When seconds matter

Policing and the use of deadly force

Date Published: 
July 21, 2017

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Point reporter Maria Counts goes into full tactical mode during a training opportunity presented to members of the public by the Ocean View Police Department.Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Point reporter Maria Counts goes into full tactical mode during a training opportunity presented to members of the public by the Ocean View Police Department.Three seconds. That’s all it takes to make a life-and-death decision: Are they a threat? Is that a gun or cell phone? Am I justified in using deadly force?

On Monday, July 17, 15 community members had the unique opportunity to take on the role of a police officer for a day.

“The whole goal of the program today is to let you see some of these police use-of-force incidents through the eyes of police,” explained Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin. “I think, by the end of the day, any pre-conceived notions that you may have regarding these use-of-force encounters may be squashed, and you may look at it a bit differently.”

The experience was provided with the help of 0311 Tactical Solutions LLC, a tactical training company out of St. Louis, Mo., to participants including Ocean View Town staff and home owners association members.

Brian Rossomanno, who owns 0311 Tactical Solutions, also works as a sergeant in the St. Louis Police Department, but he noted anything he expressed was his own opinion, as he was not representing his police department.

The first half of the day consisted of a lecture with a supplemental PowerPoint presentation. Attendees watched a variety of videos of officer-involved shootings, including that of Deputy Kyle Dinkheller of Laurens County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office, who was shot and killed following traffic stop related to speeding in 1998.

Dinkheller’s traffic stop video has been used in training because the situation escalated very quickly, and even after he was able to fire two shots into Andrew Brannan (who was later found guilty and executed for Dinkheller’s murder), Brannan was still able to move around, reload his weapon and continue to shoot.

Rossomanno said that oftentimes it will take multiple hits to stop a threat.

“We do not train to shoot-to-wound. We shoot to stop the threat,” he said, noting Hollywood has perpetuated a great deal of inaccuracies when it comes to dealing with threats. Is it a good idea to try to shoot a weapon out of the suspect’s hand? No, chances are the officer will miss and the suspect will be closing any space between them. “We are under no obligation to lose these encounters.”

A Rand Corporation study found officers’ hit rate between 1998 and 2006 was 18 percent when the suspect was returning fire. When the officer was not under fire, the hit rate was 30 percent.

Rossomanno said officers have to make a judgement call in the moment as to whether or not deadly force is justified — are they in fear of death or serious bodily harm for themselves or others?

“There are instances where shooting unarmed people is justified,” he said, adding that there are also times when shooting a suspect in the back is justified — just because that person is now turning to run away doesn’t mean they aren’t still a threat to others.

“Officers have to answer for every shot fired,” he said.

And knives can be more dangerous than guns, said Rossomanno, noting that they do not need to be reloaded and can be used at close distances.

And 21 feet is a good distance to keep from a suspect, he said, adding that an individual can cover 21 feet in a second and a half. In the time it takes an officer to get their weapon out, 31 feet can be covered.

Rossomanno said that what a civilian may find as harassment is likely just officer safety — calling attention to multiple officers responding to a stop (there’s safety in numbers) or acting like an “asshole” (command presence is necessary as to not show weakness).

Tasers, said Rossomanno are used as a compliance tool; however, in his experience, they only work 50 percent of the time. Batons and mace are also compliance tools, used to get control of a subject.

For those who see a video of an officer using force and decide the force wasn’t justified, Rossomanno asked that the viewer take a moment before jumping to conclusions.

“Use of force is never going to look pretty, even if it’s 100 percent justified. Whether you witness it on video or in person,” he said. “If you think the officer went too far, ask yourself what were his other options? Let’s be patient a little bit and find out what the facts are… Not everything is race-based, not everything is a bad officer… Believe it or not, officers are human.”

He also noted that a single camera angle does not show the full story. Just as a perspective can change from the left eye to the right eye, the same is true of body and dash cameras.

“Any time a police officer shoots an unarmed person, there should be a lot of questions asked, but we should wait for those questions to be asked.”

In today’s political climate, Rossomanno said, nobody wants to be a police officer anymore. Coupled with shrinking budgets, policing has become a difficult task, with many departments having issues with getting the proper equipment and training.

He called attention to the South Carolina incident in which an officer shot an unarmed motorist who fled his car after a traffic stop.

“When we see things like that happen, that doesn’t make us happy. The day that happened, my job, 800 miles away, got harder. Every day there’s an example of police misconduct, my job gets harder.”

Rossomanno said just 1 percent of every police encounter with the public results in use-of-force, with a tenth of that 1 percent resulting in the use of deadly force.

McLaughlin called attention to a 2005-2009 study by the Eric Holder Justice Department regarding use-of-force.

“In that same time period, they determined you were as likely to be struck by lightning in the United States as you were to be shot by a police officer. That’s how rare this event is.”

For the second part of the day, attendees were broken down into pairs and run through three different scenarios, run by 0311, OVPD and Bethany Beach police officers. Before each, those acting as police officers were given dispatch information about what they were driving up to and a training pistol loaded with blanks.

“You actually may have to pull the trigger,” said McLaughlin.

The first scenario was a call to a parked car in which a man and a suspected prostitute were sitting, possibly doing drugs. Upon arrival, both suspects exited the vehicle — the driver with one hand in his pocket and the female passenger being “mouthy.” The driver eventually pulled a cell phone from his pocket, quickly. If they shot him, the female passenger would then rush to his side and refuse to be compliant with officer commands.

Another scenario had the two “officers” responding to an altercation in which it was believed that one individual had a knife. Upon arrival, one subject was waving a knife, while the other was trying to push him back, saying everything was under control. When the “officers” tried to take control of the situation, the suspect brandishing the knife moved in.

The last scenario used the department’s training simulator, projected on a wall inside the Wallace A. Melson Municipal Building. The “officer” was called out to a warehouse at night where the door was open. Upon arrival, a man stands up from behind a counter and is not cooperative, and one of his hands is out of view. In the scenario, a number of things can happen — he can pull the hand out quickly and show his ID, pull a gun or pull a staple gun.

Following each exercise, the “officers” were debriefed: What happened? What was the threat? Why did you use force? Why didn’t you use force? How many rounds did you fire?

Lauren Hawkins, a senior at Indian River High School and member of the JROTC, hopes to pursue a career as a probation officer after graduation.

“I got a lot of experience,” she said of the training. “I froze up a lot, but it was good to just show what they go through. There was a lot to learn.”

OVPD held the same training back in 2015 and found it to be so positive that they held the program again.

“This is critical. It’s vital,” said Mayor Walter Curran. “I’ve always been extremely proud of our police force here in Ocean View. I think they’re the best-trained force in this state, bar none. More than that, I think they’ve got the best attitude, because they’re not only cops — they’re well-involved in the community in so many aspects.”

For more information about 0311 Tactical Solutions LLC, visit www.0311tacsol.com. To learn more about Ocean View Police Department’s community outreach and programs, visit www.oceanviewde.com or call (302) 539-1111.