“Gunned Down!”: The Distorted Reality of an Officer Involved Shooting

You can read these words at some point after nearly every officer involved shooting (OIS), “gunned down.” Most often, these words are used to refer to the description of how the suspect, who fought with, attacked or otherwise threatened a LEO was shot. Many times, these words are used by the suspect’s family who are understandably upset at the injury or death to their family member or the attorneys for the suspect after the filing of a civil suit. I am most disturbed when the words are used by the media to describe the use of deadly force by a LEO. While it may make for spectacular news footage, it is at best a poor choice of words and at worst misleading.

While the definition of “gunned down” may simply mean that a person was shot, these words have come to portray some impropriety or excessive use of force. I have found this to be especially true when the LEO fire multiple shots. In a recent news report, a suspect who took a LEO’s weapon and fractured her face was “gunned down” by that LEO when she regained control of her firearm. In another case, a suspect who came at a LEO with a knife was “gunned down” when the LEO was forced to use deadly force to stay alive.

I recently sat with a LEO during administrative and criminal interviews following an OIS. The suspect pulled a weapon while wrestling with the LEO. After firing multiple shots, the LEO was able to control the suspect who did not survive. Never once was the officer motivated by malice, improper intent or anything but survival.

So maybe I’m just overly sensitive about this. Maybe because I make a living choosing the correct words in any given situation, and am held accountable for my choice of words, I find it improper to state a suspect was “gunned down” by a LEO. Is it too much to ask for an accurate account of events? “The LEO was forced to use deadly force because the suspect fractured her face” or “The suspect refused to comply with the LEO’s commands and instead pulled a firearm leaving the LEO with no choice but to use deadly force and shoot the suspect.” You see, words mean something. Words convey not only information, but intent, tone and bias.

Now you know why I always tell my clients to avoid media reports about an OIS. You were there. There is nothing you will learn from the media reports, from the statements of relatives and friends of the suspect interviewed by the media or from the attorneys representing the suspect or his family. Hearing someone state that you “gunned down” a suspect who was trying to kill you or a third party is disturbing for you and disappointing for the rest of us. I talk about this more in my book, “When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident” which will be available in December of 2012.

In the final analysis, the words used by third parties to describe your use of force are irrelevant. The lawful use of force, even deadly force, is just that: lawful. It is part of the job, a risk of the tasks you undertake on a daily basis and part of the oath you swore. You know whether or not your actions were lawful and necessary. Do not let the opinions of others cause you to second guess what you did to return home at the end of your shift. Stay safe.

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