One of the main suggestions I have made about the Crutcher case and Officer Betty Shelby is that she should have called for backup and then waited. A lot of people seem to have either missed that statement, ignored it, or misunderstood what I meant and on what I was basing that suggestion. So here’s a post to clarify.
I’m not a police officer, nor am I any sort of expert on all the ins and outs of their training in general, or the training of the Tulsa police in particular. Those things are relevant, of course. But I am not making this idea up. It came to me, originally, from two sources. The first is this quote:
Police do, however, have some guidelines for when to shoot a suspect. For instance, research has shown that a suspect who comes within 21 feet of an officer can inflict harm before the cop has time to react (though some contest the validity of the “21-foot rule” in certain circumstances). So officers try to distance themselves from the suspect.
The second was an interview I saw on a cable news show with an NYPD officer (unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name and don’t know how to locate the show) who said this is what Shelby should have done, according to protocol: called for backup and waited in her vehicle.
Crutcher was not a crime suspect, much less a suspect in a violent crime. As I’ve said many many times here, there was no particular problem if he happened to get away and no special urgency. However, there was no reason to imagine he would get away, for several reasons. One is that the road had been cut off from traffic. Another is that a police helicopter was hovering above. It was taking the video that we have seen, and it could have tracked his efforts to get away. In addition, Shelby had his license plate number. Considering that this was no “fleeing felon,” there was no particular reason that he needed to be apprehended at that moment.
As I said, I don’t know the Tulsa police protocol. But you can find scads of articles (not about the Crutcher case, just general articles about police work) saying that when the person a police officer is trying to talk to is not a felon or a violent person in the act of attacking people or waving a gun around—that is, in an ambiguous situation that might become dangerous (such as Shelby’s suspicion that Crutcher might become dangerous)—and the officer is alone (as Shelby was), the officer should call for backup and wait.
See, for example, this.
See also this:
Ask any officer what the most important aspect of policing is, and the most likely answer is going to be officer safety. But studies conducted by the United States Department of Justice seem, to some extent, inconsistent with this premise. These studies were Killed in the Line of Duty: A Study of Selected Felonious Killings of Law Enforcement Officers (1992), In the Line of Fire (1997), and Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers (2006). This last study comprises a summary of behavioral descriptors of victim officers compiled from all three studies. While there were a number of descriptors that were common to all, the most alarming was the finding that many officers did not follow all rules and procedures related to handling arrests, traffic stops, and waiting for backup (when available).1 The purpose of such rules and procedures is to keep officers safe or at least as safe as possible. If rules and procedures are meant to keep officers safe and officer safety is paramount to most officers, how can they be reconciled? The simple answer is that many officers do not realize their officer safety skills have eroded. They never had a problem doing it that way before, so, therefore, they should not have a problem in the future.
Also see this:
Calling for back up and waiting for backup are two different things.
Having another officer on the way can become more of a psychological security blanket than a tactical move. If a call or contact can be delayed or stabilized until additional help arrives, a wise course of action is for the officers to stage first and determine an approach as a team. If an officer plows into the call before help arrives, the officer responding to assist will enter a hot zone without important available information.
This article is about encounters with confrontational “extremists,” but the principle is the same:
Call for backup. If an officer realizes that he or she is in a potentially dangerous situation involving an extremist, one of the first things to do is to call for backup. There is no point in proceeding with an encounter when the officer may clearly be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the extremist. Moreover, once an officer has made the decision to call for backup, that officer should wait until that backup arrives before proceeding. Several violent encounters have occurred where officers called for backup during a traffic stop involving an extremist, but did not wait for the backup to arrive before confronting the extremist.
Also see this from Police Officer’s Handbook: An Introductory Guide. It’s about searching a motor vehicle with the suspect present, but it states the principle of waiting for backup. So does this when dealing with ambiguous and potentially dangerous situations (“suspicious or unknown-type complaint”).
That’s the gist of it.
Again, I’m basing this not on my own speculations but on what I’ve read and heard about police training and policy in general, policies put in place to protect both police officers and the public. I am not a police officer and have no inside info on this, but if any of my readers are police officers please feel free to explain either where I’ve gone right or where I’ve gone wrong.