Mak­ing hard de­ci­sions in a heart­beat

Po­lice of­fi­cers face dif­fi­cult choices when it comes to use of force

The Welland Tribune - - Front Page - GRANT LAFLECHE

Chris Bit­tle used me as a hu­man shield.

The tell-tale stac­cato crack of gun­fire put us both on edge. We drew our sidearms. Emerg­ing from the dark­ness at the end of the long hall­way was an irate man hold­ing a pis­tol. We two, a jour­nal­ist and a politician with no ex­pe­ri­ence as po­lice of­fi­cers, had to de­cide how to deal with him. That was when Bit­tle used me as cover. To be fair, nei­ther of us were in our wheel­house. Af­ter a few hours of train­ing we were asked to make the kind of spilt­sec­ond, pos­si­bly life-and-death de­ci­sions Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice of­fi­cers make every day: That man had a gun. Do we fire? Where do we find cover? How can we ar­rest him safely?

It’s not as easy as tele­vi­sion shows make

it seem, and while we got but a taste of po­lice work, it was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence none­the­less.

Bit­tle, the Lib­eral MP for St. Catharines, joined me and a hand­ful of lo­cal news me­dia for a use-of-force train­ing day hosted by the NRP Wed­nes­day.

Po­lice of­fi­cers are guided by a use-of-force wheel, a chart that lays out a guide­line for what kind of force they can use in a given sit­u­a­tion.

Broadly speak­ing, it means po­lice of­fi­cers re­spond to threats in a re­cip­ro­cal fash­ion. A guy yelling ob­scen­i­ties when stopped for speed­ing might be of­fen­sive, but there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to touch him. On the other hand, an of­fi­cer may have grounds to use phys­i­cal force on some­one re­sist­ing ar­rest. If some­one is armed with a lethal weapon, the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lates quickly.

Po­lice have sev­eral tools to choose from, most of which the NRP train­ing unit gave us a crash course on Wed­nes­day — from strikes with the feet and hands, to pep­per spray, ba­tons, hand­cuffs, con­ducted en­ergy weapons and guns.

That’s where things get tricky. The use-of-force wheel pro­vides guid­ance, but it’s a judg­ment call that is more com­pli­cated than shout­ing “Stop! Po­lice!”

Take, for in­stance, the sce­nario Bit­tle and I were part­nered up for, which is based on a real in­ci­dent at a Ni­a­gara Falls mo­tel.

The of­fi­cer play­ing the mo­tel man­ager tells us a tenant won’t leave. Be­fore we hear the full story, shots ring out and at the end of the hall­way stands the man with a gun.

We draw our guns — the guide­lines are ex­plicit in say­ing a lethal threat can be met with lethal force — and I find cover be­hind a wall.

Bit­tle ini­tially lined up be­hind me (“You make good cover,” he joked af­ter­wards). Re­al­iz­ing he couldn’t ac­tu­ally shoot through me, he ran to the op­po­site wall.

The sus­pect was armed, so, strictly speak­ing, we could have opened fire. But his weapon was pointed to floor. So in our spot judg­ment, we didn’t have to shoot.

On our orders, he dropped his gun, turned around, sank to his knees and put his hands be­hind his neck. Then Bit­tle and I made a rookie mis­take.

We moved down the hall to com­plete the ar­rest but were pulled back to cover by the train­ing of­fi­cers. We had not con­sid­ered who might be lurk­ing in the dark be­hind closed doors or around a cor­ner. In real life, that kind of er­ror in judg­ment could be costly.

Which is what so much of polic­ing comes down to — a split­sec­ond judg­ment call. Even af­ter all the train­ing, and years of ex­pe­ri­ence, the pull of a trig­ger comes down to the per­spec­tive of an individual po­lice of­fi­cer try­ing to bal­ance mul­ti­ple con­cerns in an eye­blink.


St. Catharines Stan­dard jour­nal­ist Grant LaFleche uses a ba­ton with Const. Amanda Sanders dur­ing the Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice use-of-force train­ing ses­sion Wed­nes­day.


Mem­bers of the me­dia took part in the Ni­a­gara Re­gional Po­lice use-of-force train­ing ses­sion Wed­nes­day. Grant LaFleche from The Stan­dard is hand­cuffed by MP Chris Bit­tle.

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