Magazine article USA TODAY

Cops Should Not Play Jeopardy: When Police Officers "Force" a Situation, Negative Results Usually Follow

Magazine article USA TODAY

Cops Should Not Play Jeopardy: When Police Officers "Force" a Situation, Negative Results Usually Follow

Article excerpt

OFFICER-INDUCED jeopardy occurs when a police officer has the option to take an alternative approach to achieve a desired outcome, but instead forces a situation, which ultimately produces an unnecessarily negative result. However, with proper training and a solid understanding of the importance of self-control, officers can avoid such situations.

The following example reveals how a dual understanding of the law and my own nature allowed me to avoid escalating a situation and causing additional problems for everyone, myself included.

In this particular case, a woman called to ask us to check on her mother's well-being. The mother supposedly was meeting the caller's brother at the mother's residence, and the worried caller said her brother was a drug user. She gave me his date of birth, and I soon discovered that his driver's license was revoked, but that he did not have any active warrants.

When I arrived, the front door of the residence was open, but the glass storm door was shut. While walking up the driveway, I felt the exhaust pipe of the vehicle in the driveway. It was still hot, indicating it had been driven recently, so I recorded the vehicle and plate information.

Through the door, I spoke with a very edgy and aggressive male who did not identify himself, but who answered to the first name of the brother. It was hard to hear him through the door, so I told him I was going to open it, but I am not sure he heard or understood me.

When I opened the door and held it open against my back, the male raised his voice and became increasingly aggressive. This was cause for concern because I could see various tools on the floor about five feet away, including a hatchet.

I calmly explained that I had been asked to check on the well-being of the residents. The male stated that he was fine, but his eyes were bloodshot and he never stopped pacing or waving his arms.

I asked who else lived at the address, and the man did not respond. I asked again, and he mentioned a name I did not understand or recognize. Since his behavior was odd and aggressive and his actions suggested he was under the influence of drugs, I requested a second unit as backup and for medical to stand by.

I asked the man where his mother was, and he stated that he did not know. He said he did not touch her or talk to her. I asked if she was still located at the residence, and he said no. I asked if he knew where she was, and he yelled, "No! I told you I didn't talk to her!"

When backup arrived and another officer began speaking with the male, I retreated to my vehicle and called dispatch to request the cell phone number of the mother. After reaching her, I confirmed that she was not at the residence in question and that she was fine.

While in my cruiser, I heard an officer yell, "Don't pick up the hatchet!" It was clear the subject was increasingly agitated by our presence, so I took the opportunity to diffuse the situation and approach it from a different angle.

I returned to the house and asked the male if he would talk to medical. He said no. I told him I had reached his mother and that she was fine, and he thanked me. Since the wellbeing of the mother no longer was a concern, I cancelled medical and left the scene. We had been contacted to check on the mother's wellbeing, and we had done that successfully.

I could have articulated a medical hold for the individual, but I had limited legal grounds, given that he was on private property. Since officers who escalate a situation unnecessarily can be held liable for any negative outcomes, my best bet was to implement a better plan that initiated contact with the man elsewhere.

It was apparent he had arrived at and intended to leave the premises in a motor vehicle. Since I suspected he was under the influence of drugs and I knew his driver's license was revoked, seeing him behind the wheel would give me legal reason to stop and arrest him. …

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