The folly of police "de-escalation"

There are those times, as any cop knows, when you want to make the person you are approaching uneasy. The visitors from the New York Times would have no way of knowing this, but sometimes police officers approach people who, if offered the opportunity, would do them harm, and who quickly assess an officer’s ability to resist and overcome the level of violence the person might bring to bear. The seasoned police officer can detect when he’s being sized up, and he lets it be known that any attempt to attack him will be swiftly and harshly met. Such was the case described by the unfortunate Seattle officer. “Last week, there was a guy in a car who wouldn’t show me his hands,” the officer said. “I pulled my gun out and stuck it right in his nose, and I go, ‘Show me your hands now!’ That’s de-escalation.”

We are left to assume that the officer’s actions had the desired effect, and that both he and the person at whose nose he aimed his weapon both came through the encounter unscathed and wiser for the experience. But today that officer finds himself under investigation, for Seattle Police Department policy has it that pointing his weapon in that fashion should have been reported to a supervisor.

It’s all well and good to preach de-escalation, and every police department has its officers who seem more prone to get into scrapes than their peers. Yes, a cop who acts as though everyone he meets will try to hurt him is a fool, but a cop who forgets that some people will indeed try is a fool who will probably end up dead. These occasions are rare, but there are times when you have to point your gun at someone’s nose or else risk finding one pointed at your own. Requiring an officer to report such actions to a supervisor in effect places a bureaucratic burden on split-second tactical decisions and may inhibit an officer from taking action that will save his life.