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 sources.

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 pavement.

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 intentions.  
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

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

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
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 shoot.

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

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
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 head.
"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 © 2019  Barry M. Baker