What Goes Through A Police Officer's Mind When Confronted by an Armed Suspect?

PBA Lawyer says training is conservative for officers

Tom Puckett
December 13, 2018 - 4:00 am

Gladstone Street, where an officer-involved shooting occured on December 12, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)


Buffalo, NY (WBEN) The attorney for the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association says when an officer is confronted by an armed suspect, it's a split second decision between life and death.

Attorney Tom Burton says an officer's mindset goes into tunnel vision. "What happens is you have a fairly benign circumstance that goes bad in a matter of seconds or even shorter, and what the officers are concentrated on are protecting themselves, their fellow officers, and citizens," says Burton. This on the heels of a fatal police-involved shooting Tuesday evening.  Burton says while it's just seconds, officers tell him it feels like minutes or even longer.

Tom Burton, Buffalo PBA Attorney

Burton on what goes through the mind of a police officer when confronting an armed suspect.
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Burton says officers are trained with force continum. "That may be, yelling at the person to drop the weapon, using less than lethal alternatives like cap spray or a taser if you can get it out in time," says Burton. "We train these officers not to use deadly force unless there's no other option. That may be impossible if they're confronted in close quarters with a weapon."

Burton says the shoot to wound mentality is the result of TV and movies. "The reality is when most of these circumstances officers are trying to terminate the threat, it's difficult to shoot to disarm or shoot the suspect in the leg," explains Burton.

Burton says rarely if ever has an officer been charged in a catastrophic case for misuse of a gun or nightstick. "We have a great record because we train them conservatively, and while these cases get a great deal of publicity, a precious few ever get prosecuted," says Burton.

Burton says sometimes there's a cluster of such events, but spread out over time, officer involved shootings are extremely rare.

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