23 March 2009


I've long been on record as being a fan of the police.   Not these guys, though I liked them too.   But the Garda, the gendarmes, the thin blue line.   And not just because they let me off of tickets on a semi-regular basis.   I work with them on a more or less daily basis, and that experience has led me to really appreciate and respect the job that they do.  

The other night, the local boys brought in a patient for a psychiatric evaluation.   He had been suicidal, and had attempted to shoot himself.   Something had gone awry; perhaps the gun has misfired, and perhaps he just missed.  It wasn't clear.   But he barricaded himself in his house when the police responded, and he had fairly clearly been attempting suicide by cop.   He remained armed, and was deliberately provocative and uncooperative.   In many cases, this will result in a police shooting.   But the fact that the police knew in advance that he was suicidal, and that he repeatedly asked them to shoot him, led our local police force to take a carefully restrained approach to the situation.

Just for reference, for those readers not acquainted with law enforcement practices, typical police procedures when confronting an armed individual does allow deadly force, with a fairly low threshold for action.   If a suicidal person is holding a gun in his hand, he is as capable of pointing it at the police as himself, and the police will shoot to protect themselves and their fellow officers if they must.  "Make sure you go home at the end of the day," is not just a cliche in law enforcement.   So, to be clear, the situation that our cops were in would have justified deadly force with no question whatsoever.

But they did not shoot him.  They remained under cover as much as they could, and did their best to negotiate with him.   After much effort, this was unsuccessful, and he was disarmed and taken into custody with a combination of a K-9 team and a much-maligned less-lethal weapon.

Truth be told, the dogs did a fair bit of damage, and I had some suturing to do to fix up his face and arms.   The patient (drunk, of course) was extremely upset that they has sicced the dogs on him, and was completely oblivious to how close he had come to perishing in a hail of bullets.

The thing that struck me, seeing the patient after the fact, was what an incredible job the police had done in saving this person's life.   He would have shot himself, without intervention, and could easily have killed a police officer.   This could easily have been the leading story on the evening news.   Had they shot him, no inquest board in the world would have faulted them.   But they held their fire, remained safe, and managed to defuse the situation with a combination of perseverance and creative thinking.

That's professionalism, and you've got to respect it when you see it.


  1. Wish they got more credit for these "saves" than when things go awry and the outcome isn't so good. Good job.

  2. As long as you're talking about the vast majority of policemen, I completely agree: they're honorable professionals, and they deserve our respect.

    That said, Dr. SF, it must be noted that not every person who is Armed While Mentally Ill receives the same thoughtful and sensitive treatment in such circumstances. Yes, lethal force is sometimes necessary--I get that. And yes, no bystander or Monday Morning Quarterback has the right to question whether or not the choice to use deadly force was morally and ethically justified--that's a judgement for review boards, and if need be, judges and juries and even Congressional committees.

    But one has to wonder if some cops, and some groups of cops, automatically go for the highest level of force available. I refer to the campus police at my alma mater, UF, repeatedly tasering a non-violent, unarmed protester at a John Kerry (!) event (the famous "Don't tase me bro'!" guy). Or the cops in Wasilla, Alaska, who last month shot an obviously distraught--and possibly mentally ill--armed woman to death: wouldn't a Taser have been the better, less final choice of weapon?

    Finally, and I say this as someone who has had very positive interactions with both state and local police in this country, there are a few very bad apples in the large, amorphous barrel collectively known as Law Enforcement, but when they go bad, they tend to do so explosively (often literally so). I am currently working on an article about my own brother-in-law, who recently won a police brutality case against the state of New York after a rogue State Trooper dragged him out of his car, threw him to the ground, broke his wrist and wrenched his neck and chained him to a wall at the police station. His crime? There wasn't one. He was pulled over for a routine commercial vehicle check (he owns a large tree-surgery/landscaping company in NY) and as he sat back in his driver's seat and started pulling the relevant documents and licenses as per the trooper's request, said trooper suddenly snapped, exploded with rage, and dragged my brother-in-law out of the car. (FYI, he has long hair and is a peaceful, law-abiding Republican man, aged 51, whose worst "legal offense", ever, was a single speeding ticket years ago and maybe a half-dozen parking tickets over a lifetime.

    Such incidents and individuals not only terrify the public and threaten the very concept of civil liberties, they also damage the good name of those policemen you're describing herein.

  3. Re: great cops: hear, hear.

    Watch Bon Cop, Bad Cop. The storyline is appalling but the French/English thing is hilarious.

    And the Montreal PD were really rather like that until recently.

  4. It's good to read this post.

  5. My Uncles are both retired officers, and I have seen them in action (coincidentally), and I admire them so much for all they have done, and I'm sure that doctors such as yourself deserve the same amount of admiration, for saving lives & having compassion for the people


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