When force is necessary

A highly-trained Calgary police officer from the tactical squad fired four shots from his handgun to stop an out-of-control man lunging at him with a screwdriver. Excessive force?

A highly-trained Calgary police officer from the tactical squad fired four shots from his handgun to stop an out-of-control man lunging at him with a screwdriver.

Excessive force?

The shooting death last week in Calgary of man in his 30s is under intense criticism. Certainly this shooting must be investigated, as it will be by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which reviews encounters involving police that result in serious injury or death.

“It was just a screwdriver,” say some, damning the officer’s actions.

On the contrary, a screwdriver is just as lethal as a knife.

A person attacking with a screwdriver is obviously a threat. The armed, experienced police officer made a split-second decision. It was a deadly, unpredictable confrontation by a man who was out of control. The Calgary officer’s actions were justified under the circumstances.

Police are trained to deal with unpredictable situations, where there is little time to consider options or to gauge how a potentially dangerous subject will respond.

Calgary police were alerted to a joyride involving two stolen pickup trucks speeding in the wrong lane on a major road. One truck was disabled by a spike belt. It’s two occupants then jumped into the second truck and fled. Soon after, before the second truck was corralled by police, a male and a female exited the vehicle and fled in separate directions.

A 10-year-veteran of the Calgary police force, who is also a member of the tactical team, chased the male into a darkened, residential area, where the suspect, armed with a screwdriver, emerged from the shadows to confront the officer.

Police Chief Rick Hanson defends the officer’s actions. “It’s pitch dark. He’s between two houses. He doesn’t know where the individual went. The suspect made a conscious decision to confront the officer in a way that clearly articulated a decision to do the officer harm,” said Hanson.

“I can’t think of anybody in this city who would say the police officer should have turned on his tail and ran like a scared rabbit. The reality is these are dangerous people who commit mayhem and havoc in this city and their intention is to do harm.”

Critics of this officer’s response to danger are out of touch with the reality that police face when confronted by aggressive, irrational and unpredictable suspects.

In many ways, police work is thankless. Officers must occasionally deal with the kind of violent behaviour that can only be stopped by further violence. To believe there are other alternatives in circumstances in which the suspect has thrown all caution to the wind is nonsense.

Faced with a person bent on harming an officer, regardless of the consequences, that officer must make a split-second decision.

In this case, the decision was to fire repeatedly at the suspect. In the dark, under duress, he made certain the suspect was no longer a threat. It was a reasonable response given the life-or-death nature of the confrontation.

The suspect had indulged in a variety of risky behaviours before the confrontation. He showed himself to be irrational in the extreme by speeding in a stolen vehicle, in the wrong lane, then fleeing when police tried to stop him. The irrational behaviour accelerated when he came at the officer with a weapon.

Faced with a person in such an explosive frame of mind, reasoning with him would be out of the question.

Protecting society from danger, and the potential for danger, is a difficult job. It’s not pleasant but a civil society expects its police to do it and to do it with commitment.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.

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