It was great to see a recent story in the Portland Oregonian, Officers get new de-escalation training, which de-bunked the myth that police officers need to keep someone with a knife at least 21 feet away from them, because supposedly "a person with a knife within that distance can stab you before you can shoot."
This never made sense to me, as I noted in a 2010 post, "Why I'm bothered by another Portland police killing."
The transient, Jack "Jackie" Collins, was intoxicated and threatening people at Hoyt Aboretum. After Walters knocked on the restroom door, Collins came out. Pretty clearly, Collins had been cutting on himself. There was no report that he had hurt anybody.
So Walters is faced with a 58 year old drunk guy armed with an x-acto knife. I've got several in my tool box. They're handy for stripping wallpaper and handling other chores. Yes, they have a sharp blade. However, they aren't a "bad guy" weapon of choice.
Walters, after having two days to talk things over with his attorney, says that he was backing up, ran into some barrier, and had no choice but to shoot Collins four times. I find that difficult to believe.
If it's true, then Walters is to blame. Restrooms are for public use. Public walk up to them, and people walk away from them. If Walters made the mistake of backing into a barrier, Collins didn't deserve to die for that.
Walters had called for backup. There was ample opportunity to defuse the situation once the police officer realized that all he was dealing with was a drunk transient, possibly suicidal, who only had an x-acto knife.
...One of the guys in my martial arts class, who I've trained with for quite a while, also has been a bouncer in several bars. He says that he has had knives pulled on him several times. The guy never had to kill anybody. Nor has he ever been injured.
I understand fear. I don't blame Walters for fearing for his life. But here's the thing: if you sign up to be a police officer, you should be prepared to "protect and serve." That means putting your life on the line in order to protect and serve the public.
Given that last paragraph, I really liked how Tom Wilson, a retired patrol bureau chief from a Maryland police agency who has been training Portland police on how to handle emotionally disturbed people, modified a familiar adage:
The forum instructors urged Portland police not to repeat the message they've likely heard as young officers.
"You probably were told 'your No. 1 job is to make sure you go home at night,' '' Wilson said. "Isn't it our No. 1 job to make sure everybody goes home?''
Too many police officers in the United States are overly ready to use deadly force when this really isn't necessary. As Wilson said, they should have the attitude that it is as important to protect the lives of the people they're dealing with, as their own lives.
Naturally this is a general rule. If someone is seriously threatening the life of an officer, obviously the officer has a duty to protect themselves.
An emotionally disturbed person with a knife doesn't meet this criterion. Which gets us back to the myth of the 21-foot rule. The Oregonian story says:
The forum's training departs from traditional training, where officers have been taught to respond to a threat immediately, take charge with commands, hold their ground, and ratchet up the type of force depending on a suspect's behavior. It also debunks the 21-foot rule, used in Portland police training, which says that a person with a knife within that distance can stab you before you can shoot.
''Just simply holding a knife isn't necessarily an imminent threat,'' said Camden County police Lt. Kevin Lutz, who also taught Portland police this week. "We're not throwing out the concept but believe it should be a guide, not a rule. We don't want officers to think of that distance like a kill zone.''
Lutz was among officers from around the country who helped the research forum develop the training, called ICAT for Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics. It sprang from a review of basic police training in Scotland, where officers don't carry guns.
"Why is it when you have someone who is a mentally ill person with a knife in Glasgow, you're able to handle it without someone being shot and we can't?'' Wexler asked, when visiting the country. Wexler brought officers from around the United States to observe the Scotland training. They studied Scotland's approach and modeled the forum's curriculum after it.
Among the training videos is footage from a police body camera that captured an unusual response by Camden County [New Jersey] police to a call involving a man with a knife in a restaurant in November 2015.
When police arrived, the man had walked out of the restaurant and ignored calls to drop the knife. Instead of surrounding him, a handful of officers formed a walking perimeter and followed him as he strode down several city blocks, waving the knife. Some officers stayed ahead, clearing out pedestrians in his path, others to his side and behind. Taser shots were unsuccessful. Few officers had guns visible. Eventually, the man dropped the knife and was arrested.