Letter to the Editor: Police department has policies governing gun use

Letter to the Editor: Police department has policies governing gun use

Letters to the Editor
Alameda police

I am a patrol watch commander with the Alameda Police Department. After reading this story (“Police draw weapons on Park Street following gun report,” March 1) and the comments, I would like to shed some light on the circumstances surrounding this incident and clear up any confusion about what our officers can or cannot do when it comes to drawing or displaying their weapons.

The Alameda Police Department regrets the disruption this incident caused to the citizens in the area of Park Street and Central Avenue on March 1. Unfortunately, violence exists in our society and officers must, at times, meet violence with a show of force to respond safely and effectively.

In this particular incident, the Alameda Police Department communications center received multiple 911 calls regarding a fight inside a dining establishment on Central Avenue. The first caller from the business stated that several males were fighting inside the establishment and asked for police to respond before hanging up. Loud yelling, swearing, and verbal threats could be heard in the background of the call. Officers were immediately dispatched to the scene of this incident as dispatchers attempted to re-establish contact with the caller inside the business. Our dispatchers called the business and contacted an employee who provided specific descriptions of the males involved in the dispute, including their race, age, and clothing descriptions, also adding that one of the males claimed to have a gun, but did not display it. Again, loud yelling, swearing, verbal threats, and challenges to fight could be heard in the background of the call.

The dispatcher obtained a description of the male who claimed to have a gun and this information was broadcast to the officers going to the scene. Officers arrived at the scene as the involved males were walking away. Employees of the business pointed out the man who claimed to have a gun to the officers. The officers detained this man at gunpoint based on the information they had.

The officers searched the man and found that he was not armed. After further investigation, the officers learned that this was a verbal dispute only and no crime had occurred. The reasons for the detention were explained and the detained man was subsequently released.

The officers at the Alameda Police Department are guided by a policy manual that is updated at least twice a year. The policy manual is updated for several reasons including changes in industry standards, the addition of new policies, the deletion of obsolete policies, and new case law decisions that affect police work. Officers are required to have a working knowledge of the policies and acknowledge each update. In addition, frequent policy training and discussion is conducted during patrol briefings, during defensive tactics training, and during quarterly firearms qualifications.

One of the policies that guides our officers in the use and display of their firearms is our use of force policy. In essence, this policy states that our officers are to use only the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the incident. The reasonableness of force is judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene at the time of the incident. In addition, the evaluation of reasonableness must take into account that officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force that reasonably appears necessary in a particular situation, with limited information and in circumstances that may be tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving.

More specifically, in regards to the use of deadly force, i.e. firearms, this policy states that our officers can use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what they reasonably believe would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury. Here, imminent does not mean immediate or instantaneous. An imminent danger may exist even if someone is not at that very moment pointing a weapon at someone else. Imminent danger may exist if an officer reasonably believes that a person has a weapon and the person intends to use it against the officer or someone else.

Portions of other policies which guide our officers in the use and display of their firearms include the firearms and qualification policy, which states that officers shall not unnecessarily display or handle firearms, and the report preparation policy, which requires officers to document any time that a firearm is pointed at any person.

Knowing this and given the information that the officers had going into this particular situation – the report of a man claiming to be armed with a gun – the officers were within policy to draw their firearms and detain the man at gunpoint.

Our use of force policy specifically recognizes that no policy can realistically predict every possible situation an officer might encounter, so officers are entrusted to use well-reasoned discretion in determining the appropriate use of force in each incident, including when to draw their firearms and point them at someone. Sergeant Pascoe was attempting to convey this idea to the reporter but unfortunately, his comments were vague and led some to believe that the Alameda Police Department had no policy at all. For that, we apologize.

I hope that this has provided some clarity and a better understanding of why our officers drew their weapons and why they pointed them at the man that they detained.

Lt. Wayland Gee
Alameda Police Department

Comments

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Mon, Mar 10, 2014

Thank you. That is very reassuring.

Submitted by Chris (not verified) on Mon, Mar 10, 2014

"The dispatcher obtained a description of the male who claimed to have a gun and this information was broadcast to the officers going to the scene. Officers arrived at the scene as the involved males were walking away. Employees of the business pointed out the man who claimed to have a gun to the officers. The officers detained this man at gunpoint based on the information they had."

At what point in the conversation did the POs draw their weapons? As was pointed out in the previous comments, the question is when does having a gun become actionable from the police point of view? Owning and having a gun aren't illegal and saying that you have one, provided it was purchased legally and with the proper permitting, is per se not illegal. Couldn't the police officers initially have questioned the POI about whether or not he had a weapon before drawing their sidearms?

I understand and recognize why these policies must be flexible to protect the POs. When the policy is flexible, however, there will be and should be a lot of scrutiny around these kinds of situations.