In so many blogs and websites concerning police officers, I am witnessing a disturbing trend among our own. Many now are questioning about getting involved or becoming the next Darren Wilson. I truthfully don’t know how one can avoid being involved. We are thrown into harm’s way every minute of every day.
What concerns me, what outright scares me is the effect this will have on an officer involved shooting scenario. Put bluntly, we don’t have time to think about the weights and merits of the law, or whether we are within or outside permissible actions and boundaries set up by some artificial ruling in some courtroom.
The bad guys have no rules of engagement. They see a blue uniform; they shoot the person wearing it. We have only precious seconds to react as we were trained to react and hope to God we can end this fire fight and get home to our family.
We always hear “keep your heads on a swivel” “watch your 6” “be aware of your surroundings.” All good advice. But what about advice like “pay full attention to your duties and don’t let your mind wander?” What if, for example, the officer is so worried he’ll be the next Darren Wilson; he stops, for an instant, to think about what action he should take? I doubt the survival rate would go up with that frame of mind.
It has been demonstrated time and time again, that you don’t have the luxury of hesitation in a OIC situation. It happens so quickly that it is more reaction based on practice and training than any conscious thought process involved. It simply has to be your second nature, or you’re dead. It’s that simple.
I can’t help but think about a situation we had in Jersey City many years ago. An officer, Howie Mount, spotted a person breaking into a car. Howie shouted “police freeze.” With that the perpetrator pointed a shiny metal object toward Officer Mount who fired his weapon and killed the perpetrator. It was a flashlight that he was holding. “Officer shoots unarmed youth” was the battle cry.
Needless to say the protests converged on City Hall and bottles were thrown at the building. A large police presence was necessary for several days to quell any violence.
Several weeks later, two LEOs Willie McCarthy and John Gillen were sitting and talking at the Blue Piano Bar. The conversation was about poor Howie Mount and how it wasn’t worth getting involved anymore. Willie said goodbye to John and walked ½ block to his home. The conversation was still fresh on his mind.
Willie spotted someone breaking into his neighbor’s van and he walked over to investigate. He drew his weapon and ordered the perpetrator out of the van. Willie kept him covered while frisking him. Willie heard someone approaching from inside the van. The first perpetrator grabbed for Willie’s gun. Shots were fired in the struggle. Willie was then stabbed to death by the second individual in the van.
During our investigation, it just didn’t seem like something Willie would do. He was a good cop and wouldn’t have gotten into a situation where he allowed the second perpetrator to stab him or get the tactical advantage over him.
It was only after we spoke to John Gillen that the whole picture emerged. John couldn’t help but think if Willie wasn’t so concerned about being the next Howie Mount, that he’d be alive today.
Now today, it seems history is repeating itself. Instead of the next Howie Mount, now it’s Darren Wilson. My fear is how many police funerals will we witness because a police officer, confronted with an imminent threat, was concerned about what action he should take. For me, I buried one friend too many for that way of thinking.
Captain Robert Cubby served for 38 years with the Jersey City (NJ) Police Department, now retired. A PTSD survivor, he has been involved in PTSD issues with the CISM team. A prolific author, Captain Cubby focuses on writing about his experiences and solving police problems. He is a National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) instructor about police matters and a frequent conference speaker.