Feature2024-05-27 at 7.19.47 PM

(Screen capture from Police Activity)

Recently, body-worn camera (BWC) footage from a police department on the West Coast was sent to me. While the sender wanted to discuss something else, the commands given were of interest to me. Or, I should say, how they were given. (Note: this is not a criticism of the officers, I’m using what I heard for a discussion point.)


The video showed officers arriving at the scene of a “man with a gun” call in a park. The man had a handgun, but he was not brandishing or assaulting others with it. There were two officers in the patrol SUV, and they pulled up to the concrete picnic table the man was standing by. 

Yes, “we” want to see two empty hands. But what is in that one?

As the officers got out of their SUV, the man began backing away from them. His right hand stayed inside the right front pocket of the waist-length jacket he was wearing. 

What I Heard

“Show Me Your Hands” might get you what you asked for.



From that instant on, I heard several commands given by the two officers. Those commands included:

“Take your hand(s) out of your pockets (8+);”

Combined with “Or we will use force,” or “You’ll get shot!;”

“Get down (on the ground) right now;

“Sir, get down on the ground;

“Sir, I don’t want to hurt you;

“Don’t do it;

“Hey, drop the gun;

“Let go of it now:

“Pull out a gun, we will shoot you;

“Drop the gun now, sir;

There could have been more, but these were the ones I caught. Let’s talk about some of what was heard in the video. 

Caveat: The better you can use cover during this process, the better off everyone will be. 

How Many?

Who should give those commands? If just one officer is present, they will obviously give the commands. If there are multiple officers on-scene, it should be the primary officer unless they tried and were not successful or there is an adverse history between the primary officer and the subject. 

Both officers had been giving commands. Now, the suspect is just starting to bring his hand into view.

A suggestion would be to clearly hand off responsibility for giving those commands. For example, “Pat, my commands aren’t working, take over!” Or “Erick, he’s not listening to you; I have this.”

Regardless of how you get there, only one officer should be giving commands to the subject at a time. 



Show Me – No!

Who is driving the initiative now?

As one CalibrePress writer notes, and pretty much every competent field training officer has said, “we” want to see the hands. Because we know the hands (or what they hold) will be what hurts us. Our problem is getting things to the point where we can see the hands without another set of problems (DeVoll, 2024).

If we tell someone to show us their hands, we are expecting them to move and let us see their hands. That gives them the advantage because they are moving in a way we expect while starting to cause us harm. All of that is putting the officers behind the curve.

Is This Better?

Instead, consider “POLICE! Stop! Do not move! Keep (Leave) your hands in your pockets!” Once you have frozen them, you can move and then have them face away before giving them the next set of directions. 

A 2011 FSRC study showed that offenders “on average were able to fire in just 0.38 second after the initial movement of their gun.” The officers averaged 1/100 of a second slower in their response. 

The FSRC team wrote, “As our findings show, most officers can’t fire faster than a suspect with a weapon in hand, even if it is not aimed at the officer.” 

In the video I was sent, the suspect was facing the officers the whole time he was being told to show them his hands. He was still facing them when he drew the gun and was shot about a second later. 

Alpha vs Beta

If he is stopped in this position, I can move to another one. Still, I do not want his hand coming out, though.

In 2006, the Force Science Research Center (FSRC) conducted research into the nature of the commands officers were giving. They broke them into two types, which they describe as: 

–       Alpha, clear and direct;

–       Beta, imprecise, requiring interpretation;

FSRC looked at the type of commands given during lethal force encounters. They observed that as the encounter progressed to deadly force, the more likely it was that officers would give ambiguous (beta) commands to the suspect. 

Listening to this video, how many beta commands were given? 

I heard at least two – “Sir, I don’t want to hurt you” and “Don’t do it.” 

The FSRC noted that when the event was non-violent, Alpha commands were given 84% of the time. But it reversed when it was a violent scene – 16% Alpha and 84% Beta. 

Clear, unambiguous commands were documented as being more successful than the SQUISHY ones. 


Courts

If you are dealing with him from behind cover, he is at a greater disadvantage.

In the past, I would not have thought that patrol officers needed to identify themselves if they were wearing uniforms and driving a marked vehicle. Even if you are so attired, strongly consider starting the first command string with “POLICE.” 

Additionally, some courts believe the suspect needs to be told what will happen to them if they do not comply. Here, the officers told the subject to take his hands out of his pockets, “or we will use force,” and “or you’ll get shot.” 

I think “POLICE! Drop the gun! Or you will be shot!” may be a lot initially. Until scenario training engrains it, we might be better served by saying, “POLICE! Don’t move!” And then follow that with, “Drop the gun, or you will be shot!”

You Are Under Arrest

Some statutes that address resisting or assaulting officers discuss the suspect’s knowing they are being arrested. That can easily be addressed by telling them they are under arrest. 

If he is stopped in this position, I can move to another one. Still do not want his hand coming out though.

I am aware of the school of thought that says to have your hands on them before telling them that. 


De-Escalation

You can still de-escalate while giving commands this way. “We” have done it for years. 

From behind him, I still want to have cover, but this will give an officer a bit more time to deal with an assault.

Final Thought

Have one officer give good, clear commands!

Resources

Cops Give Weaker Commands

Take Your Hands Out

Rethinking Show Me

What’s Reasonable

GUNS

HOLSTERS

SOFT SKILLS

OFFICER SURVIVAL

WEAPONS TRAINING

EXPERTS

TAC-MED

KNIVES

STREET TACTICS

LESS LETHAL

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