Updated: Jun 6, 2019
FOREWORD by Jozef Lalka
"Why do we train?
We train to protect the lives of the general public, and then to protect our own.
If a suspect already engaged in the use of deadly force presents in an aggressive manner an object and aims it at you, the split-second decision you make will depend on how you train.
You train knowing you don't have the luxury of time when deciding whether or not that's a weapon or an inert object, and that the suspects deadly force behaviour leading up to this point already sets a precedent for the use of deadly force as your response.
You train knowing that if the object presented is actually a weapon, your lack of action will result in your death and the death of those around you.
While law enforcement needs our support now more than ever, the fact remains - you cannot train in a way that will leave you dead in half the scenarios you encounter."
On April 23rd, 2018, at approximately 1:30 pm, a 25 year old Toronto male drove along a crowded downtown Toronto sidewalk in a full size rental van with the clear intent to kill and injure as many innocent civilians as possible. The end result was 10 people dead and 15 seriously injured.
Cst. Lam has been called a hero for his actions that helped bring the accused into custody, a label he himself is not comfortable with. Many will consider most law enforcement officers simple heroes by the fact that every day they put on body armour and carry a gun to serve and protect the citizens in their communities.
The intent of this article is not to dispute this officer’s hero status based on the subjective feelings of many well-meaning citizens, but to perform a critical review of his tactical actions as they were recorded and released to the public via video, and allow you to answer this question, should he have pulled the trigger?
Consider the following facts as we know them, while using the video as reference.
At the beginning of the video, the officer challenges the accused from a very close distance. The accused then quickly and aggressively raises his right hand repeatedly while holding an object and pointing it at the officer.
In this particular incident one must consider the “totality of circumstances” which include:
A. The accused is driving a full size van on the sidewalk killing and injuring innocent civilians.
B. The accused is aggressive, agitated, non-compliant, homicidal and suicidal.
Section 25 (4) of the Criminal Code of Canada states:
(4) A peace officer, and every person lawfully assisting the peace officer, is justified in using force that is intended or is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm to a person to be arrested, if (a) the peace officer is proceeding lawfully to arrest, with or without warrant, the person to be arrested; (b) the offence for which the person is to be arrested is one for which that person may be arrested without warrant; (c) the person to be arrested takes flight to avoid arrest;
(d) the peace officer or other person using the force believes on reasonable grounds that the force is necessary for the purpose of protecting the peace officer, the person lawfully assisting the peace officer or any other person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm; and (e) the flight cannot be prevented by reasonable means in a less violent manner.
Sub-section (d) is especially applicable in this situation given the totality of circumstances, being that had the suspect raised an actual weapon and the officer responded as he did, it could have cost him his life.
Not only this, but the video clearly shows the officer in the low ready position despite the imminent threat, while repeatedly taking his support hand off the pistol as he moves back and forth beside his police cruiser.
At this point in time an object is being presented in an aggressive manner towards the officer, but the officer has failed to point his weapon at the accused, thereby eliminating his ability to respond with deadly force should he need to. At this point, due to the officers actions his sidearm has essentially been rendered useless.
As the confrontation continues, the officer reaches inside his vehicle to turn the siren off (something that should have been done before arriving on the scene so that his verbal commands can be heard).
In this moment, the officer gives up a line of sight on the suspect while he is only a few meters away. Those of you in the law enforcement community will be familiar with Lt. John Tueller's 21 foot rule which states that a suspect within this proximity would be able to reach a responding officer before the officer is able to draw his sidearm and fire.
Though the sidearm has already been drawn, this rule still applies as the officer not only breaks sight line with the suspect but renders himself defenceless as he reaches inside his patrol car.
As the confrontation continues, the officer then moves away from his police vehicle giving up both cover and concealment. This is a costly mistake as the suspect now has an unobstructed view of the officer, while the officer himself is now in no-mans-land, with an egress route not being easily available.
The officer also appears to get lured or drawn in by the accused as he approaches the suspect during the verbal exchange:
Officer: “Get Down” (repeatedly)
Suspect: “Kill Me”
Suspect: “I have a gun in my pocket”
Officer: “I don’t care”
Officer: “Get down or you’ll get shot”
Suspect: “Shoot me in the head”
The suspect then moves forward towards the officer in an aggressive manner. The Officer's response is then backing up and retreating into the middle of the street, alone and with no cover as the accused advances toward him.
Another extremely costly mistake as cover / concealment and an egress route are both no longer available options.
At this point the Officer makes the assumption that no other weapon is present and that the van is empty of other suspects, and then holsters his own weapon in place of a baton.
It is only then that the suspect, realizing he won't be shot as he desires to be, drops the object in his hand and surrenders.
A positive outcome for the officer and everyone nearby despite a complete lack in sound tactics.
One of the most unfortunate things about this encounter is that in this scenario, as viewed by those with zero force on force training, the officer is praised for the simple fact that he did not shoot.
The problem with the mentality of calling an officer a hero for not shooting in a situation when it's justified, is the question of what to call an officer who does shoot when it's justified?
While we do commend the officer for devoting his life to the service of his community, and for putting his life on the line every day when he straps his body armour and sidearm on; the simple fact remains:
This confrontation can only be used as an example of what should not be done during a deadly force encounter. More often than not, it will result in a deadly outcome for any officer involved.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, the intent is not to dispute this officer’s hero status based on the subjective feelings of many well-meaning citizens, but to perform a critical review of his tactical actions so that the mistakes can be learned from, and lives can be saved in the future.
More than ever, our front line officers need our prayers and support, whether or not they chose to pull the trigger.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert D. is a retired Sergeant with a municipal Canadian Police Force who is currently working as a security contractor.
Since his retirement, Robert has devoted his time to expanding his knowledge of urban policing tactics and force on force encounters.