In the wake of recent officer-involved shootings and one where an officer stopped a suspect by running over him with his patrol unit, law enforcement is under the spotlight again.
So, it begs the questions: When is deadly force appropriate, and how are officers trained to handle suspects who do not comply?
Springhill Police Chief Will Lynd says the use of deadly force should always be a last resort.
“As police, we try to avoid deadly force at all costs,” Lynd said. “People forget that police are human beings as well, and no human being wants to ever take another one’s life. Deadly force is a last resort.”
Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper says he doesn’t believe there is much difference in basic law enforcement training, but rather a difference in individuals.
“Law enforcement (is) trained to only use deadly force when they feel their life is in danger or somebody else’s life is in danger,” Cropper said.
Webster Parish Sheriff Gary Sexton agreed, saying much of it is in the officer’s temperament, or their personality make up.
“It’s just the personality of the officer,” he said, “and when you get into situations like (the recent shootings) you can’t gauge all officers like that.”
Sexton says before it gets to a decision of using deadly force, it’s a domino effect.
“You have your verbal communications, you have chemical mace, tasers and then the ultimate force is the use of deadly force,” Sexton said.
The state mandates the standard of training an officer should have. Officers are required to continue yearly training and certification with firearms and other areas. They must obtain a certain number of continuing education hours in order to keep their POST certification as well.
Peace Officer Standards and Training is certification they receive when they graduate from police academy.
Lynd says his officers carry tasers and are taser certified. They carry mace as well. Sexton’s deputies carry tasers, but they also use other non-lethal means when the situation calls for it.
Sexton recalled a situation a few years ago in which a man barricaded himself in his friend’s home. Negotiators were called to the scene to talk him out of the house. Eventually, he came out and was placed into custody and taken to jail.
In that situation, officers were armed with bean bag bullets, which are designed to subdue a suspect but not kill him.
He said in situations like South Carolina, Oklahoma and Arizona, those are split second decisions.
Cropper recalled a situation where deadly force would have been justified, but he chose not to go to that extreme. During his days as a sheriff’s deputy for Webster Parish, he says he went on a call of a one vehicle crash at approximately 1 a.m.
When he approached the vehicle, he came upon a man in the driver’s seat who appeared to be unresponsive. He says he got close enough to check for a pulse, and when he did, he saw the gun pointed in his direction.
“The only reason I chose not to (shoot) is because in a split second, I knew this guy did not want to kill me,” Cropper said, “because I’d have already been dead. When you’re dispatched to a wreck, your main concern is the welfare of that driver or the people in that vehicle.
“I have my face this close to him,” he said, indicating with his hands a short distance, “and I’m reaching in there to see if he’s alive. I put my hand on his neck to see if he has a pulse, and when I take a second look, he’s got a 357, and that barrel was (very close) to my face.”
Upon further investigation, he learned the driver of the vehicle had been trying to commit suicide, even if it was suicide by cop.
While Sexton and Lynd feel a taser is one of the more effective non-lethal tools, Cropper says he prefers not to use tasers. Instead some of his officers use pepper guns.
“I like it better than a taser,” he said. “The pepper gun shoots out a pepper ball that is designed to put a person down. It works really well.”
Cropper explained the first shot is designed to stun them, but the second shot is designed to put them down. The pepper mixture is red in color and looks like blood, Cropper says.
Lynd says he’s been asked his opinion on the recent shootings, and he says he doesn’t really have one. He’s hesitant to give facts of the case. But all three say the same thing: deadly force is a last resort.
“A deadly force encounter is only going to last a matter of seconds,” Lynd said.