Editor’s Note: Staff writer Steve Dunkelberger is attending the seven-week University Place Public Safety and Criminal Justice Community Academy class and will highlight the issues facing law enforcement officers and communities along the way. Tacoma has a similar program every fall as well.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Glen Carpenter stopped counting the number of times someone has threatened his life after his first year on the job. That was 24 years ago.
“The average officer experiences more trauma in a year than most people experience in their lifetime,” he said.
Carpenter has probably seen more than most cops, with 19 years of service on the department’s SWAT team and volunteering for graveyard shifts in the county’s more dangerous neighborhoods. During his career, 47 officers around the state have been killed in the line of duty. He knew 23 of them and considered 19 of those close friends.
“I put two of them in body bags,” he said, noting that he has researched officer shootings around the nation to find patterns of what went wrong and uses that information as an expert witness on matters of use of force.
What he concluded was that most officers were killed because they gave the suspect-turned-shooter too much leeway by giving too close or getting back into their cars or residence only to have then return with a weapon. And the police shootings occur within the first minute of contact between the officers and their killers.
He illustrated his point with a series of graphic dash and body camera footage of actual police shootings. One involved a driver obeying a police officer to get out of his truck only to taunt and attack him before returning to the cab of his truck and load a rifle as the officer repeatedly orders him to stop. The man then shot the officer.
Another video showed an officer responding to a domestic violence when a woman called in after her boyfriend smashed his television during an argument. The officer began talking to the man on the porch to take what would likely otherwise be a routine report. The man said he was cold and wanted to go into the apartment to get his jacket. The officer allowed him to get the jacket and calmly continued his interview. The officer asked to search the man’s pockets only to have the man suddenly pull a gun and shoot the officer. The man reportedly then shot the officer six times in the face, took the officer’s service pistol and returned to the apartment to kill his girlfriend.
The number of police officers being killed in the line of duty, about 171 a year around the nation, has held steady since the peak times of the 1980s, but what that statistic doesn’t show is that the number of assaults of officers has jumped seven fold in the last 30 years.
Only advancements in emergency medical care have kept those assaults from becoming murders, Carpenter said. For contrast, about police use deadly force on 600 suspects around the nation each year, a number that is dropping in recent years as officers second guess themselves in dangerous situations out of fear of what Carpenter called “the Ferguson affect. The reference is to a police shooting in 2014 of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The U.S. Department of Justice later concluded that the officer, Darren Wilson, shot Brown in self-defense but the shooting sparked protests and a national debate about police policies regarding use of force.
In Washington state, it is outlined in a four-part RCW 9A.16.040 that includes “to arrest or apprehend a person who the officer reasonably believes has committed, has attempted to commit, is committing, or is attempting to commit a felony,” the suspect threatens a police officer with a weapon or “there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed any crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.”
“If you do not do what a police officer tells you to do, they can use force to make you do what they want you to do,” Carpenter said. “The offender dictates the fight, we don’t.”
That said, there are times when officers are wrong, and they should face the consequences, Carpenter said.
“I’m glad that my profession is held to that high of a standard,” he concluded.
Oct. 24: Nine Flashpoints in American Policing with Sheriff Paul Pastor
Oct. 31: Legalized marijuana and its impact on public safety
Nov. 7: SS911 Communications Officer / K-9 Demo
Nov. 14: Personal gun ownership in America
Anyone can attend individual courses if they are unable to attend the full academy, which meets from 1-4 p.m. on Mondays at the University Place Police Headquarters, 3609 Marketplace West, Suite 201. Other courses include: Basic Defensive Firearms from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 25; Advanced Defensive Firearms from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Oct. 26; and Emergency Preparedness from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Nov. 1. Contact Jennifer Hales (253) 798-3141 to reserve a spot in the classes or with questions.
Safe Streets will hold a Neighborhood Safety Patrol Training from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 5 at Camp Curran Boy Scout Camp, 13220 50th Ave. E., for community members interested in making a change in their community by joining the Safe Streets Neighborhood Patrol Program. The program is comprised of residents who walk and drive the streets of their neighborhood looking for suspicious activities and situations that can attract crime and gangs. More information is available at safest.org.