First response shouldn’t be to blame the officer

August 6, 2012 

Like many of you, I’ve seen an increase in local instances where a police officer has been forced to shoot someone.

The most recent officer-involved shooting to the south of us involved the killing of a driver who held a fake gun. But I’m concerned in a different way than some.

What I have noticed is the way that the media — at least, television news — automatically makes it appear the police officer was in the wrong.

A bystander who witnessed the most recent shooting said on the air that she thought the officer had alternatives available other than a show of force.

Don’t get me wrong; it is a good thing that every shooting by an officer is investigated.

But these shootings occur in the blink of an eye. We arm our police officers on purpose so they can protect us from bad folks, and then pounce on them when they do.

I often drive around in a vintage 1946 Jeep, which has a replica of a Garand M1 rifle mounted on the dash. It resembles the real thing except for a very tiny spot of orange painted on the end of the barrel.

So before I bought the gun, which is cast in resin and painted to look like the real thing, I asked a former Atascadero police chief whether I could display it openly. He said “No problem,” but cautioned me not to reach for the gun during a routine traffic stop to show the officer it was fake.

“Let the officer pull it out if he is concerned,” the ex-chief advised.

He explained that officers get very nervous when guns are waved in their faces and that many times, especially at night, they have to make snap decisions regarding their own safety and the safety of others.

There are a lot of bad people in the world, and I’m never upset when I learn that an officer has shot one.

But in some of those instances, the alleged perpetrator’s actions no doubt led to the eventual confrontation with a police officer. Failure to comply or show your hands can be a costly mistake, as we know.

We should continue to look into every officer-involved shooting. It is a natural check-and-balance thing.

What I don’t think we need is the press seeking out a bystander on the sidewalk who will say something like, “Well, I don’t think he had to SHOOT him,” when he was not in that officer’s shoes.

That certainly is not good journalism.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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