shooting, may not second-guess how the officer perceived the threat(s) they faced at the precise moment deadly force was used. That’s it in a nutshell.

Let’s see how well you do with a short true or false quiz. The answers are posted at the end.

True or False

1. There are constitutional limits on the types of weapons and tactics officers can use on the street.

2. An officer’s intent and state of mind at the time she used force can be an important factor in determining if that use of force was legal.

3. An officer must always retreat before using deadly force.

4. Officers MUST see a suspect’s weapon before using deadly force.

5. Officers must always use the least amount of force possible to gain control of a suspect.

6. Officers may shoot a fleeing felon.

7. Officers may not use force when conducting a pat down (Terry stop) search for weapons.

8. Information discovered after using force can be a factor in determining the legality of the force used.

9. Courts and juries are allowed to evaluate an officer’s use of force by considering what the officer could have done differently.

10. An officer’s prior use of force incidents can be considered in court when evaluating whether the use of force in a current situation was legally justified.

Quiz Source – Circuit Court Judge Emory Pitt, Jr. and Americans for Effective Law Enforcement

Answers 1F, 2F, 3F, 4F, 5F, 6T, 7F, 8F, 9F, 10F

*By the way, police officers are not taught to kill anyone. Not ever. Instead, they’re taught to stop a threat to life. And, it’s not always a firearm or edged weapon that threatens human life. Victims, including armed police officers, have been beaten to death by suspects using no more than their bare hands.

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Scenes from the RWA meeting last weekend in Emeryville, Ca., across the bridge from San Francisco.

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The Q&A portion of the program was quite energetic. Actually, this was the exciting scene at the time we gave away a free registration to the Writers’ Police Academy.

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Speaking of the WPA, Peggy (Margaret) Lucke decided to show off her WPA attire.

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Book translator Jeannette Bauroth and her husband, Mike, stopped in all the way from Germany! By the way, Mike is the guy who goes to the homes of the recently convicted (of certain crimes) to confiscate their firearms.

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L-R, Denene Lofland, Jeannette Bauroth, Mike Bauroth

And this …

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Cops: Why They Look And Act “That Way”

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Predatory animals watch and stalk their prey before moving in for the kill. They’re patient and often wait for just the right target, the weakest animal in the pack. They do so because the battle will be easier, and humans, including criminals, are no different. The cop who looks and acts weak—the meekest of the herd—often finds himself the target of attack, from verbal abuse all the way to physical assault.

So what do cops do as a front-line defense against all that unnecessary grief? Well, for starters, they’re taught to portray what’s known as Command Presence.

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An officer who looks sharp, acts sharp, and is sharp has an advantage over the officer who dresses sloppily and isn’t all that confident about their work. The latter are the officers who most often find themselves having the most difficulties on the street.

Command presence is all about being at the top of the game. Taking a few minutes to be sure your shoes, badge, and brass are polished goes a long way toward projecting a positive image. So does wearing a clean and neatly pressed uniform. And let’s don’t forget regular trips to the folks who cut hair for a living. All these things make an officer look sharp.

Think about it. Who would you have more confidence in, the officer with the dirty, wrinkled clothing and shaggy hair and who doesn’t take the job seriously?

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Or the officer who looks fresh and sharp, and projects a solid air of authority?

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Crooks size up officers the same way you do. They just have other things in mind when they do. They watch, looking for the weak ones, and those are the officers who’ll most likely be dealing with escape attempts, lies, and other criminal tricks.

Tips for developing a better command presence.

– Be professional at all times. And that includes updated training. A cop who knows his job inside out projects more confidence. The same is true with physical training. Stay in shape and know and trust your defensive tactics.

– Good posture is important. Someone standing straight and tall has an advantage over the officer who slouches. Poor posture sometimes comes across as a weakness, especially when confronting an aggressive suspect.

– Always make eye contact when speaking to someone.

– Honesty and consistency are important traits. The bad guys will quickly learn that what you say is what you mean, each and every time. Treat everyone fairly and consistently.

– First impressions only come around once. Make it your best impression. If a suspect’s first impression of you is that you’re weak, well, expect to have a rough day.

– Size up everyone. Always be aware of who and what you’re dealing with, and stay one step ahead of the person in front of you. Remember, that person may want to kill you, so be prepared to do what it takes to survive. And I mean do this each and every time you come into contact with someone. You never know which person is the one who plans to do you harm.

Most importantly, believe in yourself. Have confidence in what you do and who you are. All the shoe-shining and training in the world will not help you if you’re playing make believe. The bad guys will see through that in a heartbeat.

So wear the badge proudly, stand tall, and do what it takes to come home at night.

 

~

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** Attention Readers and Fans **

Have you reserved your spot for the 2017 Writers’ Police Academy?

Yes, the WPA is open to everyone!!

Train with the pros.

Train beside your favorite authors!!!!

Sign up now at:

Writerspoliceacademy.com

Space is limited!

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Domestic Violence: No One Deserves It

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Domestic violence isn’t limited to physical abuse.

It comes in many forms, such as threats, stalking and intimidation, name calling, threatening the children or pets, threatening suicide to get you to do something, preventing you from getting a job or even going out of the house, withholding money, and preventing you from contacting family and friends.

Unwanted sexual activity is also a form of domestic violence.

Many times, the abuser uses domestic violence to maintain control and power over his wife or girlfriend (most victims are women). Some of the means/abuse used to control a spouse are:

1) Emotional abuse—make her feel as if she’s crazy, or unworthy.

2) Controlling what she does, who she sees, where she goes, and even what she reads.

3) Make her believe the abuse is her fault.

4) Using the children—threatens to take them away or make them feel guilty about them.

5) Uses money—won’t allow her to work, makes her ask for money, and takes her money.

6) Treats her like a servant—doesn’t allow her to make decisions.

7) Physical violence—hitting, slapping, biting, choking, kicking, threatening her with a weapon, (or using a weapon against her).

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Please don’t wait. 

Call.

Domestic abuse hotline: 1-800-799-7233

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Please don’t wait.

Call.

Domestic abuse hotline: 1-800-799-7233

 

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A Silent Killer: Anthrax

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In the grand scheme of murder, knives and guns pale in comparison to the instruments death that are nearly invisible to the human eye. Long before man shaped the first stone into a weapon, viruses and bacteria silently killed humans and animals alike. These tiny but deadly organisms can shut down the body’s entire operating system, and they can destroy every single organ in the body.

A terrorist attack involving deadly viruses and bacteria is a threat that looms over the heads of government officials. After all, a single, minute particle of either of the killer bugs, such as anthrax, botulism, tularemia, bubonic plague, ricin, ebola, and hantavirus, can be easily cultured and multiplied many times over. This process can be performed in any home in the country with minimal time, training, and equipment.

How easy? Well, a potential terrorist could simply order a starter bug from a laboratory supply company (a reference lab), much like a reader orders a book from Amazon. The bug is shipped to the buyer as a freeze-dried sample in the regular U.S. mail, or with any of the other popular shipping companies.

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Frozen “bugs” are easily shipped via regular mail services

Of course, reference lab customers must have proper credentials to place an order for anthrax. However, packages could easily be intercepted by people with ill-intentions against the U.S. and its citizens. And, how difficult would it be for a potential terrorist to gain employment in the biotech industry (new drug discovery)? This is a field that’s comprised of scientists who work with these bugs on a daily basis with very little accountability, if any, in many instances. Many of these science-folks come to us from other countries and would be virtually undetectable as terrorists until it was too late. And, if all else failed for the terrorist, he could find the bacteria in its natural environment, growing naturally on dead plant material and in fresh water or rainwater.

Anthrax is caused by a spore-forming bacteria, Bacillus anthracis. Humans can become infected through skin contact, ingestion or inhalation of spores from infected animals or animal products. Anthrax can be delivered as a powder, such as in the cases of the letters mailed to U.S. officials. However, a better, more deadly method of delivery would be in aerosol form. Once the bacteria are inhaled, the disease progresses so rapidly that, once the symptoms began to appear, it would most likely be too late to prevent the victim’s death.

Skin lesion caused by anthrax – LIFE photo

Symptoms of anthrax contamination include, skin infections, fever, chills, fluid in the lungs, difficulty breathing, nausea, weight loss, fever, diarrhea, and abdominal bleeding. Contrary to the belief of some people, inhaled anthrax contamination is not contagious. It cannot be passed from one person to another.

Anthrax study requires that the work be conducted in a Biosafety Level 2 laboratory (BSL 2 labs are required to have waste contamination equipment on hand). However, if the study is to be performed on anthrax in aerosol form, a BSL 3 lab is required (BSL 3 labs require testing in enclosed equipment with high-tech ventilation systems. Access is limited to only those working on current experiments).

A 2008 anthrax investigation involving aggressive interview tactics by police investigators led to a bit of public protest. As experts, FBI agent and behavioral scientist Clint Van Zandt and I were once called on to discuss those tactics on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. You may remember Agent Van Zandt from his involvement in high-profile cases, such as Waco/David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh, and The Unabomber.

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