Would you call this a stressful situation?  
You've just killed another human being,
so it's obviously stressful.  But, let's look
at the attending circumstances to this
true incident which are extraordinarily in
support of the officer's actions.  The
suspect is well known, disliked and feared
by the area's residents.  Witness
statements taken by investigators are
consistent and unembellished in
supporting the officer's use of deadly
force.  There is no racial bias component
since both the officer and the suspect are
of the same race.  The forensic aspect of
the investigation supports all the
established facts.  Finally, a member of
the suspect's own family allegedly makes
the statement, "He needed killing."

While this young police officer had what
can only be described as unbelievable
support from every quarter, it simply
wasn't enough to ease the psychological
stress he would suffer over the following
months.  In the end, all the doctors
agreed, this young man would never
again be able to perform the duties of a
police officer.  He would end his police
career with a medical retirement for a
psychological disability.

During my time as a patrol officer, I
worked in the same district as an officer
who shot and killed three suspects, in
three separate incidents, over a seven
year period of time.  All of his shootings
were justified, and they were classic
deadly force situations where he
confronted armed suspects.  However,
following the third incident, he was
removed from street duty.  The
reassignment was a mutual decision
between the officer and the police
department.  These incidents were not
the result of any aggressive or pro-active
enforcement by the officer; all were
simply 911 calls for service.  This officer
showed no obvious signs of stress over
the shootings; although, no one could
assume that some level of stress was not
attendant.  The officer's projected
attitude was one of "talk about some
rotten luck."  

Unlike the 1950's, you'll be starting your
police career in a time where your use of
deadly force will have strict guidelines.  
But... it's really very simple.  You don't
shoot a person; unless, that person is an
imminent treat to your life or the life of
another.  Of course, you're going to be
the judge of what constitutes imminent.  
I should say that you're going to be the
first judge.  Except in the very rare
instance, like the example I described
earlier, there will be plenty of second
guessing about your use of deadly force.

We all have stress in our lives.  You'll
encounter plenty of people and
circumstances, over which you'll have no
control, which will cause you stress.  
However, never forget that a lot of stress
one suffers is often a direct result of
one's own actions.  When it comes to
shooting people, you must never forget
that the only finger on that trigger
belongs to you.  When you make the
decision to pull that trigger, you must be
prepared to handle the personal
emotional stress that will result if you kill
a person.  You must also be prepared to
handle an avalanche of criticism which
may well follow from any number of

There are many people, including
politicians in leadership positions of
government, who believe that police
officers should be trained to "shoot to
wound."  This is a good example to show
that being a politician requires no
capacity for logical thought.  Remember,
if you decide to shoot a person, that
person must pose an imminent threat to
your life or the life of another.  The
simple minded "shoot to wound" crowd
believe that the only alternative is "shoot
to kill."  If you ever have the unfortunate
experience to have to shoot a person,
you must realize that the only control
you have over a bullet is your ability to
hit the person... somewhere on the

A Baltimore police officer confronted a
man armed with a knife.  The man posed
an imminent threat to the officer's life
merely because of the short distance
separating them.  However, this incident
turned into a prolonged standoff.  It
lasted long enough for a large crowd to
gather and the expected video tape to be
produced.  There came a point when the
officer fired one round from his pistol.  
The bullet hit the suspect in the
shoulder, and the suspect fell to the
pavement.  The officer's perception was
that the suspect was about to attack
him.  The "shoot to wound" bunch would
have probably supported this officer if
the suspect was only wounded; after all,
the bullet hit him in the shoulder.  That's
where the bullet hit, but that's not where
it stayed.  The bullet hit bone, changed
direction, and ended up piercing the
suspect's heart.  Yes, the suspect was
dead... probably before he hit the

It should have been obvious to most
people that this officer was not eager to
apply deadly force, but that obvious fact
was conveniently overlooked in the days,
weeks, and months ahead.  Here's the
real irony.  Among all the self styled
experts that would emerge from the
onlookers and those who would view the
video tape afterward, many accused –
yes, I said accused – the officer of
shooting to wound the suspect.  The
politicians and activists did their part by
prolonging the investigation and some
calling for the officer's indictment on
criminal charges; until, the media began
to lose interest in an exhausted debate
over the suspect's movement and
Here's what you have to remember.  
While most people wouldn't, or couldn't,
do your job for any number of reasons,
all will consider themselves expert when it
comes to the issue of police using deadly
force.  While justification for your use of
deadly force should and must always be
present, that justification will not always
protect you from the unbelievable stress
that could follow from your use of deadly
force.  Along with the ever present know
nothing experts, there will always be the
occasional politicians and prosecutors
who will make your life a living hell purely
for their own political welfare.

It was a quiet, cold winter night in East
Baltimore when I received a call for a
burglary in progress at the rear of a
dwelling on Harford Avenue.  I
approached the rear alley from a side
street and stopped my car about thirty
feet from the alley.  The house in
question was just a few doors down from
the alley entrance, and I intended to
approach the rear of the house on foot.  
I had one foot on the pavement when I
saw a young man walking backward from
the alley.  He'd barely come into my view
when he raised his right arm and fired a
shot down the alley from the revolver he
held in his right hand.  Using the door
post of my car for cover, I drew my
revolver and took aim on the man – now
suspect.  In a loud and commanding
tone, I yelled, "Police... drop the gun!"

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...
things rarely are as they first appear to
be.  When I shouted my command, the
suspect immediately turned toward me.  
As he turned, his outstretched arm
turned with him.  The suspect's gun was
now pointed toward me.

If you'd say that I would have been
justified in shooting this suspect, you'd
be correct.  However, you'll come to
realize how much information your mind
can process in seconds and fractions of
seconds – even under the most stressful
circumstances.  Here's some of the
observations I processed:

1.  When I first observed the suspect, it
was clear that he'd not yet seen me.  The
suspect was directly under a street light
affording me excellent observation.
2.  When the suspect turned, it was not
surprising that his arm remained in the
same position.
3.  When the suspect observed me, he
froze.  By the expression on his face, it
was clear that I'd startled him when I
shouted my command.
4.   I had cover.  While not ideal, it
afforded me some protection.  
5.  The distance was my biggest
advantage.  While I had the suspect in
my sight picture, he didn't have me in his.
6.  Most importantly, his arm never
moved as he stood in his statuesque
pose.  Had he moved his arm or wrist in
any manner to bring his gun to bear on
me, I'd already made my decision to

I shouted my second command, "Drop
the gun... now!"  You're going to find out
very quickly that people act stupidly,
even innocent people.  Instead of
dropping the gun, the suspect turned
back to his right and pointed down the
alley with the gun hand while keeping his
face toward me and began talking,
"Officer, officer, he ran down the..."  I
interrupted the suspect with my third
command, "I said, drop the gun...now!"  
The look on his face said it all.  It was as
if this was the first time he'd heard me.  
It was certainly the first time he'd
comprehended anything I said or, rather,
shouted.  This time, he couldn't drop
that gun fast enough, and he didn't point
it back in my direction either.

Now... here's the back story.  The
suspect, which I'll now refer to as the
victim, stopped by the house which was a
vacant rental property he owned.  As he
unlocked the front door and stepped
inside, he heard movement inside the
house.  He silently stepped back out and
locked the front door.  He ran to a pay
phone at the end of the block and called
911.  He told the 911 operator that he'd
wait for police at the entrance to the alley
– this was information I'd not been given.

Just before my arrival, he saw the burglar
emerge from the rear of the dwelling, and
the victim moved down the alley where he
confronted the burglar.  He intended to
hold the thief at gunpoint until police
arrived.  The burglar, for whatever
reason, believed the victim would not
shoot, so the burglar began advancing
on the victim.  Hence, the victim's
backward movement out of the alley.  
The second best thing that had
happened that evening, after me not
shooting the victim, was the victim's shot
missing the burglar.  I would find no
body or blood trail in the alley, and no
one would show up in an emergency
room with the victim's bullet in him.

It gets better.  While many people in the
victim's position would have been
carrying a handgun without a permit, this
man had a valid concealed carry permit.  
While the restrictions on his permit didn't
exactly meet the time, place and activity
circumstances, I decided it was close
enough.  Once I concluded that the bullet
he fired didn't result in any property
damage or land in anyone's bedroom, I
finished the burglary report and sent the
victim home.

It turned out that the victim was a really
nice guy, and he couldn't thank me
enough for not shooting him.  Can you
imagine the emotional stress I would
have experienced if I'd shot and killed
this man?  As far as the stress from the
subsequent police involved shooting
investigation would have been... who
knows?  Ironically, it would have probably
been more if the man were a gold
standard criminal.  I'm certain that the
gun control advocates would have found
more value in such a tragedy, had it
occurred, in blaming laws that allow any
private citizen to own and carry a
handgun over the value in blaming me.  

As one of my favorite TV detectives,
Adrian Monk, likes to say... "Here's the
thing" – Before you become a police
officer, you have to make an honest and
serious self-evaluation of your ability to
handle the stress of shooting another
person.  Thankfully, most of you will not
have to shoot anyone; some of you will
have time to gain police work experience,
before you have to use deadly force, and
– some of you will have to pull that
trigger while you're still new and know
next to nothing.    
The young officer in this story would
eventually become a sergeant, and some
twenty years later, he would relate this
story to another young police officer –
me – and he'd describe what a profound
effect that incident had on him.  He
vowed to himself, then and there, that
he'd never again fire that revolver except
to protect his life or the life of another.  
As the sergeant told me the story, I
could see, that even so many years after
the event, the stress he'd experienced
from that incident was still with him.  
However, it was a good kind of stress
that had provided a valuable lesson
without anyone being hurt or killed.

Fast forward into the 21st Century.  This
time, you're a young police officer
responding to a call for an armed
person.  The suspect has been identified,
and you know the suspect well enough to
recognize him on sight.  The 17 year old
suspect has an extensive criminal record,
known to carry a handgun, and he's
currently a suspect in two shootings.  As
you're walking across an open area of a
housing complex, you see the suspect
ahead of you.  You draw your pistol, and
you order the suspect to stop.  The
suspect turns, and he looks at you for a
few seconds; before, he draws his
handgun from his waistband.  You're in
uniform, so the suspect can have no
doubt as to who you are – not that it
would make any difference at this point.  
You fire one shot from your pistol, and
the suspect falls dead on the grass.
Try to picture yourself in this time and
situation:  You're young and you're a
new police officer in the 1950's.  You're
riding shotgun in a two-man car with a
senior officer when you become involved
in a high speed chase of a stolen car.  
The senior officer tells you to attempt to
shot out the tires of the fleeing vehicle.  
You lean out your side window, take aim
with your revolver, and you begin
squeezing off rounds.  After firing all six
shots, you slide back onto your seat to
reload.  The stolen car keeps on going
with all tires still intact.  Before you can
finish reloading and take another try, the
stolen car spins out.  After a short foot
chase, you apprehend the 15 year boy
who was driving the car.  Since you didn't
hit the tires, you inspect the stolen car to
see if you hit it at all.  You find only one
bullet hole in the driver's side door post.  
It suddenly dawns on you how close that
round came to hitting the driver in the
"While justification for your use of
deadly force should and must always
be present, that justification will not
always protect you from the
unbelievable stress that could follow
from your use of deadly force."
~ Barry M. Baker
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker