Making a judgment call
by Jim Ruth Bradley County Sheriff
May 26, 2013 | 556 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The recent shooting last week of a hostage taker and his victim up North brought out the Monday morning quarterbacks, pundits and the publicity-seeking politicians. Of course the death of the young college student was the greatest tragedy.

According to the news report, the police officer was a decorated, 19-year veteran. He had probably faced a similar situation some other time in his career. He made the call to go in the house to confront the gunmen. Some say he should have waited for the SWAT team.

Perhaps he picked up on an urgency in the crisis and decided that time was not on the young woman’s side. The report indicated that the thug had her around the throat with a gun at her head.

The officer had his weapon in hand and could not back out. Neither could he give up his weapon. I am sure he was taught in training to never give up his weapon and he would have seen the folly in doing so. Too often the suspect will mercilessly shoot after the gun is surrendered.

According to one federally trained negotiator the hostage negotiator is the first one to know when negotiations have gone south and immediate response is needed. In this particular case, the first officer on the scene became the negotiator. However brief his negotiation was, his best judgment must have been to shoot the very desperate suspect. Unfortunately, the young lady was killed by ricochet or a wayward bullet.

Those reviewing this tragic incident may never come up with a definitive answer. It may remain a controversy. The officer’s reaction is based on his training and his psychological make-up. An officer is there to protect life, limb and property, even when it means risking his or her own life.

Over the years I have observed lawmen put to the test. Some found out first hand they were not cut out for this kind of work. Some have found out they were not as courageous as they thought themselves to be. As one older deputy said, “It is not that I am so brave or think I can whip everybody. I am just doing the job I was hired to do without thinking about being brave or not being brave.”

Like most of us he figured he would get the job done one way or another. The deputies and police officers I have worked with over the years, for the most part, had a strong personal value system and seemed able to develop the coping skills quickly that make them successful in their work.

I have not studied the subject, but based upon 40 years of personal observation, the longtime deputy fares pretty well after living a lifetime on the edge. After working murders, suicides and the results of all kinds of unseemly abuse by one human to another, most of us have a pretty good outlook on life. Maybe we are just a little more cynical than the norm. Maybe the good Lord gives us just a little more grace. Maybe we are supposed to share that grace.

The next time you read of a shooting or other crisis, remember that the excitement was much higher than the norm, the adrenalin pumped much faster and the crisis was far worse when it was happening, than when you are reading about it the next day.

I want to assure you that most situations don’t end this way. Usually there is time for negotiations, and often it works out for the best. We have deputies who are trained to negotiate, and our SWAT team trains regularly, working to be ready to handle any crisis that develops. They are taught to use violence only as a last resort. In the above case, it is likely they will decide it was the last resort.

Thanks for reading.