THE 20 METRE CHALLENGE
By Jim Ingram
By Jim Ingram
1957 words – MR
THE 20 METRE CHALLENGE
by Jim Ingram
It had been busy in Delta, with several dozen shootings related to the street drug trade. I was working as part of the uniformed violence suppression team initiative, tasked with being highly visible and checking anyone suspected of gang or drug involvement and disrupting their business in the area.
It was a dry night, just past dark and we were just leaving the police station. I was driving and my partner was probably making a joke about my control issues (I do not make a great passenger). Half way down the block we saw a male drinking from a 40oz liquor bottle. I passed, turned around and got back in front of him. He turned away as I stopped the truck so I hit the emergency lights.
As we both stepped out, he suddenly turned back around, drew a knife from his pocket and began screaming that he would 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 others, 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. We both instinctively drew our sidearms. My partner had the male’s attention and began giving him commands to stop moving.
Now put yourself in our shoes. 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, is demanding you kill him or he’ll attack and force you to do so. He’s 20 meters away and there’s nothing between you.
- You’re holding a sidearm and looking down the sights.
- Your finger is indexed, off the trigger.
- You need to get on your radio to 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 or if there’s anyone else he could attack.
- You need to understand what he’s screaming.
- You need to protect the public, yourself, your partner and the subject.
- You need to assess and decide on a “line in the sand” when you must deploy lethal force.
- Is this alcohol induced? A mental health issue? An emotional reaction? Does it matter?
You have a microsecond to decide.
Here’s the steps we took. My partner begins to establish dialogue. Because we work well together, know each other’s training and have trained in reality-based scenarios, we have confidence in each other.
Our tasks split. My partner had established dialogue and naturally took on the role of negotiator. I assumed the role of lethal overwatch and as resources started arriving, became the team lead.
My partner constantly assesses the male’s behaviour while actively listening to him and starting a 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, which has pin-point accuracy at a greater distance than my pistol and magnified optics so I can assess behaviour from a safer distance. I know that if I have to use lethal force it’ll be dynamic, extremely quick and close but 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. 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, walking toward my partner. He’s now 15 meters away, 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 and he has a 40oz bottle in the other hand. There’s 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 officers 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?
Two more officers arrive, so we now have four on scene. I have pistols, rifles, a bean bag shotgun and Conducted Energy Weapons (CEW). We also have our batons and OC Spray but they are not viable force options with a lethal force threat such as a knife.
The 12 gauge bean bag is an extended range impact munition. The injury potential may be higher than that of the baton, depending on the range deployed and the area of the body targeted but it is mainly a pain compliance tool. As with OC spray, if a subject is goal oriented or impervious to pain stimulus, it may be entirely ineffective.
The CEW creates neuro-muscular incapacitation (NMI), disrupting the bodies ability to control muscle response, which is very effective in stopping a subject’s threat. However for NMI to be effective an officer has to realistically be within at least five metres of the threat. Both probes, which leave an angle to each other, must contact the subject. The NMI is limited to five 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 two or three minutes. I believed deploying bean bag rounds will only stimulate him. We are not close enough to use a Taser.
He’s still 15 metres away. We move 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 using a layered force approach. If the male comes at us, we will attempt to employ less lethal options to stop him before having to use lethal force. I do not want to use force; my deployment will be based off his behaviour.
I’m still focused on my role as lethal overwatch.
I now have a negotiator and two 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 two knives – a fixed blade and a box cutter.
He’s still upset but is maintaining dialogue with my partner.
My partner is still trying to de-escalate and doing a great job given the distraught male’s behaviour.
I have to formulate a plan; how will we intervene if this male begins to critically harm himself? We don’t have the luxury of risk avoidance, we only mitigate risk. We might have to physically intervene.
My intervention plan, should he begin to critically injure himself, includes us closing the distance and deploying bean bags to change his focus until we’re close enough to deploy the CEW. That will give us five seconds to get our hands on him and stop his harming himself. This is an incredibly dangerous plan and involves us launching force options and causing harm, but less harm than the subject is causing himself.
A K9 officer has arrived. We decide deployment will be 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 four other officers I’m with and the containment officers need to know their roles and incident command ultimately has to approve our plan to deploy force (it approves plans for a planned response. The individual officer still maintains the authority and discretion to deploy force for spontaneous threats).
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 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. We maintain as much safety as possible while I manage and shift containment teams.
The male appears to begin violently stabbing himself in the abdomen. 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, the public and the subject safe.
I have to communicate what I see.
I have to decide whether to launch less lethal force and intervene or hold. Deploying force would jeopardize my team’s safety.
I’m on the radio and focused on the subject. Is the area still safe?
A microsecond, a split second decision. Go or 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 and are backing up my partner. He’s still primary because he’s got a rapport and is 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 to 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. It’s as if he knew. This back and forth, negotiation and constant focus and assessment continues for four hours.
In the end our most valuable tool was time and 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 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 police to kill him (suicide by cop).
This was one of the 99.9 per cent of incidents where police deploy force options but 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.
Jim Ingram is a Delta Police Department constable. This is an edited version of a blog post that was designed to give the public some insight into the force options available to first responders and the purpose of each option (http://24×7.deltapolice.ca/).