Frontline Debriefs: Emotion and Deadly Force

My wife, Brett, and I attended a movie the other night. It was a movie of her choice—which is to say it was not the Dirty Dozen or a Steve McQueen flick. As soon as the movie started, the individuals behind us began to speak and the moron directly behind me kept bumping my seat with his feet.

After about 15 bumps, I looked at Brett and she looked back at me as if to say, “Keep your cool.” I simply turned around and stared at the offending party. He immediately apologized and the bumping ceased then and there.

Sound familiar? It should, since recently a similar action resulted in a fatal shooting in a movie theater in Florida. Although I do not know the specifics of the case, the facts of a shooting initially put out by the press are almost always incomplete at best and completely erroneous at the extreme. If one were to look at the case as stated by the media, the shooting transpired something along these lines:

One individual was texting during the movie. Another was annoyed by this and confronted the offending party. The texter responded, popcorn was thrown, and a single shot was then fired. The shot killed the texter and went through his wife’s hand. The shooter was a former police Captain, now retired. Given just these facts and these facts alone, there might be a problem with the use of force displayed.

While the circumstances in this case may be unique, through the years I have been made aware of many officers who allowed their emotional state to impair their judgment relative to the application of deadly force. (This applies to any force application now that I reflect upon it.) These cases rarely went well for the officers.

I am not a fan of modern-day men because they seem to have little regard for others. They text and talk on phones in a volume that forces everyone around them to listen to their business. They are rude, insensitive and narcissistic, with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. These types can be infuriating to say the least.

What you would like to do may not be what you should do. What you might like to say may escalate a situation to the point of no return. Your actions in the next few seconds may radically alter the rest of your life.

Here’s an example: I drive like an old lady. My car is a Hummer 2, so the ballistic coefficient is like a shoebox in a wind test tunnel. It is big, so I must maneuver carefully because I don’t want to squash a cute little Fiat into the treads of my tires.

My driving habits are not compatible with many Los Angelenos’ thought processes. Some of my fellow roadsters seem a bit irritated that I actually obey the speed limit and rules of the road. (In Los Angeles, the prevailing speed is usually two points shy of a dead stop due to the traffic, therefore when the road is open, everyone goes for it!) I have been honked at, flipped off, and yelled at. Cool.

Driving to and from the range for classes, I might have enough ordnance to support a Marine division at certain times, and I know this. They don’t. What I might like to show them, I don’t. What I would like to do, I don’t. From experience, I know where this can lead. I know where worst-case scenarios can end up. I simply smile and regress into a mellow Woodstock frame of mind. My philosophy is that they will get what they deserve from someone else—not me.

Since we are all subject to the force of the human condition, we must be cautious when we have the ability to exercise deadly force. This is especially true if you are a police officer, and even more so in an off-duty status. I could probably lecture all day on specific shootings I am aware of that went wrong when an emotionally infused response was thrown into the mix.

I believe it was the French during the Renaissance era who invented the dull table knife for dining. Apparently some dinners got out of hand, resulting in one diner stabbing another, which made for some rather lively dinner parties overall. Enter the dull dinner knife and the parties quieted down.

The escalation of force can often arise out of seemingly insignificant points of origin. Upon reflection of a specific case, one can see that all one had to do was simply walk away or avoid a certain course of action, and life would have progressed on its normal course. The next day, you would have forgotten about it altogether.

Perhaps the best thought process is the following: One hour from now, is any of this going to matter? Is this worth my career, pension, freedom or financial loss?

We used to tell bad guys, “Tomorrow morning you’ll still be a bad guy waking up in jail. I’ll be surfing or golfing.” To the best of your ability, you need to divorce emotional response from the application of deadly force. Better yet, the next time someone annoys you by texting or talking on their cell phone, get up and move.

Scott Reitz is a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and the director of the highly acclaimed International Tactical Training Seminars. Course information and schedules are available at their website at www.internationaltactical.com. Looking Back, a free monthly newsletter, is available by email at itts@gte.net.

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