With April 13 fast approaching I was recollecting my first night on the street. April 13th, 1973 Friday was my first night on the street. A brand new, shiny, green rookie. I think back of that night and how things transpired for another seasoned officer and how, in 42 years, things have changed for law enforcement.
Here is the scenario that took place. A fireman was on his way to work. Their house was next door to our station house. He was stopped at a traffic light when a black male wearing blue coveralls threw a brick at his car causing a dent in the door. He parked his car at the fire house and walked into the police station to report the incident. Two officers were in the station house at the time, one writing a report while his partner waited. Andy was the officer waiting. He heard the report and volunteered to walk over with the fireman to investigate the incident further, while his partner finished his report.
The fireman pointed out the suspect to Andy as the brick thrower. Andy approached the suspect asking to speak to him about the incident. As Andy approached, the suspect displayed a large knife and started to approach Andy in “a threatening manner.” Andy started back pedaling but ran out of room. With his back to the wall, he drew his weapon while shouting commands to drop the knife. As the gap narrowed, Andy fired 3 shots center mass. The suspect kept approaching. Andy fired two more hitting the suspect in the neck and face. The suspect was still able to slash Andy across the throat before the suspect died of his wounds.
Back 42 years ago there was no fanfare to this shooting, no headlines, no questioning Andy’s mindset or motives. It was simply a “good shoot.” His internal affairs record wasn’t reviewed, his work record wasn’t questioned. He was awarded a commendation on a job well done.
I couldn’t help but wonder if that incident happened in April 13, 2015, what the result would be. Headlines screaming “ officer murders black male over property damage dispute.” The inevitable question of why did he shoot him center mass? Why didn’t he shoot to wound? Or better yet, why didn’t he shoot the knife out of his hand?
Then the question of actions and motive. “ He left the station house without his partner. He probably wanted to kill that black man so bad, he couldn’t wait to get out there.” There would be investigations into how many times Andy has done this before.
Then, of course, the criticism from his very own officers and the second guessing. Everyone becomes an expert in these cases and will now call for updated training both for repelling edged weapon attacks using your hands and not your weapon. And, of course, community sensitivity and approaching a suspect in a less threatening and kinder fashion.
How have we, as a profession and how have those who view that profession, lost their way respectively? Instead of supporting law enforcement as in the 1973 scenario, we have gutted and emasculated it to the point that an officer isn’t sure whether he should take action.
That’s fine when you have the luxury of time. Had Andy stalled to consider the gravity of his decisions, he would have been murdered. Instead he did what he to do to survive. So my concern is this, we are getting to the point that officers are so concerned about being the next Darren Wilson, that they will hesitate when they shouldn’t. That hesitation will kill you.
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.