From A Former Law Enforcement Officer in Montgomery County, Maryland.
I hope you really did not tweet that there should be “justice” for the family of Berhe? If you did, shame on you.
The call went out as a burglary in progress and the subject was armed with a knife. How the heck is a social worker supposed to handle that? Even if the call was merely a mentally ill person brandishing a knife, no mobile crisis team, psychologist, or psychiatrist would dare go near the scene until it was rendered safe and secure.
Even on those mental health calls where there is a potential for violence and the Mobile Crisis Team is responding, they will have the officers there as back ups. They cannot confront violent and armed people in a non-controlled environment.
Officers must live with their split second decisions. They have to decide in mere fractions of a second how to react to a deadly threat. That difference means the ability to go home in one piece to your family or suffer life changing injuries or death. Likewise, failure of the officer to take action with an armed, emotionally disturbed individual creates a danger to the community members as well.
I personally know this officer, as well as others who have had to use deadly force to protect themselves and the community. Several never recovered from the trauma of taking a human life and had to leave the department. Universally, those officers are forever changed. I have never met a police officer yet that thought, “Tonight I am going to kill someone.” In fact, the opposite is true.
I have seen my share, me included, of those who did some dangerous and stupid things to avoid shooting someone despite the deadly threat. But, when that trigger is pulled and it is a justifiable shooting, the community should be there to support the officer, not to second guess them. That includes the elected officials that have an obligation to know the facts and circumstances and educate themselves on the realities of police use of force.
Having the council members not recognize that the actions of the officer are also predicated on the actions of the assailant and shift blame to the system, the officer, training, or lack of a 24/7, fully staffed crisis team does a disservice to every officer out there. It is unrealistic and just plain foolish to believe that mental health professionals will be the panacea to fix the problem.
The problem with dealing with the mentally ill goes far beyond community crisis team response. Our mental health system has been insurance driven for 40 years. We went from almost 4,000 beds at Springfield State Hospital to less than 300. Hospitalization is a joke. They stabilize them and kick them out because that is all insurance carriers will pay for. I could speak for hours regarding the mental health systems in place or lacking. I will leave that to a later discussion.
The fact is out of the nearly 1 million law enforcement officers serving today and the millions of contacts and arrests made, the numbers of people shot by officers every year has remained constant for decades or decreased despite huge increases in population. The Montgomery County Police Department provides some of the best training in Crisis Intervention. I was one of the first to go through the training. Now, all MCPD officers must complete the 40 hour course in crisis intervention.
In this case, honestly tell me that if a knife wielding individual attacked you and you were a police officer that you would not protect yourself. Tell me you would take one for the team and hope your family could do without you. If you say you would not have fired, I challenge you to do some shoot don’t shoot scenarios. Many people change their opinion after experiencing that training. And, that is still make believe where they know they are not going to get hurt.
- Main photograph credit: Associated Press