Firearms and Police Officer Safety
Police officer safety procedures concerning firearms should emphasize two issues. First, officers need to be aware that many people carry weapons, both legally and illegally. For that reason, firearms are a potential danger in almost any situation. Second, officers need to consider the potential hazards of both overconfidence (not noticing that a suspect is armed) and overreacting (using deadly force when no real threat is present).
Police officer safety guidelines require constant awareness of the possibility that a suspect is armed.
- Second Amendment guns are legal
According to the Pew Research Center, more than a third of Americans say that they—or someone in their household—own a gun. Research shows that gun ownership has been declining over the past four decades, but police officers should know that there are still many weapons in the US—anywhere from 270 million to 310 million.
Gun ownership not just for hunting
widespread fear about violence
self defense despite declining crime rates
many people believe that the US will someday face armed insurgents who will try to destroy our way of life informal militia ready to fight at a moment’s notice
persistent rumors about government seizure of guns have led to hoarding of weapons and ammunition
- Widespread gun ownership, both legal and illegal people not trained to the same level as police officers tempers flare, people react in the heat of the moment
Particular risk for officers: Someone with an outstanding warrant who’s involved in a minor incident – a traffic stop, for example – might shoot to avoid being taken into custody. Psychiatric patient. Alcohol or drugs.
- Officers need to follow some practical safety guidelines.
Assume everyone is armed.
Ask if there’s a weapon and, if so, where it is. Take steps to secure it immediately. This is particularly important if you’re dealing with a domestic disturbance.
Begin every encounter with a request to keep hands visible and avoid sudden moves. Make sure you’re understood, and include the phrase “for your own safety.”
Be aware that guns scan be concealed almost anywhere. Criminals have been known to build storage spaces into cars and rig ingenious devices for carrying hidden weapons. That means you should be particularly suspicious if a suspect is casually adjusting his or her clothing.
Make sure suspects don’t have access to any weapons you’re carrying. Position yourself so that no one can reach over and grab your service weapon.
Consider possible danger to bystanders who could become victims if a tense situation gets out of control.
- Monitor your own reactions.
Juries tend to side with officers who are charged with misuse of force. But no one wants to face the disruptions and turmoil that come with a trial.
adrenaline, reaction time
don’t put yourself into a risky situation.
use of force guidelines
develop the habit of thinking tactically. Evaluate the possible risks, and make sensible choices. For example: If you have good reason to believe that a suspect is armed, don’t put yourself into the line of fire. Use a bullhorn or the public address system in your car to talk to the suspect.
don’t jump to conclusions
risk of overconfidence and overreacting
remember that citizens are experiencing the same adrenaline and reaction-time problems that officers face. Before you resort to force, ensure that the suspect heard and understood your commands.
No safety procedure carries a guarantee that it will work 100% of the time. But awareness and preparedness can go a long way toward protecting you and the citizens you are sworn to serve.