BY DAN KLEIN How could an Albuquerque police lieutenant shoot his own officer? Look no further than the Albuquerque Police Department’s training, or lack of it. Officers are given hundreds of hours of firearms training in the academy. It was drilled into me: Identify the threat and the target before you shoot. Sounds simple, but it takes a lot training, and follow-up, to do it in a stress-filled moment. APD has great training for cadets, but after the academy, the majority of officers fire their weapons only twice a year at qualification.
Police agencies must train new officers, and reinforce training with current officers, to check off the boxes before they use deadly force. Officers must identify the threat and the target before pulling the trigger.It was February 1988, and two other ROP detectives and I were on the city’s east side in the area of Western Skies and Central searching for a meth head with a felony warrant. We found him walking on Elyse Southeast, and the chase began. He ran to his girlfriend’s house, but the door was locked. As we chased behind him, the fugitive turned on us and began to pull a handgun from his waistband. We all pulled our pistols, but none of us fired. The felon pulled his handgun out and tossed it on the roof and surrendered. All three of us could have shot him, but none did. Why? We trained constantly, and therefore, instead of panicking, we recognized that he wasn’t pulling his gun on us but rather to toss it away from us. A subtle difference saved his life. Later, I asked an officer who was an expert in the use of deadly force if we should have shot. His response was simple. We identified the target but didn’t perceive a threat. We weren’t threatened just because he was pulling a gun. That would have changed in a microsecond had he started to point it at us. Months later, I spotted a fugitive walking on Central Avenue. I began chasing him on foot just west of the Caravan Club. I chased him back and forth across Central, and after about five minutes, he lost his steam and slowed to a fast walk through the nightclub’s parking lot. I drew my pistol and ordered him to his knees with his hands behind his head. He complied, and then I heard the sound of a round being racked into a shotgun. An APD officer had been sitting in his patrol car in the shade of the canopy in front of the club. He observed two apparent druggies chasing each other, and one had a gun. The officer calmly told me he was going to shoot me if I did not drop my gun. Let’s stop here. The officer had identified a threat (I had a gun), but he had not identified the target, not to his satisfaction. I am glad he didn’t check off that second box. Without turning, I told him I was an APD detective and asked if I could place my gun on the ground. He recognized me and said, “Aren’t you getting promoted tomorrow?” Whenever I see this officer, I thank him for not shooting me. Recently, I asked him why he had not. He replied that he identified me, so he didn’t have to shoot. The boxes weren’t checked off. That’s good training. Police agencies must train new officers, and reinforce training with current officers, to check off the boxes before they use deadly force. Officers must identify the threat and the target before pulling the trigger.
Officers need to be trained in tactics, but they also need to be trained that it is not a war zone and that police officers are public servants.I spoke to an officer who went to a “street survival” seminar recently. He told me that there are three types of people, sheep (citizens), wolves (criminals) and sheepdogs (police). The only other training where humans are degraded into animals is military training, so I knew who had staged this seminar. With wars ending, many military specialists are out of work and have started training police officers. Officers need to be trained in tactics, but they also need to be trained that it is not a war zone and that police officers are public servants. We need peace officers, not soldiers. America has a million cops, and on average, we lose 170 officers a year to line-of-duty deaths. Car crashes cause the majority of officer deaths. Police trainers must balance training for street survival, basic shooting skills and the reality that police work isn’t war. Leaving one of these three concepts out of police training is a sure recipe for disaster. Dan Klein is a retired Albuquerque police sergeant. Reach him through Facebook.
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