Officer Sonny Kim of the Cincinnati Police Department recently responded to a 911 call of a man acting erratically in public and armed with a gun. Upon Kim’s arrival the deranged individual fired at him. Officer Kim returned fire and both were struck and eventually died from their gunshot wounds.
I mourn his loss with the rest of our profession. While reading this tragic story it brought to mind the misconception held by the public that cops have some super human ability to disarm suspects in possession of a variety of weapons without resorting to deadly force.
When a police officer shoots a perpetrator armed with a knife, the criticism begins, “Why did they need to shoot him,” or, “couldn’t they shoot it out of his hand?”
Change the channel and we hear, “Did the cops really need to fire upon the troubled young man swinging a piece of Rebar? Was it a weapon or simply a sign of his tribulation?”
Then another breaking news story hits the airwaves: “The driver was unarmed,” declares the reporter, “as the officers fired through the windshield of the oncoming vehicle.”
For those who’ve never encountered desperate and deranged individuals armed with guns, knives, jagged pieces of Rebar, or a 3000 lb. automobile, let me be clear; each can destroy your life! A police officer does not have the luxury to socially dissect the circumstances before him or her. Nor do they have the ability to check the birth certificate to determine the exact age of the maniacal “17 year-old child,” who looks more like 25, and is wreaking societal havoc—not that it legally matters when the life of another is exposed to extinction! Restoring public safety is job one.
The expectation that cops deploy their favorite Taekwondo move to disarm and avoid catastrophe is unrealistic in most critical incidents, unless, of course, the peace officer is willing to risk severe injury or death. Firing a weapon during a high stress tactical encounter is completely different than non-stress related target shooting. Not to mention, staged choreography is absent in the real world.
For readers outside of law enforcement, please understand that we seek physical dominance in these encounters as injury free as possible. This isn’t the Wild West. Walking ten paces and then turning to fire in a fair duel is not our goal. Overcoming resistance with greater force is! Of course we hope it can be accomplished without harm, but often it is not. Suspects who choose to escalate force hoping for a fair fight are wrong, and any citizen who possesses this mentality is off the mark.
“Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight,” is the mindset required for survival. There is plenty of codified and case law that lawyers and judges have at their disposal to determine if the requisite use of force was lawful or not. But absent from the statutes is the requirement that cops serve as a target at the firing range, or get carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, before they’re able to deploy a sufficient response.
Unfortunately, there are some department heads acquiescing to this practice. In these cases, they are wrong and their people will suffer!
Let me declare that law enforcement professionals use various tools and tactics to avoid deadly force during similar circumstances a thousand times every day. But those making headlines are from the relatively few encounters in which officers deemed life (his, hers, or that of another) was in jeopardy, and lethal force was applied.
Officer Kim’s battle could be declared a “tie.” That is unacceptable. “Even odds” are a bad thing! The next time a public figure with a bullhorn disparages our profession following a justified use of force, perhaps someone can ask if he knows the story of Officer Sonny Kim!
“We Train to Win,” is my simple response when questioned about the use of force. “If you tie, you can die.”
Jim is the author of The Spirit behind Badge 145. He worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-seven years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations. Jim is married and has three adult children and three grandchildren. You can contact him at [email protected] or view his website badge145.com which is geared toward encouraging officers.