Thursday, February 26, 2009

Clackamas County Sheriff's Office

I had the pleasure yesterday to spend the afternoon in the training center of the Clackamas Country Sheriff, learning about officer-involved shooting procedures and getting a look at some of the "shoot/no-shoot" training programs they put officers through.

First, I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the people in the office. We were given training and presentations by a number of people, and to a person they were incredibly knowledgable, professional and just generally high quality people.

Sheriff Roberts, whom I have known for a year or so, has one of the most impressive track records of any executive in the state. In a state where executive and bureaucratic incompetence has become the rule, Sheriff Roberts' operation stands out as the most efficiently organized governmental operations I have seen.

I could go into some detail about the things Roberts and his chief deputy Charlie Bowen have done to make the ClackCo Sheriff's operation a dynamic organization that constantly delivers more bang for the taxpayer dollar. But that isn't the point of this post.

The point is that anybody who has ever criticised the police after a citizen gets hurt or killed in an officer-involved-shooting ought to take a look at some of the training officers are put through.

The "shoot/no-shoot" simulations are amazing. Put the gun in your hand and make that fatal split second decision of whether to use lethal force. Do you reasonably perceive an imminent threat to self or others when an agitated person fishes through his glove box, pulls out a black object and points it at you?

It is impossible to look at this training and not emerge with a greater appreciation of the fact that the shoot/no shoot decision is incredibly complex, and must be made almost instantaneously. Officers are trained to look at and anticipate things that simply don't occur to you unless you have had the training. In the heat of the moment you would be surprised at how much you fail to observe.

In the simulation I did, I didn't even see the perp's gun tucked in the back of his jeans. By the time he pulled it out, and got a shot off, my partner was down and the gun was pointed at me. I killed him, but even then I didn't realize I was shooting with my partner and an uninvolved citizen right in the background, where a through-and-though bullet or a miss could have killed one or both of them.

Next time I hear someone scream about the "injustice" of an officer-involved shooting, I will have a little deeper perspective.


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine being in their shoes in such a situation.

However, it is apparent the ratios of traffic cops to cops pursuing criminals is all wrong.

Cops are all too happy to slow down traffic at 5 o'clock on Friday to tell someone their license plate light is out. But when my identity was stolen they wouldn't even look at video evidence. When there were several prowlers harassing me at night they never showed up!

Like I said, I wouldn't want to be faced with the decisions they have to make, but why bother to train them if they skirt the real work and only hand out traffic tickets and throw fund raisers?

Anonymous said...

ummm... did you receive a ticket recently? If you do get one in the future, please make sure to drive that point home forcefully with the officer who stopped you.

Anonymous said...

No doubt law enforcement officers are heavily trained to difficult situations that most of us will never know.

And, clearly, there are times when the only option is to shoot.

We also have to acknowledge that sometimes cops shoot, and it's the wrong choice, and sometimes it's hard to tell if it's the wrong choice.

As it turned out, shooting the man who was holding Nathan Thomas was the wrong decision.

I'm all for giving police officers as many tools as possible, because sometimes it turns out that what looked to be a dangerous situation wasn't, and sometimes what appears to be a clean shot isn't.

Not only does that make our world safer, it makes life better for the police--it has to be tough for them when they shoot someone, even if it's someone who did something wrong, but even more so if it turns out the person was unarmed, or if a bystander is hurt or killed.

Anonymous said...

As a graduate of the Clackamas County Sheriff's Academy I can attest to the fact that it's a superior organization. Sheriff Roberts deserves a great deal of credit.

--Matt Wingard