Threat or Perceived Threat: What is the Difference?
Another police shooting is making it’s rounds around the internet, culling battle cries from both camps. On one side, we have groups calling police officers racist, power hungry vigilantes that deserve to die. On the other, we have groups defending the police officer’s actions as there was a perceived threat against his life. So who is right?
Last Wednesday, Baltimore Police responded to a call regarding a phony prescription attempted to be filled at a local pharmacy. I will not name the suspect (criminal) here but I am sure you can discover who I am referencing with a quick google search.
Upon arrival, the police discovered that the suspect remained on the property in the parking lot. The suspect subsequently led the officer on a foot chase that resulted in a confrontation where multiple shots were fired.
After receiving pressure from local advocacy groups, the police released the video of the incident. What we learn from the video (which happened to be at the best angle possible to shed light on what happened) is that the suspect advanced towards the officer in a threatening manner, to which the officer started retreating backwards.
After multiple commands to stop, the criminal, now staring at a police officer pointing a gun at him, kept advancing and turned to his side, blocking the officer’s view of his lower back. From there, the perpetrator proceeded to reach behind his back to his waist band while continuing to advance towards the police officer.
Finally, at the last moment, the criminal, out of view of the officer, and whips his hand towards the officer in a rapid fashion.
Stop, let’s back up.
Lets take a look at this from the officer’s standpoint. The LEO had received a call about a phony prescription and responded on scene. After discovering that the suspect was still on the premises, he proceeded to approach the suspect for questioning and possible arrest. At that time, the suspect, disobeying a direct order to stay put as he was a suspect in a crime, fled on foot.
The officer pursued the suspect, who at this point is now a criminal, into a neighboring street. This officer does not know if this criminal is armed or what his intentions are. From there, the next piece of information that we have is a video showing what I outlined above.
In the officer’s mind, this criminal, who just fled from a police officer, is now advancing in a threatening manner and according to witnesses stating that he was going to kill the officer. The officer responded at least twice stating “Don’t do this!”
So at this point, this officer has a criminal, who was attempting to flee police officers, state that his is going to kill him while he continues to advance on the officer. Furthering his idiocy, he puts his hand in the top of his pants on his lower back (where a high percentage of criminals historically stash their weapons) and proceeds to whip his hand around in a quick and violent fashion.
With all this information, and with less than a split second to make a decision, what would you do? Do you think the officer was wrong?
Threat vs Perceived Threat
I remember my first job. I was 16 years old, working as a warehouse employee at Target. While not the highest paying job, I poured my heart and soul into it so that I could buy a car. Every day I would show up, don my red and khaki, and work my butt off.
One day I got caught slacking off. My manager approached me and asked what was going on. I replied that this was a one time situation and that I had been working extremely hard the entire morning, he just didn’t see that. Without skipping a beat, he turns to me and states “Perception is reality, don’t let me catch you doing this again.” From that day on that statement has stuck with me. Perception is reality.
This statement covers this shooting very well. If a threat is perceived, especially a lethal threat, citizens and police officers are allowed to respond in force. I am not required to let the criminal get the first shot off. I am not required to wait until it is too late.
Opportunity, Intent, Capability
Many law enforcement and military branches use this measure as a scale for lethal force. If someone has the all three, lethal force is a valid response. In the officer’s mind, knowing what he knew at the time, did the criminal have all three?
Opportunity: The criminal was rushing towards the police officer in a threatening manner disregarding commands to stop. Check.
Capability: By putting you hand behind your back, when a LEO is telling you to stop advancing, you are indicating that you have a weapon. Check.
Intent: Common sense dictates that advancing towards a police officer with a gun drawn is not a wise decision. If you disagree with the arrest, fight it in court. By advancing in a threatening manner and verbally stating “I am going to kill you,” you are indicating that you have the intent to harm that person. Check
By my count, all three categories are fulfilled and this video is just further evidence to support that. Was this a racist shooting? Was this police brutality? I don’t think so, but I guess I only have eight years of law enforcement experience and five as a self defense instructor. I bet that all those posts on the internet about this being a race fueled situation of police brutality are written by people with far more experience than me…