Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Issue of Intervention

There is much talk both on the internet and in real life about the duty or obligation that comes with carrying a concealed firearm Many times we hear people say things like "If I'm ever where an armed robbery is going down I'll get my gun out and shoot the bad guy dead" or something similar. Is this a good idea? Should our default position be "I'll be a good witness" or should it be "I will stop evil acts at any cost" or something in between? Why do we carry a gun? For some it is protection for themselves and their loved ones. For others it extends to property, other people, and so on. Writer, researcher, and retired police officer Evan Marshall graciously allowed me to re-print one of his commentaries on intervention. Some important things to think about here, presented by a man who truly has been there and done that.

There has been a lot of space devoted in the Stopping Power Message Board and other message boards to the presentation of hypothetical situations and a request for solutions. The problem with such imaginary situations is that there is none of the untidiness and ambiguity that exists in the real world.
Please understand that I’m not ridiculing those who present such situations or those who attempt to solve them. I consider those who post on this board as friends I haven’t met yet. As your friend I feel a moral responsibility to share my observations based on my actual experiences in real incidents. I don’t want to see good guys and gals get their selves in a jam by jumping into situations that are unclear and fraught with danger.
Let me be perfectly frank. Those who think that intervention will bring fame, honors, glory, etc., are delusional. I once prevented the rape of a woman by butt stroking her attacker with a shotgun while he was in the act of penetrating her. Weeks later she made an excessive force complaint against me. She thought I should have been more restrained in my behavior! On another occasion, my partner and I chased a holdup man into a store where he took a woman hostage. He then threatened to kill her (he had just shot two people in a bank and we believed him!). My partner shot the bad guys three times. One of those bullets slightly grazed the woman’s finger and she sued us for endangering her!
If the rescued individual doesn’t make life miserable for you in the courts, they just might kill you. I’m aware of four instances where officers responded to a domestic violence situation and when the wife realized the breadwinner was going to jail she assaulted and killed her would-be rescuers.
My Tac Unit partner and I backed up a precinct unit on a domestic assault arrest. As the husband was being handcuffed the wife disappeared down the hallway. I motioned to my partner and we followed her down the hall with guns drawn. We found her in the bedroom loading a Winchester .30-.30 lever action rifle. We quickly disarmed and cuffed her. As we brought her into the living room a precinct sergeant ordered us to let her go. When we refused to do so, he attempted to remove her from our custody. When told him that if he didn’t back off we would arrest him, he left to complain to our supervisors.
If ingratitude isn’t enough we need to understand that things are almost never what they seem. What appears to be a car jacking may be the attempt by a father to recover a child from a noncustodial mother. Our intervention may not only be ill advised but we may be acting in violation of a court order. The fact that we are unaware of a court order will not save the day.
Even if the situation is exactly as it appears and you’re even in accordance with the law, you need to understand one simple fact-the law is what the local prosecutor says it is. Do you really want to spend 7 years in jail waiting for an appeal to be heard and your conviction overturned?
I once got sued for in excess of $100,000 for handcuffing a suspect. The city settled out of court even though my actions were totally legal. Anybody who read about this settlement in the paper would assume I was guilty of inappropriate behavior or some illegality. The city paid the settlement and provided legal counsel. Had I been acting as a private citizen I would have subjected my family to decades of poverty in order to pay the judgment and attorney fees.
Situations that involve significant injury or death are frightenly expensive. My partners and I were sued for $17.5 million dollars in the fatal shooting of a holdup man. The legal fees alone would have run into seven figures. We were accused of being blood thirsty, trigger-happy racist cops. The media conveniently forgot we had intervened in the severe beating and robbery of an elderly woman.
All that being said and experienced, I continued to intervene. However, people should be reminded I was a cop-it was my job. I spent 20 years going in harms way for total strangers. Would I do that today? Probably not. I no longer have the deep pockets of the City of Detroit behind me. Sound callous? Well, would you be willing to jeopardize everything you own and your family’s security for a total stranger? Would you be willing to lose your home, your cars, and your retirement to play Knight of the Round Table?
Apparently some people are certainly willing to fantasize about intervening in a hypothetical situation. Some may consider this harmless musing, but I find it troubling. Tactical planning involves assessing all the potential problems carefully and realistically looking at the cost of such intervention. Role-playing or gaming looks at it through rose colored glasses and ignores the cold hard reality of a person’s involvement in a deadly force event.
I carry a gun to protect myself and the people I love from the Monsters that roam the earth. When I’m away from those that mean everything to me, I carry so I can return to them. Are there circumstances where I would intervene to help a stranger? Yes, but such intervention would be on my terms at my pace. I am not going to jump into a situation with gun drawn.
Rather I would seek cover and carefully evaluate the totality of the circumstance. When I was convinced I knew what is really going on I would respond with the minimum amount of force necessary whether that required drawing my cell phone or my pistol. If all we have is a pistol we have severely limited options. I carry three pistols, oc, cell phone, and a flashlight, and I am a PPCT Defensive Tactics Instructor. I am willing and trained to respond with the appropriate level of force even if that is “only” a command voice. I understand the force continuum and know what the appropriate level force is in a given situation. Ignorance of such critical parameters can have horrific consequences.
Those who think the mere display of a weapon will stop hostilities are na├»ve in the extreme. The same people we will be confronting know what an appropriate level of force is and when we make outlandish or unjustified threats we’ll show our true colors. These people can tell when we’re serious and we will quickly find ourselves disarmed and in real trouble.
Again, we need to avoid rushing in where Angels fear to tread. Remember the most endangered species is good guys and gals. Go with God.
Copyright © 2002 No re-distribution without permission.


  1. 1) Great post/ great advice

    2) I cannot comprehend why anyone would choose police work.

  2. "Would I do that today? Probably not. I no longer have the deep pockets of the City of Detroit behind me. "

    I once stopped an argument with an anti-gun person dead it it's tracks on this subject. They said words to the effect "All you CCW holders are just hoping for a bad guy to invade a restaurant so you can come to the rescue and save everyone" I told her. "My job is to to save my family and friends. I'm not intervening unless I'm actively being shot at.. If a bad guy is busy shooting you or your family and I can use that distraction to get my family out the back.. Well too bad for you. You should have been better prepared. I promise to call 911 when I get to a place of safety. That's what you would want right?"

    You should have see the look...

    Now, would I really step in? If they were shooting women and kids.. yeah.. but .. Are my wife and daughters there? Then what? It's easy to cook up situations where I would or would not. I suppose it really depends on all those variables that I can't begin to imagine.

    That's why i totally agree about training. I've been a pistol instructor for 20+ years. I still seek training from other instructors at least once or twice a year, as my budget permits. I'll always be a student training for the worst 5 seconds of my life, hoping that I never get to use it for real.

    All I know for sure is how little I'm sure I know.

  3. dangers of intervention:

    Even the trained professional get it wrong some times.

  4. As a quick re-cap in case the article above ages out, it starts: "Investigators believe the federal agent who heroically foiled a Long Island pharmacy robbery was killed by friendly fire from a retired Nassau County police lieutenant, sources said Monday." Basically an off-duty ATF agent intervened in an armed robbery and shot the bad guy, and then he (the agent) was accidentally shot by a retired NCPD officer.

    The thing to remember in interventions is that there is just as much a chance of everything going wrong as there is everything going right, and this story is a great example of that.