Police officers are screwed no matter what they do - and it's costing everyone their lives.

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So what is the opinion of police officers as to de-escalation? What percentage of encounters involve an opportunity to employ time and distance (de-escalation) and what percentage involve possible unexpected violence in close proximity to a suspect?

Per the National Institute of Justice-Officer use of force and civilian injuries were each down by more than 25 percent after de-escalation training. Injuries to officers were down even more, by 36 percent.

Out of 54 million police-citizen contacts, two percent involve force “or” the threat of force.

Cops understand that making the right decisions during every confrontation is simply impossible regardless of their experience or dedication to judicious and proper behavior.

During my time as a police officer, I had occasions to perceive the possibility that my life was in danger and that I could be justified in using deadly force.

I never used deadly force but I always thought it was more luck than what I did or didn’t do. I pulled my weapon several times and was ready to shoot if necessary but the suspect complied with my orders so there was no need to fire. But deadly force scenarios were often unexpected. Simple encounters turned out to be potentially tragic.

Going to an armed robbery in progress may require deadly force. You expect the possibility that you may have to shoot.

Investigating an evening commercial burglar alarm (which usually turns out to be false the vast majority of times) doesn’t usually involve deadly force until you see someone on the roof with a shiny object in his hands at night. They were electricians who complied immediately with our orders. But they could have been armed criminals pointing their firearms down at us when we were looking through windows for signs of a break-in. How is one to know with certainty?

There was a time during a very suspicious traffic stop when the driver reached out to his glove compartment to get his vehicle registration and the butt of a handgun was within reach.  When I pulled my weapon and ordered him to freeze, he seemed startled and his arm moved toward his firearm. It was a starter pistol, incapable of doing me harm. How is one to know with certainty?

The point in all this was an understanding that it’s ridiculously easy to make a tragic mistake. You can justify deadly force even when the situation turns out to be innocuous, but you spend the rest of your life knowing that you took that person’s life.

It’s my guess (I’m unaware of research on the issue) that cops encounter these scenarios thousands of times without shooting. That’s an immense amount of restraint.

The Point Of This Article

The point of this article is that anyone in law enforcement could shoot if a suspect doesn’t comply with a direct order under very suspicious circumstances and you perceive that he has a weapon (or something that looks like a weapon) and you justifiably believe that your life (or the life of another) is in danger.

The Washington Post has tracked shootings since 2015, reporting more than 5,000 incidents since their tracking began. The database can also classify people in various categories including race, age, weapon etc. For 2019, it reported a total of 1,004 people shot and killed by police. According to the database, 6,600 have been killed since 2015, including 6,303 men and 294 women. Among those killed, 3,878 were armed with a gun, 1,119 were armed with a knife, 218 were armed with a vehicle, 244 had a toy weapon, and 421 were unarmed. My example of the electricians working on a rooftop at night setting off a burglar alarm would fall into the category of “unarmed” but the shiny objects in their hands at night while they looked down at us sure looked like handguns. 

With a very high percentage of offenders under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of arrests and with a very high percentage of offenders having mental health or emotional problems, suspects making bad decisions can put themselves in grave danger.

The proper use of force then becomes almost impossible because the suspect is not complying or is acting irrationally or directly poses a danger (he displays a knife or gun). The officer doesn’t have a clue if the suspect’s behavior is a matter of mental illness or being under the influence or if he’s suicidal or if he’s just sexually assaulted someone. All the officer knows is that the suspect was reported as a suspicious person and he’s in the proximity of a residence or person victimized.

Having backup helps but there are thousands of fewer cops on the job today. Having a K-9 dog at the scene would be wonderful but they are scarce and often not available. Having a Bolowrap (a device that shoots rope that immobilizes) would be great for a running suspect but few officers have them. Tasers can be effective or not depending on the offender’s state of mind or substance abuse. There are endless examples of tazed individuals who are unaffected.

It’s Impossible

The bottom line is that society expects non-life-threatening behavior on the part of police officers during very difficult and often unexpected circumstances; a reason why thousands of good cops leave the job. Cops understand that making the right decisions during every confrontation is simply impossible regardless of their experience or dedication to judicious and proper behavior.

I went to a domestic violence call at a catering establishment on a Saturday afternoon. There was a fight between intoxicated brothers. I had both peacefully separated when one brother’s drunk wife struck me from behind and reached down and nearly took my eye with her fingernails. Then her husband entered the fight. Unable to see clearly while down in the middle of a struggle, I contemplated reaching for my firearm.  I didn’t; others in attendance came to my assistance.

The 21-Foot Rule

It’s taught to police across the country. Officers use it to explain why they shot at someone. Prosecutors, point to it when deciding if a police shooting was legal. It’s called the “21-foot rule,” and it means that someone with a knife running toward police, could cover about 21 feet before officers unholster their gun and fire. “We came to realize that if all you do is stand there and wait for the attacker to come, and you draw and shoot, they can be on top of you before your bullet can take effect.”

New policies state that you can create distance and time between the officer and the suspect but that’s not true in all circumstances. Fellow officers had an uncuffed person in an office who was high on PCP when he suddenly turned violent. There are endless circumstances where violence or the threat of violence comes out of nowhere. It’s unexpected. You have seconds to make decisions.

Using Time and Distance to De-escalate-National Institute Of Justice

The Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics (ICAT) training program for law enforcement is now being encouraged.

ICAT trains law enforcement officers to de-escalate and defuse “situations involving persons who are unarmed or are armed with weapons other than firearms, and who may be experiencing a mental health or other crisis.”

In traditional training, officers learn to take charge of a volatile encounter. They’re taught that responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their fellow officers is paramount, which often means entering an unstable situation with weapons drawn. The message, said Herold, is “make sure that you and your partner go home safe tonight.”

ICAT has a different emphasis. Rather than taking charge, officers learn to reframe their roles as active listeners who gather intelligence to resolve situations by building rapport without resorting to force. For Herold, the words “Nobody is going to die tonight” embodies ICAT’s approach. Nobody, meaning no one in law enforcement—and no civilians.

According to Dr. Engel’s findings, ICAT produced significant changes not only in officers’ attitudes and knowledge about de-escalation, but also in their actual behavior on patrol. Officer uses of force and civilian injuries were each down by more than 25 percent after ICAT training. Unexpectedly, injuries to officers were down even more, by 36 percent. Law enforcement agencies that had objected that ICAT would get their officers killed could now see empirical evidence pointing to the opposite outcome.


So what is the opinion of police officers as to de-escalation? What percentage of encounters involve an opportunity to employ time and distance and what percentage involve possible unexpected violence in close proximity to a suspect?

Is it a matter of time and distance? Or is it more an issue of having sufficient police staffing and equipment or the availability of K-9 dogs?

My objection to a de-escalation conversation is the notion that it hasn’t been taught previously when every cop I talk to was trained on de-escalation as well as the 21-foot rule for decades. Every police officer is trained to start at the bottom of a continuum and work his way up depending on circumstances.

Deadly force is always a last resort, which is obvious per US Department of Justice research on police use of force. Nearly all (99%) recruits received reality-based use-of-force training.

No one will argue that we should not employ time and distance techniques if the situation warrants it and there’s data indicating promising results.

But events can explode unexpectedly and the suspect can be very close while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or mental-emotional illness. Maybe he wants death at the hands of police officers. Maybe he’s in the process of committing an armed robbery and has no intentions of being apprehended because of an extensive criminal history. How is one to know with certainty?

Cops are endlessly criticized for using deadly force and groups document every police death or shooting but they never explain the circumstances. Was the officer escorting a crime victim to safety when an armed assailant appeared out of nowhere with a gun in his hand? Was an officer responding to a violent crime and was suddenly confronted by a gunman? Was the officer subject to someone rushing him with a shiny object in his hand intent on committing suicide? How is one to know with certainty?

Yes, we are all aware of incidents that were not sudden where the officer used deadly force. We’re all aware of times when a cop opened fire as a minor suspect was running away. There are times when time and distance should have been employed. This is not about defending officers who broke the law or who made terrible judgments when they had time to evaluate.

Yet we are all equally aware of times when police understaffing and jurisdictions too cheap to provide proper staffing or equipment or K-9 dogs.

Every police officer should only use deadly force when it’s absolutely necessary which means putting their safety at extreme risk when seconds are involved. It’s an interesting moment when cops come to understand that they must take extraordinary risks daily.

But collectively, it’s time for society and the media to understand what happens (and why) and not jump to conclusions that disparage officers making extremely emotional and difficult decisions, often without backup and equipment that could make an immense difference.

Arrests are now at record lows. Wonder why?

323 Police Officers Shot In 2022–60,000 Assaulted Per The FBI

Repeated US Department of Justice data involving surveys of people police encounter indicates that officers use force rarely (out of 54 million police-citizen contacts two percent involve force or the threat of force) and that the vast majority of citizens, regardless of demographics, believe that cops are both respected and doing a good job.

Want to know why we are losing thousands of police officers retiring or quitting? It’s because cops understand that it’s nearly impossible to make the right decision every time a confrontation occurs.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

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"The point of this article is that anyone in law enforcement could shoot if a suspect doesn’t comply with a direct order under very suspicious circumstances and you perceive that he has a weapon (or something that looks like a weapon) and you justifiably believe that your life (or the life of another) is in danger." I'm concerned that you think that any "law enforcement" officer can shoot a person who doesn't comply? You "perceive that he has a weapon"? Isn't what you are saying that law enforcement can shoot anyone if he/she can articulate a perceived danger, or the officer "fearing for their lives"? This mentality must give some Officers a tremendous sense of power, and historically, having the ability to articulate a perceived fear has kept many law enforcement officers out of prison due to wrongful deaths. Those magic words: "I feared for my life," seem to be the ket-out-of-jail-free card for many law enforcement nationwide, historically. In my experience and education in the science of criminal justice/administration of justice and law enforcement, we seem to have a lot of work to do in changing the culture of law enforcement/corrections. Peace officers are not superheroes or gatekeepers for a specific population of people. People who choose law enforcement/corrections as a career/job should understand, at least by the end of the academy, that it is a dangerous job. The law enforcement uniform/costume does not entitle the officer to automatic respect, primarily due to countless medical coverage of police misconduct on citizens. Police work should not be about a silent war between the citizens and the police. Indeed, the police do not have a favorable image in the eyes of many citizens today. Still, it is up to professional police organizations to understand that and take appropriate actions to regain public trust.


If parents would teach their children right from wrong, and to respect the law, we wouldn’t need the cops much, now would we? You choose to be a criminal and not comply with laws? Well, you’d better expect someone to call the cops. If you resist and try to get away to continue to cause harm to others and their properties, we’ll the cop may have to subdue your sorry @$$. Either comply, or get taxed or shot. I have absolutely NO sympathy for any criminal, no matter their age. I know and have experienced what crime victims have to deal with in the aftermath of a criminal attacking them. No mercy for criminals as far as I’m concerned. Just look at that dead criminals rap sheet. You’ll see he was a career criminal ruining innocent people’s lives. A dead criminal, no matter if he/she committed one or many crimes, is a bonus to their future victims. One less terrorist in the world, hurting people.


Excellent article. My late husband was a police officer, my sister and brother-in-law were police officers, was friends with several other officers and I was a volunteer with a police department. They have the toughest job ever and I would never risk my life over a druggie with a knife. It’s very simple. Don’t do drugs, don’t commit crimes. Nobody will be calling 911 for a police officer to help you. Get a weapon, and learn how to protect yourself. Someday, police won’t be around to help your mentally I’ll, suicidal family member. You might need to shoot them before they kill you.

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