Officer Conduct—Outguessing the Criminal

The following information on officer conduct comes from Section 45 of Shooting by J. Henry FitzGerald. Shooting is also available to purchase in print.

Never take a chance. An officer should remember this and keep it constantly in his mind. Every officer is at a disadvantage, because only by observation and the study of human beings can he hope to succeed in his chosen profession. The officer who finds a man under suspicious circumstances arrests him. The man tells the officer that he has done nothing and will go peaceably, why should the officer believe him and why should he take a chance? Put yourself in the place of the criminal. What would you do if you knew you were wanted for murder? Would you not take the first chance offered to escape? You would, knowing that the penalty is the same for killing one or ten.

Any man questioned by an officer who is suspicious of him may be wanted for murder in some other city or town. Many times an officer will arrest a man in a place where he feels he has not time to search him and the only solution is to handcuff his hands behind his back; the officer is then reasonably safe, because if the prisoner should have a weapon where he can then reach it he must at least turn halfway around and cannot see just where the bullet or knife will strike if he tries to use it. If he is handcuffed in front he has every chance to use a weapon if he has one.

Many officers lose their lives through the careless handling of prisoners. Another time-worn excuse is the request to change clothes before going to the station. If I wanted to kill a prisoner I would give him just that chance and let him go to a bureau drawer or closet for the articles he needed. Two very careful detectives some years ago went to a house and found their man. He had on neither vest nor coat and he asked if he might put them on. One officer carefully searched coat and vest and handed them to him. He put them on and all three started for the door. As they reached it, the prisoner put his hand to his hip pocket and said, “I have no handkerchief; may I go and get one out of that bureau drawer?” One of the detectives told him he could and as the drawer was opened he whipped out a .32 automatic and shot both officers and got away. The same thing happened at another time except that the officers were careful in searching and getting all articles needed and they had taken the prisoner out on the sidewalk. He looked down and said: “Wait a minute; I want to tie my shoestring.” He knelt down to tie the shoestring, took a .38 caliber revolver out of his stocking, shot both officers, and got away. That was the one place they forgot to search.

A short time ago two experienced officers were killed because they allowed a prisoner to go upstairs and change his clothes, while one officer stood in the yard and the other stood near the front stairs waiting for him. The prisoner used a single barrel shotgun, first killing the one on the outside and then, running to the stairs, killing the other officer as he started up the stairs. Two officers whom I knew arrested a man wanted for murder and put him in the back seat of their car, while they both rode in the front seat, and one officer was killed on the way to the police station.

Years ago the policeman’s uniform and badge commanded a certain amount of respect for the law but those days have gone forever. Hundreds of cases may be mentioned where officers have lost their lives through carelessness. I may cite the case of an officer who saved his life because he went into a building sidewise to expose the body as little as possible. Three shots were fired at him; one went through the front of his coat from right to left, two more went through his coat at the back. If he had gone through the door in a natural manner all three bullets would have entered his body. How many have opened a door and stepped in without first swinging the door open until it came in contact with the wall and have been killed by some one behind it.

I can see a reason for this carelessness in the fact that practically all of the people whom the officer encounters in his course of duty are law-abiding. Possibly one in ten thousand may be dangerous to him and the large per cent of peace-loving citizens will cause carelessness on the part of the officer and when that one bad man or crank comes along the officer is not ready for the trick that will not be started until everything favors a perfect get-away. Watch his hands instead of listening to his alibis. Becoming a good revolver shot in practical police shooting will do more to create a system of watchfulness and the ability to outguess the criminal than all other instructions in self-preservation. The officer who can shoot (I do not mean the one who thinks he can shoot) knows to a fraction of a second just how long it will take him to get into action and just what he can do when he does go into action and he also knows when not to shoot and this is very important. Read this twice: A revolver is an officer’s best friend, if he knows how to use it. It may also get him into more trouble in two seconds than he can get out of in ten years. The day is fast approaching when the public and the courts will not look kindly upon promiscuous shooting by inexperienced police officers.

We read in the papers of many persons being shot in an automobile because they did not stop immediately when a hand was held up or a whistle blown, and sometimes by an officer not in uniform. Is this a crime that calls for several bullets being fired into a car? It is not, unless the officer is positive that a felony has been committed by some one in that car. It is better to let one or two criminals get away for the time being than to kill some innocent person. The man who is inexperienced in the use of firearms is very liable to make a blunder that will not be a credit to himself or his department. Just thinking that he is a good shot will not make any one capable of handling firearms properly. I have met several men who carry two revolvers and feel they are well protected, when they were not capable of handling one. There are very few two-gun men and by many thousand too few one-gun men that are enforcing law and order. At no time in the history of our country has the need for fast, straight-shooting officers, who are versed in every trick used to evade the law, become so apparent as at the present time.

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Officer Conduct - Outguessing the Criminal

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