This article originally appeared on Active Response Training. It appears here in its entirety with permission. If you’re smart enough to read Breach-Bang-Clear on a regular basis, then you’ll have heard of Gorillafritz (Greg Ellifritz), the guy who runs A.R.T. Good stuff over there — as you’re about to see. Mad Duo
The Philando Castile Shooting and Some Advice for My Cop Readers Greg Ellifritz, Active Response Training
The media works this angle to the cop’s detriment. They blame the shooting on the reason for the stop, not what the suspect did afterwards. Right now we are hearing every media outlet talk about Mr. Castile being shot “for having a couple of burnt out brake lights.” That’s not why he was shot, but it doesn’t matter in the court of public opinion. Your contact with any citizen in an enforcement capacity needs to be rock-solid. Not only rock-solid in a legal sense, but rock-solid in the court of public opinion. Look at this shooting. The reason for contact (only one functioning brake light) is valid legally, but what do people think about cops pulling people over for minor infractions like that? They don’t like it.
Following the logic, they will like it even less when someone gets shot as a result of a “bullshit” stop. I know what the cop was doing, he was likely hunting for criminals and people who have warrants. I see it pretty regularly. Cops pull over crappy cars for equipment violations, hunting for an arrest. Poor people who can’t afford to fix busted tail lights often can’t afford to pay their tickets, their child support, or their court fees. Their driver’s licenses are frequently suspended and they regularly have warrants. So, aggressive cop looking to arrest “bad guys” pulls over a beater car and runs everyone inside for warrants. About 25% of the time he gets lucky and gets an arrest or a bunch of tickets. Every once in awhile, bad shit happens, innocent people die and the cop ends up in the national media spotlight.
Is it worth it to take the chance of such a negative outcome to enforce a relatively inconsequential traffic violation ? The problem is that a large portion of society thinks that your hard work and “aggressive and proactive” policing style looks an awful lot like “screwing with poor people” instead of hunting criminals. STOP HASSLING PEOPLE! The fact that some dude has a suspended license or hasn’t paid a speeding ticket is not negatively affecting the real safety of the community you patrol. I know you want to do good things and make lots of arrests, but every stop you make has the potential to go REALLY bad. Don’t stop people for bogus violations. Don’t hunt minor scofflaws. The public doesn’t respect you for doing so and occasionally you will get thrown under the bus when you screw something up, or your stop ends up in a shooting that you didn’t intend.
Put yourself in the position of Officer Yanez. Would you have made that traffic stop if you had known it would turn out like it did? My guess is the answer is “no“. Think about that the next time you feel like making a stop for a cracked windshield or some other trifling infraction. I know this opinion will be criticized by hard working, aggressive police officers; and perhaps rightfully so. Most cops want to do a good job and lock up bad guys. A problem is created when the very public we serve does not approve of the manner in which we do this. The public’s disapproval of pretextual traffic stops and enforcement of petty traffic violations is at a historic high. They don’t like it. And they like it even less when you get involved in a controversial shooting because you finally caught one of those really bad guys that you were trying to put in jail.
In today’s world it becomes more a matter of individual and career survival than an issue of getting one more arrest. In my mind, that balance is pretty clear. I don’t make pretextual traffic stops. I don’t stop vehicles for minor equipment violations that don’t endanger the motoring public. I don’t run the plate on every car I see looking for the dude who has a suspended license because he didn’t pay his child support. Most of the people you catch by making these kind of stops aren’t truly criminals. They’re broke! Yes, they have likely made numerous poor decisions that have resulted in their warrants/suspensions, but most of these folks aren’t a real danger to your community. Don’t make it a habit to focus your attention on these “small fish.” Your community would probably prefer that you spend your time doing something more productive to enhance your residents’ safety.
My hard charging rookie self would have scoffed at this advice 20+ years ago when I was leading my police department in total numbers of arrests and traffic tickets. You cops reading this may scoff right now as well. Do what you think is best, but I promise that your perspective will change after a couple decades in the game. I want you to make it to your retirement healthy, happy, and outside the confines of a correctional institution. The best way to do that in today’s world is not by stopping every car that moves.
2) You need more and better training. I don’t know a single department in the country that gives its officers all the training they need. Initial recruit training in most states is abysmal. In Ohio, barbers get three times more training than cops do before being licensed. In-service training is even worse. I know some departments that provide NO in-service training other than watching a couple videos each year. If you are scared of legally armed citizens with CCW permits and you freak out because someone has a gun, you simply aren’t confident in your own abilities. That’s a huge problem.
When you aren’t skilled and confident, you get scared and you over react. Freaked out cops don’t make good decisions. When cops don’t make good decisions, they end up on the national news. Your department won’t give you the training you need. You have two options. You can seek out the training on your own or you can hope you never get into a bad spot where your lack of skills gets you killed or put in jail. There has never been a greater variety of top notch weapon and martial arts training available for cops and private citizens. You need to start taking classes. You will be amazed at what you don’t know.
I was already a state-certified police firearms instructor before I took my first professional shooting class. I learned more in that first day of professional gun training than I did in the two-week police “instructor” school. If you haven’t done any training outside the academy or your agency’s in-service classes, quite honestly your skills are likely to be subpar. You don’t know what you are doing. You are prone to being killed or doing something stupid that will get you fired or jailed. Even worse, you may mistakenly kill an innocent citizen who makes a minor error of judgement in your presence.
Even though I’ve been teaching gun skills professionally for almost my entire career, I still take lots of outside training classes to keep my skills sharp. I make it my goal to seek out at least 80 hours a year of professional training over and above the training my agency provides. And I pay for those classes (and travel costs and ammo) out of my own pocket. I shoot my guns in practice at least weekly and pay for 5,000-10,000 rounds of practice ammo out of my own pocket every year. If you aren’t doing something similar, you are not ready to fight real bad guys on the street.
The same is true with police defensive tactics training. If your only training is from the academy, you don’t know how to fight. You owe it to yourself to get at least a year or two of quality training (at least two sessions a week) at an outside martial arts studio that focuses on a realistic fighting art. And it better be a fighting art where you regularly train against other people who are trying to punch, kick, or choke you. Doing fancy katas in your dojo’s mirror isn’t adequate. Look at wrestling, Judo, Jujitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, or Krav Maga. It doesn’t have to be a lifetime passion. You just need to do the work necessary to beat most criminals. You’ll be amazed at how differently you look at situations on the street when you know how to fight. Your confidence will be a game changer and the criminals won’t even try you. If some guy high on marijuana doesn’t follow your commands instantaneously, you’ll have options other than shooting him.
OR, of course, you can ignore my advice, roll the dice and hope nothing bad happens. I wish you luck if you choose that route. It hasn’t worked out so well for some other folks lately. If you’ve read this far, I thank you for your time. If you are a cop, I hope it prompts some positive change.
As always, the views I express here are the rambling thoughts of a single curmudgeonly police trainer. They do not reflect the views of my fellow officers, supervisors, or agency.
This article originally appeared on Active Response Training.
Active Response Training is online at ActiveResponseTraining.net. It is one of the few online publications we check daily, without fail. How Gorillafritz manages to work full time as cop, read books, and teach classes and churn out quality content like this, we’ll never know. But we do despise him for it. Add this site to your required reading list.
GEMTECH is a member of JTF Awesome.
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