(The author is a retired Long Beach Police Sergeant and current Long Beach resident. His comments reflect his personal views only. They do not represent the official positions of either the City of Long Beach or the Long Beach Police Department, nor are they intended to.)
As recently reported , , and ; on Tuesday, September 11, an on-duty Long Beach police officer shot and killed a young adult suspect who, police claim, had attacked officers three times with two different knives. Those interested in the official (and still preliminary) police account of the incident can read the LBPD Press Release here.
As is always the case with officer involved shootings (OIS), public accusations and outrage follow almost immediately. This is to be expected for the most part, particularly from some in the community who have little faith and even less trust in their police department.
The public comments here at The Patch and in other local interactive media have run the gamut from (paraphrasing): "The suspect wanted the police to kill him and he got what he wanted" to "The police murdered a harmless person suffering from a severe mental disorder" and pretty much all points on the spectrum in between.
OIS are tragic, in all cases and under all circumstances. Whenever a police officer believes he or she must resort to deadly force during the performance of his or her duties, the outcome is never a completely positive or beneficial one.
Even if we managed to conjure up a scenario in which the vast majority of people would agree* that an officer had no choice but to shoot and, as a result, kill a suspect, this would still be considered a tragedy for many reasons. A life has still been taken. Virtually every such suspect leaves behind people who care about him or her. These people are grieving deeply, and we should honor and respect their grief. Meanwhile the officer and his or her loved ones are always left to deal with the emotional, psychological, administrative, and legal aftermath of that officer's actions.
As tragedies go, OIS are pretty much all-encompassing. Whether we consider events and circumstances, preceding, during, or lingering long afterward.
Many people embark, early in their lives, on the tragic path that eventually leads them to a deadly encounter with a police officer. Many of these are career criminals, many are also long time sufferers of mental illness, emotional disturbance, or both.
As these tragic encounters unfold, so many decisions are made and actions taken (by all participants) that -considered in isolation- can often seem non-threatening or even entirely innocuous. When they co-mingle and begin acting upon, and reacting with, one another, however, all of these circumstances and decisions ultimately combine to result in tragic outcomes: suspects killed and police officers having killed them.
After these deadly encounters, of course, the consequences and effects of these tragedies can linger for many long decades. Thorough investigations sometimes take months, civil and criminal litigation takes years. Even if eventually cleared of any wrong-doing, the officers involved sometimes never fully recover emotionally or psychologically. The families of the deceased never stop mourning their loved ones. Families, friends, and colleagues never stop trying to help the officers get past the experience in some constructive way.
Some officers never return to field duty following an OIS in which they killed a suspect. Some seek, instead, to remain on desk duty if at all possible, trying to minimize the chance that they might ever again have to take someone's life. Some officers can't even remain in service to their communities, leaving their chosen profession rather than continue to take that risk. Some officers struggle with mental and emotional challenges of their own for the remainder of their days.
And a very small percentage of officers, tragically, may later take their own lives, unable to live with the knowledge that they caused the death of another, even when it proved their duty to do so, even when it was eventually deemed justified.
Nor can we properly ignore the hard fact that a very small percentage of OIS are ultimately deemed not justified and that the officer had resorted to deadly force when it was not reasonable, or even lawful, that he or she do so. In these cases the costs throughout the community and the law enforcement profession in general are very great indeed. Readers can learn about one such recent example here
Though rare, whenever an officer resorts to the use of deadly force without just cause, it can serve to undermine the public's faith in -and trust of- not only that particular agency, but the entire law enforcement profession. It bolsters the misperception of some that many if not most police officers in the United States are poorly trained, inadequately supervised, and generally corrupt. This, in turn, can translate to a lessening of community support for the police, without which no law enforcement organization can possibly function effectively.
Officer Involved Shootings are, indeed, always tragic, for everyone both directly and indirectly involved in them.
Still, could at least some OIS actually be preventable? If so, how might we, as a society, try to do more do help prevent them?
What do you think?
*This can never be entirely unanimous because some folks are philosophically and morally opposed to anyone killing anyone else under any circumstances.