I’ve just returned from the excellent film, Sully, starring Tom Hanks in the title roll and directed/produced by Dirty Harry, excuse, Clint Eastwood. If you see only one film this year, make it this one. It covers the crash (or water landing, if you will) of US Air 1549 in January 2009, but concentrates on the investigation afterwards by the National Transportation Safety Board. In a critical scene, the importance of the human factor, on the location, versus the “judgment” of computer simulations and second-guessing by bureaucrats in a comfortable chair, is discussed. I won’t go into more detail to avoid spoilers.
I’ve recently been linked to a great video on how quickly a life or death decision can be made by a cop (or a civilian, for that matter), based on the scenario of the recent shooting of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa OK Officer Betty Shelby. The creators of the video below, Guns Across America, give a detailed example of how a person must decide to shoot or don’t shoot.
Notice in one scenario after another, the target has the initiative. He will make the decision to shoot or not shoot first, and the cop will react to his actions. The officer has a fraction of a second to go though the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act):
Observe what is in your field of vision.
Orient is focusing on select items in your field of vision.
Decide is simply, what are you going to do.
Act, based on the three previous steps, you take your chosen action.
Going back to the video of the shooting of Mr. Crutcher by Officer Shelby, at .06 seconds you see him with his hands up, the officer pointing her pistol at his back and he is walking towards his car. At about .10 seconds the second officer approaches and at .12 seconds, he can see the Taser’s laser dots on Mr. Crutcher’s back. At .17 you see Mr. Crutcher’s right arm down and hear an apparent gunshot. At .29 you see Mr. Crutcher fall to the ground and a few seconds later you hear Officer Shelby scream, “Shots fired!”
Here is the video from the police helicopter:
At .09 seconds you see Mr. Crutcher at his door and his right arm has moved down. At .13 seconds you see Officer Shleby pointing her pistol at Mr Crutcher and Mr. Crutcher at his door, hands moving down towards the door.
I’ve been a cop on the streets for almost two decades and I’ve pointed my Sig-Sauer at more than one man. Generally they stare at the pistol, but one thing they usually don’t do is walk away. And in this situation, Mr. Crutcher is walking towards his SUV. Where he may have a weapon. Or maybe he is trying to get into the vehicle and and drive off, or drive into the officers. Blood tests have come back showing Mr. Crutcher was under the influence of PCP during this incident. That alone does not justify use of deadly force, but it does give some perspective on why he was acting this way.
Mr. Crutcher is taking action that may put the officers in a position where they have “…probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.” This is a quote from Tennessee v. Garner (1985), for all the YouTube lawyers out there, the legal standard for the use of deadly force, as set by the United States Supreme Court over three decades ago.
Another SCOTUS ruling, Graham v Connor (1989), a few years later further defined the use of deadly force. The justices clarified that,
"The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."
So again I go back to the human factor. From the videos we can see Officer Shelby is following the suspect, the suspect is walking towards his vehicle and she doesn’t know what he will do next. He lowers his arms and you cannot see if he is reaching into his vehicle. And you hear a TASER dart fire that may be a pistol shot. And you make a decision that will haunt you till the day you die.
I am not saying she was right or wrong, justified or unjustified. I am saying justice is a slow moving process and the accused, in this case Officer Shelby, has every right to due process and the presumption of innocence in the matter. The prosecutor, who has charged her with 1st Degree Manslaughter with a minimum penalty of four years in prison, must prove every point of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. And Officer Shelby’s attorney will work to disprove this, or at least put the jurors in the eyes of the officer, at the moment she fired.
Go back to the original video from Guns Across America and put yourself into the position of the officer. With what you’ve read and seen here, will you shoot or not shoot? Now ask yourself, will you shoot when your suspect is moving towards a vehicle, where he may have a weapon. You have a fraction of a second to decide and your actions will be reviewed, by people not worrying about going home tonight.
Welcome to the world of a cop on the street.