Postscript to Man with a Gun: A Night in the Life of an Olympia Police Officer
By Janine Unsoeld
In light of the May 21 Olympia police officer involved shooting of two men, the community is asking questions about general police training, tactics, use of force, and the discharge of a firearm.
On Saturday, September 12, Little Hollywood spent four hours shadowing two officers with the Olympia Police Department and reported on the experience in a story posted September 17 at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com.
That night, at about 10:30 p.m., Officer Jeff Davis responded to a call involving a man with a gun at the Emperor’s Palace restaurant located on Cooper Point Road.
At the scene, Officer Davis drew his duty weapon on the suspect and then holstered it within seconds. He did not fire his weapon.
Little Hollywood later asked Officer Davis why he pulled his gun from his holster and what the protocol was for such an action.
Davis replied, “When we responded to the man with a gun, we were the third responding unit on scene. As we drove around the northwest corner of the building, I observed two officers with the suspect and immediately exited my vehicle. Yes, the suspect was down on his knees with his hands up, but the suspect was not in hand-restraints and/or yet in custody and still represented an immediate deadly threat to officers and the general public.
“When I exited my vehicle, I immediately armed myself with my duty weapon and moved toward the two officers and the suspect in order to provide cover to them and assist with restraints.
“Once there, I observed another officer place the suspect into hand-restraints and remove a large black semi-automatic handgun which was lying just inches from the suspect’s feet. An officer requested I double-lock the restraints so they would not cinch down and hurt and/or damage the suspect’s wrists. My duty weapon was holstered and secured as I moved in to double-lock the restraints.
“We are trained that action beats reaction every time. It is my training and experience that even though a suspect is kneeling and facing away from me, he still represents a deadly threat until completely secured. He could still reach for and/or grab for the weapon that was lying mere inches from his feet.
“We, as officers, are trained to use ‘Contact’ and ‘Cover’ principles when responding to calls for service as well as contacting suspects. The two officers were ‘Contact’ while I was ‘Cover.’ The main protocol for this type of call is a combination of officer safety and scene security. Our main goal is to do things as safely and efficiently as possible. We, as officers, cannot investigate until we have established a safe and secure scene.”
In his official incident case report, Davis writes, “….Once secure, I immediately removed a large fixed blade knife and leather sheath from his left pants pocket. Officer Bronson arrived and together we assisted the suspect up to his feet in order to complete the pat down for weapons.”
Asked how often he has felt compelled to take similar actions to draw his weapon, Officer Davis said, “So far, while being on dayshift, I have yet to remove my duty weapon from its holster. However, when I was working graveyard, it was fairly common for me to remove my duty weapon multiple times per shift. We are trained to keep our weapons in the low ready position and off target until a deadly threat presents itself.”
It is a long process to become a police officer. There are 272 recognized law enforcement agencies in Washington. To attend the Basic Law Enforcement Academy in Burien, you must be hired first by one of those agencies.
City of Olympia police Lt. Aaron Jelcick says less than five percent who apply make it to the streets. He explained the screening process in rough terms.
“Out of about 100 men or women who apply, the initial written and physical test will immediately filter out about 30 percent of applicants. Next, the psychological screening will reduce that number about 50 percent. About seven or eight will move forward to the oral review board process and background screening, but half of those individuals will wash out.
“About four are left out of the initial 100 to get an interview with the police chief who will have a conversation with the officer about post-traumatic stress disorders, bias, and other issues. At this point, they need to sign a waiver allowing the department to access their military files, if any. After the interview and reviewing those files, half will not pass. Two individuals are left to take a polygraph test.
“At this point, the one or two who are left are hired, go to the police academy to get trained for five months, go through rigorous mock scenarios involving legal issues, contact, level of force, search and seizure, and more. After this, an officer is on probation for one and a half years from the date of hire.”
A workbook called Blue Courage and a little book called The Nobility of Policing: Guardians of Democracy sat on Jelcick’s desk during our interview.
The latter book features inspirational quotes by famous leaders and poignant stories of officers who have found themselves in challenging situations. The police academy uses these books to help officers review why they became officers in the first place.
Plato described the policing profession thousands of years ago as the ‘guardian of democracy.’ He said, “It does not matter if the cobblers and the masons fail to do their jobs well, but if the Guardians fail, the democracy will crumble.”
When asked if there are quotas for citations or arrests, Jelcick said that that is a common myth.
Jelcick said he used to be a walking patrol officer in Olympia in the late 1990’s, and he would write about 10 criminal citations in one night for nuisance behaviors such as public urination and disorderly conduct because that was the strategy to get people off the streets.
“We went through, writing tickets, without thinking of the unintended consequences….We can’t arrest our way out of problems. The result was that most tickets turned into warrants for arrests and our jail was full….Now, we ask our officers to ask themselves, ‘How can I solve this problem?’ Writing tickets is our last resort….”
Little Hollywood observed officers on the evening of September 12 being quite tolerant of known violations such as Olympia’s pedestrian interference ordinance that restricts sitting and lying on public sidewalks.
Jelcick described how last week officers directed social services staff to the artesian well area to meet a man who needed treatment, knowing full well that the man was not going get it on his own.
“We’re thinking outside the box…and taking a qualitative approach rather than a quantitative approach,” said Jelcick.
Jelcick said that at any one time, there are about 15 – 20 persons in the city jail for felonies, driving while intoxicated, domestic violence, or awaiting arraignment on charges.
For more information about Olympia police tactics and protocols, see http://www.codepublishing.com/wa/olympia/?opd/OlympiaOPDNT.html