After the video of Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann went viral, many argued that the rookie, having been driven so close and left to deal with a gun, Airsoft though it may have been without its orange cap, had no choice but to shoot. That was his story. That was his father’s story. And that was how it looked to some former cops who commented here.
One commenter, JCC, turned out to have exceptional credentials to offer his opinion.
[A]s it happens, I’m retired from a large, urban U. S. police department, where I spent slightly less than 32 years. Part of the time (about 3 years), I commanded the homicide detectives and was in charge of all police-related shooting investigations (when someone was injured). Over the years, I have taught hundreds of detectives, at the local, state and Federal level, in multiple states in how to conduct (among other things) homicide investigations.
Shortly after the release of the video, it was learned that Loehmann was not merely a rookie with the Cleveland police, but a reject of the Independence Police Department.
Officer Timothy Loehmann, who killed Tamir Rice on 22 November, was specifically faulted for breaking down emotionally while handling a live gun. During a training episode at a firing range, Loehmann was reported to be “distracted and weepy” and incommunicative. “His handgun performance was dismal,” deputy chief Jim Polak of the Independence, Ohio, police department wrote in an internal memo.
The memo concludes with a recommendation that Loehmann be “released from the employment of the City of Independence”. Less than a week later, on 3 December 2012, Loehmann resigned.
While many people sent me links to this story, I didn’t write about it. The reason was that I didn’t know what to make of it, whether it was relevant to Loehmann’s killing of a 12-year-old boy. Much as it’s outrageous to raise the prior criminal history of a victim of a police killing, it would be similarly wrong to taint a cop for something that bore no relevance to a subsequent wrong.
But then I heard from JCC, who not only offered the link, but, in response to my query, offered his take on why Loehmann’s background was relevant. I asked him his thoughts on why, and he replied:
I hate to be equivocal, but yes, possibly. A more stable – perhaps confident is better – personality would have/could have waited before shooting. Alternate reasons: thinking you (meaning a cop) are capable (of accurate shooting), you might wait to let events unfold before firing, feeling that you still had time to decide (shoot – don’t shoot) without jeopardizing yourself or your partner; or also possible, not being fearful, you are confident of your physical abilities and shooting (deadly force) is not your response of first choice.
In other words, an officer of different temperament might have jumped out and clacked the young man across the head, for instance, even if the officer thought the gun was real. This officer may have felt there is always time to shoot and kill – if you’re really good with the tools of the trade. Another approach could have been, stay behind cover of the door and wait to see where that gun the kid tried to pull was going. Again, this presupposes an officer comfortable with his/her ability to use deadly force when needed, and in no rush to do so. Frankly, this will, in reality, indicate some level of experience including prior shootings, maybe military combat time.
The very quick shooting struck me as (almost? probably? maybe?) a panicked reaction.
This is all very subjective, and reflects my personal experience. You may find very strong disagreement among other cops.
This is consistent with my view of why Loehmann’s killing of Tamir Rice was unnecessary in the first instance, that the almost mathematical view of what occurred (perp had gun + cop close + perp moved hand toward gun = cause to kill) was flawed. Putting aside doubts as to what, in fact, happened, where many imposed assumptions onto what could be seen in the video, such as what Loehmann said, if anything, to Tamir, or whether his hand moved toward to the gun, or he pulled the gun out, or he pointed the gun toward the officer, all of which is totally speculative, the primary concern is confirmation bias. We see what we want to see.
Of all things, confirmation bias in reporting, and in believing allegations that bolster one’s view, are on the radar of late. While it struck me, as it struck so many others, that Loehmann’s weapon-handling skills were so “dismal” as to compel the Independence PD to unceremoniously drum him out, I was unable to enunciate how his poor skills affected his shooting of Tamir. Was it a product of circumstance or competence? I thought the latter, but couldn’t sufficiently explain why.
But whatever my bias, JCC didn’t share it, and he too thought this relevant and was able to explain why. My buddy, Nathan Burney, wrote a post about the desperate need for better training and experience to prevent the needless killings by cops. It wasn’t clear to me how one gets a better experience than, well, his experience. Experience is what it is, for better or worse.
What is clear, however, is that bad experience, such as that possessed by Loehmann and demonstrated at the Independence PD, should have precluded his being hired as a cop in Cleveland, or handed a gun and shield and told he can go out on the streets and shoot kids if he thinks it’s necessary.
As JCC explains, a competent and experienced Loehmann might not have reacted with panic, may not have resorted to killing a kid rather than taking a less lethal route. Maybe a confident gun handler would realize that he, with gun drawn and ready, didn’t need to shoot until it was clear that he was threatened, as he would believe in his ability to shoot quicker and straighter than a 12-year-old.
Instead, Loehmann killed Tamir Rice. While, as JCC says, the connection is subjective, it’s nonetheless relevant. The gun in the hand of a more experienced, competent and confident cop might well have meant that Tamir Rice would be alive today.