'Taking the shot' for public safety

By Rick Armellino
Baker Ballistics, LLC

Pre-emptive use of deadly force – the double standard

Many deaths or serious injuries to average citizens would be prevented if armed and hostile individuals were killed when the first legal opportunity for a clean shot was presented.

Think about it: VIPs are typically protected by armed bodyguards prepared to instantly neutralize an armed threat to their "protectees" by delivering a head-shot at the earliest opportunity to the offender. Police officers are very important people, too, thus the pre-emptive use of deadly force is an accepted method of protecting the physical safety and well-being of all law enforcement personnel. 

But members of the public at large, although entitled, seldom benefit from the same level of personal protection afforded to VIPs and law enforcement personnel. Instead, they're often left to fend for themselves until the potential killer goes "active" and becomes fair game for aggressive law enforcement action.

The widespread institutional resistance prohibiting shooting an armed individual threatening to harm innocent citizens has created a host of less-aggressive and more politically palatable tactics, such as the automatic establishment of containment and negotiation. Even the most unsophisticated of juries understands that pre-emptive shooting of armed and hostile individuals may be necessary to save lives.

Windows of opportunity

Recently in Pennsylvania, an emotionally disturbed gunman invaded a sleeping family’s home through an unlocked door and awoke the father, who had fallen asleep on the family-room sofa. His wife and two children were sleeping in their bedrooms. Waving a revolver, the gunman announced that God had instructed him to kill someone that night. He demanded a call be placed to 911 informing authorities that he was proceeding with God’s wishes.

A more than adequate group of local police officers soon surrounded the home and patiently waited for the potential killer to go active, or the SWAT team to arrive and assume command. Without proof of active killing they were not authorized to “take the shot” to swiftly eliminate the threat.

Peering through the windows, officers witnessed the homeowner frantically negotiating for his life. The wife and daughter were able to exit the home, while the son located in a basement bedroom slept through the entire event.

After one hour of intense personal negotiation, the homeowner convinced the gunman not to shoot. Amazingly, he talked the invader into putting down the weapon, exiting the home and peacefully surrendering – before the arrival of the regional SWAT team. No one got hurt, and all the good guys went home safely.

Retired New York Police Department Emergency Service Officer and Baker Batshield® inventor Lt. Al Baker vividly recalls another event that involved police, a deranged gunman and children. This incident happened on his watch, and the outcome was very different. Here’s the story in Baker’s own words:

Another day, another deranged gunman
By Lt. Al Baker

My ESU team was all too familiar with the drill, another emotionally disturbed person (EDP) acting up. It was September, the ninth month on the calendar, and this was already our unit's 368th barricaded suspect deployment for the year. Someone was shooting a shotgun from an elevated floor within a public housing project in lower Manhattan. Two N.Y. Housing Authority officers had been sprayed and wounded by pellets while clearing the street. Ultimately, we determined the shots were emanating from the 11th floor, apartment number 11B, the residence of the Chu family. Mr. Chu was home caring for his 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son while Mrs. Chu was away visiting relatives in Hong Kong.

After we located the apartment, a tight perimeter was quickly established. Officers proceeded to lower a Kevlar® blanket down from the 12th floor to cover the shooter’s window as we assembled two heavy wheeled ballistic shields and rolled them right up to and firmly against Chu's door frame.

Next, a couple of pole cameras were clandestinely inserted into the apartment to view and record the activities, providing a limited viewing area of the apartment’s interior. A video monitor was placed behind one of the heavy shields and we observed our first view inside.

The camera's images revealed that Chu had barricaded his side of the door with furniture and assorted household items. Two children were viewed nervously, and freely, moving about the small apartment. Chu was not in sight.

Setting up a powerful pneumatic jacking bag, we began to force the door in and off of its hinges. After a few attempts, it finally dislodged and fell inward toward the pole camera’s eye, but was abruptly stopped in a leaning rest atop Chu’s homemade barricade. The angle of its final position did little to improve either observation or access into the apartment, but it sent a message to Chu that we were here and serious about enforcing a few of New York City's public safety laws. The length of the narrow hallway was now crowded with vested ESU cops, bosses and negotiators.

No one outside the door was really surprised when the full charge of shotgun pellets greeted us as the door was finally popped open, yet everyone simultaneously reacted animatedly to the sound of the exploding shotgun, jumping and reeling to the loud report. The pellets harmlessly entered the hallway's ceiling above the displaced door.

At this point during the operation we could have made entry, engaged and neutralized Chu. He had already wounded two officers earlier in the day. It was crystal clear to us that we were dealing with an armed psychopath. But inside were his kids. No one ever wants to risk hurting kids, right?

We were soon to learn that we, the police, were the only adults present who really cared about the safety and well-being of these two kids. Chu didn’t care. If he did care one iota, he wouldn't have instigated a gunfight in the presence of his two children.

We followed our normal routine, letting time work in our favor. The holiday spending season was soon approaching and it looked like this job was going to generate some welcome overtime pay. But today's EDP was not the usual suspect — Chu had other plans. A couple of more shots, not in rapid succession, were fired inside the apartment. These shots were not as loud as the first and happened outside the viewing area of the cameras.

Hearing the blasts, we stayed hunkered down, protecting ourselves and holding our position. We could still hear Chu moving around inside, but soon noticed that all talking from inside had ceased. One of our negotiators, fluent in Mandarin Chinese, desperately tried to establish a dialogue, but Chu was not interested in talking. All of us were concerned about the safety of the children, but following normal procedure, we continued to wait him out. There was no way that we were going to risk hurting those kids.

Two hours passed and there was still no contact. Finally, Chu was spotted on the camera changing his clothes. Next, he would repeatedly approach the barricaded pile of debris under the door, adjust it, and then quickly withdraw out of view. We stoically stood behind the two heavy shields, and a smaller body bunker shield held in position by an officer to fill in the gap between the two big ones, peering through the armored windows in unison, catching only brief glimpses of Chu as he moved into and out of our field of view.

Once again he came into view, but this time he was ready to move the plan along, announcing his intentions by quickly firing a 12-gauge Remington pump-action — squarely impacting the clear viewport of the smaller shield with a full charge of No. 8 buckshot. The officer holding this shield, his face pressed against the viewport, fell backward. Another officer and I were simultaneously struck by pellets that splashed off the hard surface of the clear armor window, the hot lead painfully imbedded into the sides of our faces.

We all recoiled after being shot. Kids or no kids, Chu’s time had run out. This job was coming to a close, on our terms. A hellacious gunfight erupted when the shield was struck and we were hit.

Two brave ESU officers repeatedly fired their shotguns at Chu as they struggled past the heavy shields and pushed through the barricade.  Chu was hit with a 12-gauge slug in the upper chest. He died shortly afterwards on the operating table – but not before breaking a finger of an attending emergency room nurse.

Both officers who courageously entered the apartment to neutralize Chu exited physically unscathed. The two children were not so fortunate – they had been murdered by the two shots heard approximately two hours earlier, efficiently and brutally, with single contact shotgun blasts to each.

Life, death and protecting average citizens

The following two questions assume these conditions exist: armed and hostile individual, innocents in close proximity to the threat; and killing of bystanders has not yet commenced.

  • Is active killing of citizens required before all officers are authorized to use deadly force against the threat?
  • Should reliance upon the human “goodness” of an armed and dangerous individual “not to kill” ever be considered a policy or strategy for protecting the safety of the general public?

If the answer is "yes" to either of these questions, then clearly the level of public safety given to citizens is lower than that at which law enforcement protects its own during a critical time of need.

Kids in school require "special" policy

Any unauthorized individual walking into a school with a gun, sword, bomb or any serious weapon must be considered homicidal or suicidal and capable of conducting an immediate mass murder rampage. To disagree with this observation is foolhardy.

The beginning of an armed school invasion is the worst time for the first police responders to remain stationary.  Aggressive pursuit during the early stage of an invasion offers the best opportunity of saving lives.

Normal human beings have difficultly instantly assimilating the magnitude of a developing evil plan, and this internal denial can give predators the time to move forward. Establishing outside containment and negotiation at the very beginning of an armed school invasion is an institutionalized example of early denial, effectively destroying what should be the most opportune time to interrupt a planned mass murder and suicide.
Recent history has repeatedly proven that armed school invasions happen and the results are always horrific. Containment and negotiation tactics have proven to be ineffective. Still, many police agency leaders, in the absence of active killing, remain reluctant to allow the early pursuit of armed intruders inside schools.

The famous sixteenth century observer of human nature, Edmund Burke, was right on the mark when he declared, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

The answer: “Immediate Action Rapid Deployment” tactics

"Immediate Action Rapid Deployment," or IARD, tactics used by first responding patrol officers to make early and close contact with the threat is the key to saving lives before a homicidal plan is allowed to continue uninterrupted.

Public safety starts at school

The fact that it is politically safer for administrators to adopt policy that allows the killing of citizens to begin prior to authorizing the use of pre-emptive deadly force does not make it right.

The aggressiveness and speed of the plan to end armed school invasions, or lack of, is the yardstick that measures the quality of leadership within each law enforcement agency. Formal policy and commitment that first addresses the safety of children at schools eventually filters down to improve public safety everywhere else in the community.

Protecting the existing culture, bureaucracy and status quo of a police agency should not be a higher priority than the primary mission of a law enforcement agency – providing for the safety and well-being of the general public. Endangered citizens should not be harmed before the unequivocal authority to “take the shot” is granted.

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