Making mistakes is human, learning from those mistakes is what allows officers and departments to grow and hopefully avoid repeating bad behavior. But, if you fail to understand what the mistakes are you never get the chance to learn because you are focusing your attention in the wrong direction.

Officers in St. Louis were recently involved in one of the worse mistakes law enforcement can face – the shooting of the wrong person. To compound issues, the victim was an off-duty officer attempting to assist on duty units.

On June 21st multiple units attempted to stop a vehicle suspected of being stolen. As would be expected a chase ensued, a crash occurred and the suspects fled on foot. At some point during the chase, it was reported the suspects shot at police. Needless to say, tensions were high.
As fate would have it the crash occurred outside the home of another St. Louis officer, who was off-duty and home at the time. Hearing the commotion and seeing his fellow officers in potential trouble he decided to lend a hand.

(Undercover Cop pointing gun at Reuters photographer Noah Berger)

In civilian clothes and armed with his service weapon the off-duty officer, an 11 veteran of the department, approached the scene and was almost immediately ordered to the ground by 2 uniformed officers. The off-duty officer complied and was eventual recognized by one of the other officers. As the off-duty officer was getting up a third uniformed officer, unaware of the earlier interaction and not familiar with the off-duty officer, perceived this movement as a threat and fired his service weapon.

Luckily the off duty was only wounded, suffering a gunshot to the arm, and was quickly released from the hospital. Unfortunately, the finger pointing started almost immediately.
The department’s initial statement claimed the victim was “caught in the crossfire” during an exchange with the suspects. Although I was not there and cannot speak with 100% certainty I find this hard to believe. If there truly was such an exchange why didn’t the 2 other uniformed officers engage?

A statement from the off-duty officer’s attorney also appears to be ignoring the true issues. Rufus J. Tate Jr. described his client’s situation as “the first time we are aware of, that a black professional, in law enforcement, himself being shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street” Really?

Truth of the matter is BOTH officers involved in this tragic event made mistakes.

1. The off-duty responded to an ongoing potentially violent situation without making sure he was positively identified as a good guy.

2. The uniformed officer reacted to what he thought he saw without the benefit of knowing what was actually happening.

Split-second decisions were made in the heat of an ongoing situation. This is an example of when those decisions were not necessarily the best, but that is part of life and police work. However, if we get caught with up in CYA or following false paths what will keep this from happening again?

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Albert Einstein

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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