Subject Behaviour / Officer Response

It’s been a busy few months in Delta with several dozen shootings along the Delta / Surrey border related to the street level drug trade.  I’ve been working as part of a uniformed Violence Suppression Team initiative.   Our mandate has been to be highly visible and check anyone suspected of involvement in gangs or drugs and to disrupt their business in the area.  Some of our activities involve priority response to shooting scenes, vehicle checks, curfew and condition compliance of known offenders, our Inadmissible Patron Program (removing anyone related to gangs, violence or drugs from licensed establishments) and street level drug and weapons enforcement. We’ve been quite busy.

As you may imagine, dealing with the potential violence of armed offenders with a predisposition to public violence, we have certain tools and force options at the ready.

In the photo above are a couple of the guys I’ve been working with. As the project and investigations are on going I can’t speak much about them.  I can talk about one call that my partner and I happened upon while working one evening though that speaks to our preparation and our deployment of force options.  This call actually combined the use of many of our specialized tools available to properly trained patrol officers in Delta.

To set the tone, I was working a Violence Suppression shift with my partner, my good friend who happened to also be my partner at the Academy.  We’ve been close since we got on the job and we work very well together, he truly is a brother (from another mother).

It was a dry night, just past dark and we were just leaving the Police Station, I was driving and he was probably making a joke about my control issues (I’m not a great passenger).  We got half way down the block away from the station and saw a male walking up the shoulder toward us drinking from a 40oz liquor bottle.  I’d passed him, turned around and got back in front of him. I stopped the truck, the male turned away, I turned the emergency lights on letting him know we were stopping him.

Partner and I both stepped out of the truck, the male turned back around at us, about 20 meters away, drew a knife from his pocket and began screaming at us that he was going to make us shoot him. This very routine pedestrian check just turned hostile and potentially deadly.   We couldn’t let him walk away and we couldn’t let him harm himself or us.

Have you ever seen how long it takes a goal oriented person to run 20 meters?  No time at all.  Knives are quite capable of inflicting lethal wounds.  Partner and I both instinctively drew our sidearms.  My partner had the male’s attention and began giving him commands to stop moving.

Put yourself in our shoes, let me walk you through this.  Imagine what you’d see, what you’d feel and what you would do;

You’re on a dimly lit street, houses on one side, a large school field to the other, police station behind you, more houses behind the person. An emotionally distraught person, with a knife, demanding that you kill him or he’ll attack you forcing you to kill him.  He’s 20 meters away and there’s nothing between you.

  • You’re holding a sidearm
  • You’re looking down the sights
  • Your finger is indexed, off the trigger
  • You have to get on your radio and let everyone know what’s happening.
  • You need to turn your light on to see him better
  • You need to talk to him
  • You need to think clearly
  • You need to de-escalate
  • You need to know if there’s someone behind him
  • You need to see if there’s someone else, a bystander, that he could attack
  • You need to understand what he’s screaming
  • You need to protect the public
  • You need to protect yourself and your partner
  • You need to protect the subject
  • You need to assess and decide on a “line in the sand” when you must deploy lethal force
  • Is this alcohol induced? Is this a mental health issue? Is this an emotional reaction?  Does it matter?
  • You have a microsecond.

Now allow me to illustrate what went through my mind and what steps we took; Seconds go by.  My partner begins to establish dialogue with the male.  Because we work well together, know each other’s training, have trained in reality based scenarios, we have confidence in each other.  Our tasks split.

My partner had dialogue and naturally took on the role of negotiator.  I took on the role of lethal overwatch and as resources started arriving, became the team lead. My partner is constantly assessing the male’s behaviour while actively listening to him and starting dialogue in an attempt to de-escalate.  He still has to protect himself and manage his force options.

I take a moment and quickly transition to my patrol carbine.  My carbine (rifle) has pin-point accuracy at a greater distance than my pistol, it also has magnified optics mounted on it so that I can assess the male’s behaviour from a safer distance.  I know that if I have to use lethal force it’ll be dynamic, extremely quick and close, I need to be precise and accurate.

My job now is to let my partner negotiate, but still stay engaged.  I may need to switch roles if the male’s focus changes to me.   I’m now lethal overwatch and my partner’s safety rests in my hands. Seconds go by.  I’ve let everyone know what’s going on and I can hear sirens in the distance and voices in my ear asking what I need and where I need it.

The male begins to close the distance, he’s walking toward my partner.  15 meters.  He’s still screaming that he’s going to make us kill him.

  • I’m looking through my rifle scope, assessing what’s in his hands. It’s a fixed blade knife.  40oz bottle in the other hand.  Something heavy in his coat pocket, another bottle? a gun?
  • Where’s my partner
  • Where’s my line in the sand
  • I need less lethal options
  • I need police to surround the area and make sure no bystanders get close.
  • I need a K9 officer
  • Do we have a helicopter up in case he runs?
  • Can we stop traffic?

My next two police officers arrive, now I have 4 police officers here.  I have pistols, rifles, a bean bag shotgun and conducted energy weapons (CEWs or more commonly known as Tasers).  We also have our batons and OC Spray however with a lethal force threat, such as a knife, batons and OC are not viable force options.

The 12ga bean bag is an extended range impact munition.  Think of it as a baton launched from a shotgun.  The injury potential from the beanbag may be higher than that of the baton depending on the range deployed and the area of the body targeted.  The bean bag, while potentially causing some injury, is mainly a pain compliance tool.  As with OC Spray, if a subject is goal oriented or impervious to pain stimulus, the bean bag may be entirely ineffective.

The CEW typically fires 2 barbed probes at a subject, when the 2 probes make contact with a subject, the electrical component of the CEW creates Neuro-Muscular Incapacitation (NMI).  Simply put, it disrupts the bodies ability to control muscle response.  NMI is very effective in stopping a subject’s threat.  However for NMI to be effective the police officer has to realistically be within at least 12-15′ (5m) of the threat, both probes (which leave the CEW at an angle to each other) must contact the subject and then the NMI is limited to 5 seconds.

This subject wants us to harm him, it’s what he’s been screaming for what seems like an eternity but has only been 2 or 3 minutes.   I believed deploying bean bag rounds would only stimulate him. We are not close enough to use a CEW.

He’s still 15m away.  We’ve moved to a position that puts our police car between us.  My partner is still negotiating.  I communicate a plan that involves us holding our ground at the police car and a layered force approach if the male comes at us where we attempt to employ less lethal options to stop him before having to use lethal force. I do not want to use force on this male.  My deployment of force is going to be based off his behaviour.

  • I’m still focussed on my role as lethal overwatch.
  • I now have a negotiator and 2 officers with less lethal options out that I have to protect.
  • I also have to keep my eyes up for bystanders coming into our area.
  • I direct other police resources to strategic points to control the male if he decides to run
  • I have to make sure each of those containment points has proper layered force options (firearms, CEWs, bean bags)
  • I have to keep the bosses in the loop, I’m also the eyes for incident command
  • I have to formulate and communicate contingency plans, what if the male starts stabbing himself?  What if he charges us?  What if he runs away?  What if he finds a bystander?
  • I’m still watching his hands, now he has 2 knives, a fixed blade and a box cutter
  • He’s still upset but is maintaining dialogue with my partner
  • My partner is still maintaining efforts to de-escalate and doing a great job given the behaviour of the distraught male.

I have to formulate a plan, if this male begins to critically harm himself how are we going to intervene?  We don’t have the luxury of risk avoidance, we only mitigate risk.  We might have to physically intervene.

My intervention plan, should the male begin to critically injure himself includes us closing the distance, deploying bean bags to change his focus until we’re close enough to deploy the CEW so that we have 5 seconds to get our hands on him and stop his self-harm.  This is an incredibly dangerous plan and involves us launching force options and causing harm, but less harm than the subject is causing himself.

One of our K9 officers has arrived.  We decide that the K9 deployment is a last resort as we don’t want to force the male to injure the police dog.

I broadcast all of the contingency plans.  The 4 other officers I’m with have to know their roles.  The containment officers need to know their roles and incident command ultimately has to approve our plan to deploy force (incident command approves plans for a planned response, for spontaneous threats, the individual officer still maintains the authority and discretion to deploy force).

Just as my partner has to keep assessing the male’s behaviour, the environment and all of the circumstances, I have to formulate and broadcast these plans while maintaining lethal overwatch, assessing the environment and all of the circumstances.

This is complicated by the male himself who is intent on moving around, walking through a fence line into the school field and forcing us to move with him maintaining as much safety as possible while I manage and shift containment teams. The male begins to violently stab himself in the abdomen.  At least that’s what it appeared.  Do I launch my intervention plan? I have microseconds.  One last assessment through my magnified rifle scope and I can just see that he’s using the butt end of the box cutter, not the blade.  Apparently in an attempt to get our attention.

  • I have to observe
  • I have to keep my team safe
  • I have to keep the public safe
  • I have to keep the subject safe
  • I have to communicate what I see
  • I have to decide, launch less lethal and intervene or hold?
  • I have to decide to deploy force and jeopardize my team’s safety
  • I’m on the radio, I’m focussed on the subject, is the area still safe?

A microsecond, a split second decision. Go or no go.

No go.

The male realizes that he didn’t force our hand.  My partner is still talking to him.  The dedicated negotiators have shown up, they’re backing up my partner, he’s still primary because he’s got a rapport and doing a great job. I’m back to lethal overwatch, ensuring I’ve got all the resources I need.  Is everyone safe?  I’m back to being the eyes on the radio so the incident commander knows what’s going on. The male tries to force our hand again, rushing toward us.

  • Do we pull back to a point of safety?
  • Communicate on the radio
  • Ensure the safety is off on my rifle
  • Aim, Breathe, Concentrate
  • My team mates with less lethal have to launch first when he crosses their threshold
  • He’s almost there, if he keeps going I may be forced to use lethal force.  I don’t want him to force me to press my trigger but I can’t let him harm my team or me.

He stops, just before our line in the sand to launch a bean bag as if he knew. This back and forth, negotiation, constant focus, constant assessment continues for 4 hours.

In the end our most valuable tool was communication.  We were able to take the male into custody without deploying force.  We had everything available to us out and prepared.   Each person and each force option had a specific purpose.  Our combined purpose was to preserve life.  Our response is driven by our subject’s actions.

My partner and I spoke to the male after he was in custody and had calmed down.  His plan was to come into the police station and attack someone forcing the police to kill him, a concept known as “Suicide by police”.

We have all of these force options available to us.  We train with them, we train with each other.  Some of these tools look pretty scary but they all serve a specific purpose.  I hope I’ve given you some insight into what the purpose of each is, and how we can deploy with them.  From this call though, I’d like to highlight how important our ability to communicate is.

Once the male was in custody, we all took a breath, ensured the required investigational steps were completed, knew there’s some paperwork ahead and headed back out on the street for the next call.

This sounds a lot like “My partner and I…” and a little bit about the rest of our team.  The reality is that I could write intimately about this specific incident because I was there but this is what we do and by we, I mean the policing profession as a whole.

This was that “Police incident, road closed” report that you never see further details about.  This was that time you saw a police car parked, emergency lights on, but no one around and didn’t think anything further of it.  This was that call at 2am on your street that you slept right through.  This is the 99.9% of the time that police deploy force options and aren’t forced to use them.  This is the professional work that police do every day, in every city across North America that never results in a media story.