I won’t forget that night – the night that it happened. I was sworn in as a police officer in the city where I serve in May of 2012. Only a few months out of field training and learning the streets on my own, I thought I knew it all – the way rookies tend to do. That night, I was out to dinner with my wife and we were talking over some pizza and a beer. Outside the sound of sirens could be heard. I didn’t know it at the time, but my life was about to change – and it had nothing to do with me. The sirens continued and the police cars sped by. I carried on and muttered, “Something big just happened.”
The next day I found out that my friend David had been involved in a shooting. “I think there’s someone trying to break into a car . . . ” the caller told the dispatcher. David was driving by the address where the call came up and immediately made contact.
The subject, by witness accounts, had shown up at a friend’s house earlier in the night with a gun and said, “I’m about to do something stupid.” He was standing next to an open car window when David approached and gave the order, “Show me your hands!” The situation would have been over quickly, had the subject followed commands.
Yet, instead of complying, the subject walked away from David and onto the other side of the car. Once David engaged him in a struggle, he called out over the radio, “I’ve got one fighting,” as he tried to get the subject into custody.
During the struggle, he gave David his own order, “Let me go or I’m going to shoot you.” With that, he pulled out a black gun from his waistband. David fired and the suspect fell to the ground.
The sirens I heard, were the officers coming to help David. When they arrived, they would find a deceased male and a gun laying by his side. They would also find David – sweaty, breathless, in near shock. He had just killed a man. And while he was getting ready to begin what would be a two-year process, I was sitting in a restaurant up the street. I was off-duty and I was so removed from what had just played out – though I was only three blocks away.
David had some time off. When he returned to work he took a different assignment. I noticed that he was a little bit different – quieter – and I didn’t know how to talk to him. As a result, I simply carried on as normal and didn’t bring it up. I occasionally thought about him, and wondered how he felt having been involved in a shooting.
A few months after this, I was out with a friend, Phil. He knew me prior to my time as a police recruit. Phil’s a good guy who has a pretty realistic worldview, but he has some strong opinions on law enforcement.
We were out to trivia on a Thursday night. Consequently, we discussed current events. One story of which we were speaking, was the driver of a vehicle who had been shot by a police officer. Phil didn’t get it. He didn’t understand why an officer had to shoot the driver of a vehicle. He said that it seemed like they could just shoot the tires and stop the car.
I told him that it doesn’t always work like that in real life. There is so much more that happens in those moments. The last thing any police officer wants to do is shoot someone. But, I told him, “Let me find a documentary that explains it, and maybe we can watch it together.” He agreed, and we went about our night.
A few days later, I began looking for documentaries on officer-involved shootings. I was shocked by my discovery. The only films I could find that looked at police use of force were films that took a stance against police officers. I told my wife about what I had found; nothing existed that explains the officer’s perspective after a shooting.
I then asked her, “What if we made the movie?” Now, anyone who knew me back then knew two things. I had a master’s degree and I was passionate about my job.
But, I was not a filmmaker.
Yet my wife said to me, “Ok. It’s probably not the most expensive idea you’ve ever had.”
Within a few weeks, I had read every book I could find with regard to police use of force. Moreover, I began to talk with several people that I trust and regard as mentors. But it was a cold night in late November when I sent David a text message. We were both on duty. It was the type of night where you can see your breath in the headlights of your patrol car.
I asked him if he could “59” with me because I had a question for him.
“You know the type of officer I am. You know that I’m thorough,” I told David. “I want to make a documentary that examines the aftermath of a shooting from the perspective of the officer.”
I spent the next 10-minutes telling him everything I had learned, including the gaps in knowledge and how I could fill them. I told him I’d like him to be my first interview.
“I’d love to,” he said. “Anything. You just tell me.”
Over the next few months, I would embark on a journey along with my wife. It would become the most important thing I’ve ever done. What followed in those months and years began as a question, turned into an expedition, and became our passion.
Traveling over 24,000 miles in 2 years, we put together the first documentary that looks at what happens to police officers after a shooting. We met the men and women who have written the material. We studied and have interviewed, in some form, hundreds of people. Our focus was the challenges that led to frustrations, successes, and failures. Four years later, we have released a comprehensive documentary that gives a look, if only a glimpse, of what it means to be an officer involved, and we’re just getting started.
Patrick W. Shaver is a police officer in the State of Georgia and the filmmaker behind the groundbreaking documentary “Officer Involved.” He has his Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University at Buffalo (UB) and Master’s of Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. He is a certified law enforcement instructor and hostage negotiator.