Some think it’s a joke, or at least a half-joke, that the First Rule of Policing is make it home for dinner. Police in Dallas aren’t finding it funny at all. It’s the First Rule, the prime motivation. And because of the shooting of 19-year-old Kelvion Walker by Senior Cpl. Amy Wilburn, the Rule is at risk.
The Dec. 9 shooting at issue came about after two officers pursued carjacking suspects in another vehicle; the officer says she shot the victim after he failed to comply with orders to show her his hands, leading to concern he was going for a weapon.
An internal affairs investigation found Wilburn, 48, violated the department’s deadly use of force policy for shooting 19-year-old Kelvion Walker “without fear or justification.” Chief David Brown fired Wilburn on Dec. 30, following the internal investigation, and said he intends to revamp the use-of-force policy and change training.
The reaction of Dallas cops?
“The officer did her job, she doesn’t want to use deadly force but she has to, because she was surprised by suspect in the passenger side of the car,” [Dallas Police Association president Ron] Pinkston said of Senior Cpl. Amy Wilburn.
According to Wilburn, she couldn’t see Walker’s hands, so she shot him.
All of which concerned Pinkston and other officers, who say cops should be allowed to use force when their lives are threatened. And if they’re hampered by policy overhauls, Pinkston told KXAS that “I think you’re going to see officers get hurt, crime go up, and you’re going to see citizens get hurt.”
This is one of those highly nuanced details of police work that often separates the public’s understanding of the job from cops’, and is the clearest manifestation of the First Rule of Policing. It’s not that Walker did anything to threaten harm to Wilburn. He was unarmed, he took no “aggressive” action that would affirmatively give rise to concern for her safety. Rather, she didn’t see his hands, and therefore wasn’t certain that he wasn’t a threat. Therefore, he was a threat.
Walker, on the other hand, says that he had his hands up, which is confirmed by a witness, and that Cpl. Wilburn shot by accident.
“I remember her walking past the car and I had my hands up and then she looked at me and I looked at her and she just shot,” Walker said in the lawsuit. “I just remember yelling, ‘What you shoot me for?’”
“And then after that she was like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I apologize. I didn’t try to,’” Walker said.
This is irrelevant to the cops’ concern, both because Walker’s statements are not credible by definition as he’s not a cop, and what actually happened as opposed to the broader perception of Wilburn’s firing isn’t important. To the cops, the message is that they are to risk potential death at the hands of a threat rather than shoot first as required by the First Rule.
The key word in the sentence above is “potential,” which the cops see as the flaw in the plan. The use of deadly force in response to a threat of deadly force is, without issue, appropriate. But the problem is that if cops are required to wait until they know a threat exists, they see the glint of steel as a weapon is pointed at them, it’s too late. Boom. Dead cop. There is no way they are going to violate the First Rule by letting the bad guy get the draw on them, to take the first shot.
There is a wide berth between certainty of safety and certainty of threat, however. The hidden hands, the sudden movement, the distracting argument while refusing an order to stand up, sit down, or place one’s throat beneath a boot. Any of these things, plus a million others, could indicate that a moment later, a bullet could be traveling straight toward a cop at great velocity.
The problem is that these same things, plus a million others, could mean nothing of the sort. Ranging from deafness, to confusion, to frozen in fear, to the mistaken grasp of the nature of the police encounter that good people don’t get shot for no good reason, will cause a person to behave in a way that a cop perceives as having the potential to be threatening. And in a moment or two, the cop will find out that the person is just an ordinary, harmless citizen, acting the way millions of other ordinary, harmless citizens do.
But they want the authority to shoot them anyway. Just in case. And not lose their job if it happens that they just shot an unarmed, harmless fellow, because their choice is to risk the possibility of harm or shoot first and blind, unknowing whether there is a threat but unwilling to take the chance.
In response to Wilburn’s firing, Dallas cops let it be known that they fear the streets if they can’t shoot first.
Ron Pinkston, Dallas Police Association president, gave city leaders hundreds of letters penned by officers Tuesday, reported KXAS-TV in Dallas, adding that many indicate cops are worried about losing their jobs if they’re put in a similar position.
One officer, a father, wrote that he typically thinks about his children when responding to calls, but now he’s just scared about the repercussions that using deadly force might bring him.
It appears to elude police officers that the harmless people they shoot, just in case, have children too. But what non-police officers do not have is the First Rule of Policing, and that trumps all other rules when it comes to the job of a cop. Something has to give in ambiguous situations, and it’s not going to be the life or job of a cop.
H/T Tim Cushing