Law Enforcement Officers Don’t Want To Take A Life

No law enforcement officer wants to be responsible for ending a human life.

We go into police work to protect lives, not take them. Policing is a cause. It’s what we do. Everything we learn, everything we train in and practice is aimed at minimizing the chances we will be forced by the actions of a violent criminal to use force that results in someone dying, no matter how much evil that someone has perpetrated. But we know from the first day we pin on the badge our own death or the death of a bad guy could happen one day, from our first shift on the job to the last.

America has a military — young men and women who put their lives on the line — because the world contains people who hate us and will cause us great harm if given the opportunity. Sometimes those young men and women have to take lives to protect us.

Within the borders of our own country there are violent criminals who will perpetrate great harm unless prevented by someone. That “someone” is often the mostly-young man or woman who wears a badge and has taken an oath to protect the flock from the wolves even at great risk to his or her own life. The great majority of the time they serve us and shield us without having to take a life. But it is not always possible to do that. The violent criminal makes the choice and drives what happens next.

I see an alarming trend in the country. I see a gaggle of politicians, national media hacks and self-appointed police experts making blanket condemnations of police officers based on the conduct of a very few bad cops. Often the “information” for their rants turns out to be false.

What truly concerns me is they may be making law enforcement officers nationwide hesitant to react to save their own lives or the lives of others for fear of being demonized. And that’s tragic for all of us.

I believe it is a factor in the number of law enforcement officers being murdered in the country of late. I also don’t think it is a mystery why violent crime is suddenly skyrocketing in many big cities today. In some of those cities the cops are answering their calls but initiating nothing on their own.

As they try to protect their careers from attack, they give the violent criminals free reign. I could never support what those officers are doing, but I understand it.

Like many law enforcement agencies today, at GPD we are continuously exploring ways to revise our training and practices to emphasize the sanctity of human life, the importance of de-escalation, and alternatives to the use of lethal force. Some of the material comes from sources such as the recent President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the recommendations of the Police Executive Research Forum.

PERF, generally considered a pretty liberal law enforcement organization, notes the following in big, bold type in its latest publication, Guiding Principles on Use of Force: “There will always be situations where police officers will have to use force, including deadly force, to protect the public or themselves.”

It reinforces what a Greeley citizen told me a while back: “Chief, I get it. If you point a gun at a cop, you’re probably gonna get shot.” That’s the honest truth. It’s true whether you are in Greeley, Sun City, or Muleshoe. Police officers want to go home to their loved ones, too.

There’s something else that scares me. Our contacts in the Colorado Department of Corrections tell us some very dangerous criminals are now leaving prison and returning to Weld County after years of incarceration. Some of them have serious mental issues to accompany their violent tendencies.

Add to that the reality we are seeing more guns in the hands of offenders lately and I am not encouraged there will be no future confrontations. The fact remains Greeley is an extremely safe city for our citizens, as evidenced by our unprecedented 19 percent decrease in Part One crimes this past year. But for your police officers, the threats are real and potentially deadly.

I truly wish I could promise Greeley police officers would never be faced with another lethal force decision, but clearly that’s unlikely. It’s the nature of our business those terrible decisions will have to be made. What I can promise is we will do everything humanly possible to find other alternatives. It is vital we do it without needlessly risking the lives of our officers or the citizens we have sworn to protect from evil.

After all, saving innocent lives is what we are sworn to do.


Jerry Garner is the Police Chief Greeley, Colorado.

Originally published at the Greeley Tribune.

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4 Comments

  1. ahaz

    Firstly, I resent the fact that this officer refers to the public as sheep. This in indicative of the problems that law enforcement has with the public, the dehumanizations of the citizens they encounter, the casualness that police disrespect the citizens they encounter and the ease that they choose to deploy overwhelming force against citizens.

    Secondly, I agree with this officer that no policeman seeks out to kill a citizen. However, the problem is that officers are too quick to exercise the use of deadly force. The Tamir Rice and John Cawford incidents in Ohio plainly illustrate the problem. In both cases, officers rolled up to these victims without determining if a threat existed, failed to establish a zone in which they could effectively evaluate the threat levels, and basically created the conditions where the officers fired their weapons. These officers reacted instead of evaluated and the result was two dead citizens, one being a child, and the taxpayers picking up the tab for these officers failure.

    Part of the problem is that officers are being trained to be hypervigilent; trained to think that every encounter can be their last; indoctrinated to believe that they are being targeted because they are police. Mind you, that it’s never been safer to be a police officer. Most line of duty deaths are NOT caused by felonious means, but rather accidents and health related issues. This results in unarmed citizens being shot and killed, the mentally ill being shot of killed and a disproportionate amount of minorities being shot and killed. Over the past 3 years, over 1000 citizens have been killed each year by police.

    The public doesn’t want any officer to place himself needlessly at risk. But the attitudes the seems to permeate police departments these days is one of no risk. That’s why SWAT are deployed overwhelmingly for the issuance of search warrants instead of their original intended purpose. That’s why police increasingly use militarized tactics against citizens even for the most minor offenses. That’s why many police department cried foul when the rules for the DoD 1033 program was altered.

    Policing is a profession that has inherent risk. Citizens that join this profession should understand this. Frankly, I believe the public is tired of seeing citizens killed over perceived threats rather than actual threats. And the public is demanding that policing change in this country. What’s the difference between an suspect armed with an knife in the US vs the same suspect in Britian? The difference is that the suspect in the US will be likely killed. The public is becoming aware of this and organizations like PERF understand and recognize that our police to too violent and use deadly force too quickly.

    We all want our police to be better….and safer.

    • Katrina

      You must be one of the self appointed police experts the article talks about. You read into the article what you wanted and ignored facts. Your first paragraph is based on what you Think you read and not what was actually presented. (Hint: “Sheep” isn’t found anywhere in the entire article)

      You can’t know the job without having done it. If you fancy yourself such an expert, why don’t you apply? Even a coward hiding behind a keyboard should have no problem doing such a “safe” job.

      By the way, from PERF “There will always be situations where police officers will have to use force, including deadly force, to protect the public or themselves.”

      • ahaz

        Let me point out the line for you…”That “someone” is often the mostly-young man or woman who wears a badge
        and has taken an oath to protect the flock from the wolves even at great
        risk to his or her own life.” Unfortunately, this attitude is far too prevalent in our LE departments and it disrespects the citizens they’re supposed to protect.

        Your second paragraph is quite laughable and used by apologists all the time. Frankly, if I wanted to do the job I would and would do it quite well BTW. I don’t and I salute those that do choose police as their profession. I also believe in giving officers the tools they need to do their jobs well. One of those aspects is deescalation techniques. Our officers receive far too little training in this aspect and explains why many officers would rather go from 0 to 60 instead of making the effort to subdue a suspect without violence. I understand fully that sometimes violence is needed, but violence should be the last resort rather than the first.

        Our press. politicians and the public has allowed our police to become militarized. Officers are told they are constantly on the front lines of war. Wars on Crime, Drugs and Terror. We allowed them to received military grade weapons and told them they had to use it in order to keep it. We allowed departments to increasingly use SWAT and urban warfare tactics against us in the name of officer safety. Today, its not uncommon to have a deploy a SWAT team for a 60 sale of drugs; google the baby Bou Bou case. You should and will be incensed. Finally, we allowed police to define when it’s appropriate to used deadly force. We had no say in the matter. Perceived threats are good enough to justify use of deadly force and we failed to hold officers accountable for that. We allow departments to investigate themselves and many times officer actions when using force, or detaining people are deemed within policy. We expect DA’s to hold officers accountable, but until recently, that was rarely the case.

        What we are seeing is a source correction. The public no longer deem heavy handed tactics acceptable. It’s no longer acceptable to soot someone and claim I feared for my life. The threat has to be real. The public no longer wants it’s police departments to behave as para-military forces. There is no need for .50 cal weapons, tanks, bayonets and grenade launchers. Who are we declaring war on…ourselves? And the public wants respect. Stop and frisk, broken windows and numbers driven policing exacerbate tensions between communities and police.

        I live in an affluent community and we were evaluating private security firms to act as a deterrent for sometimes rowdy teens in the community during the summer months. Using the local police as private security was an option during their non-duty hours. The community overwhelmingly rejected use of police as an option. Why? Because we didn’t trust the police to make good judgments in our neighborhood. Because we didn’t want our children criminalized for teenage behavior, That’s pretty sad when an affluent community doesn’t want you hanging around. It offends me that communities think that way about their police forces. And it’s because of all the reasons I described in this post and the previous one.

        I’m definitely not anti-cop. I see problems in some of our forces that need to be corrected. Having no police is not an option, having a force we don’t trust isn’t an option either. The best option is making the police we have better. And we will get them better.

        • Katrina

          You seem to have quite a lofty impression of yourself. Pat yourself on the back.
          I hope you find suitable security. Perhaps you can conduct their training yourself to be sure they meet your standards.

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