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Contrary to op-ed, the police aren’t mad killers

Monday’s commentary by Jacob Sullum, “High court allows cops to shoot first and think later,” bought in to the fallacy that cops are mad killers. He relates an incident in which a woman was shot because she had a large kitchen knife. Like many officer-involved shootings, there was a question as to whether deadly force was necessary.

Like many Monday morning quarterbacks, Mr. Sullum forgets why police were are at the home of the knife-wielding woman in the first place. They didn’t just show up. They were sent by a police dispatcher who, in turn, had received a 911 call from a citizen who had seen the woman acting irrationally with a knife.

Mr. Sullum’s essay glosses over the fact that cops gave the woman commands, and there is a question as to why she did not follow them. Because police officers are not mind-readers, it comes down to what they see and perceive at the moment of the encounter — plus their experience and training — that dictates what they will do next. To their credit, police shootings are rare.

A chief reason for these tragedies is the failure to follow officer instructions. A second reason is that some people fail to keep their hands in plain sight. Mr. Sullum needs to take part in a police ride-along, during which he can see how people ignore these lifesaving rules on a daily basis.

Police receive a plethora of training on how to interact with citizens. But no one is teaching the citizen how to act. Let’s develop a “How to Survive the Police 101” course. As a retired police officer, I volunteer to give Mr. Sullum his first lesson.

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