Every once in a great while, I find myself tractionless when looking at a breaking news story, and that’s where I am with the officer-involved shooting death of concealed carrier Philandro Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota last night. Castile was pulled over for by a St. Anthony police officer. For reasons we still don’t have explained, the officer who made the traffic stop interpreted a movement made by Castile as a deadly force threat, and opened fire.
The immediate aftermath of the officer’s actions were graphically captured in a Facebook Live video streamed from Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, as he lay dying in the car beside her.
I’m sure we’ll have people analyze every aspect of Castile’s life for character faults, but he has no felony record, and the fact that he had a concealed carry permit is proof that he had never been convicted of any serious crimes. He had a steady job at the same employer (a Montessori school) for over a decade, and was a productive member of society.
Now he’s dead, for no easily discernable reason.
Reynolds claims that Castile was shot four times by the St. Anthony police officer while Castile was reaching for his concealed carry permit. Upon hearing that, my mind immediately flashed to the on-camera shooting of Levar Jones at a gas station in Columbia, SC, by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert, after Groubert asked Jones for his ID.
In this 2014 incident Levar Jones did nothing wrong. He was complying with Trooper Groubert’s request for his ID by reaching for his wallet when he was shot repeatedly by Groubert. Groubert was fired and later convicted for shooting the unarmed Jones.
People are upset with the St. Anthony police officer for standing there with his gun trained on the dying Castile. I’m concerned with the fact that his finger is still on the trigger when it should be on the frame of the gun, but more so with the claim that Castile was shot for doing nothing more than reaching for his ID and concealed permit.
I’ve been around firearms most of my life, and I’ve had no less than a half-dozen interactions with officers while armed with everything from a shotgun to handguns from my teens until now. In none of these instances have the officers cared that they saw a firearm in my possession (the shotgun I was carrying while hunting as officers combed the woods for a bank robber), or in the various times I’ve announced that I was carrying (as required by law in NC). In fact, they’ve never asked to see my permit after I told them I was a concealed carrier.
Is it because I’m a friendly-looking blond-headed white guy with laugh lines around my eyes? It is that I’m conscious of my demeanor, keep my hands in plain view, and move slowly?
Maybe it’s a combination of those things… and maybe it’s a law enforcement culture or even firearms training issue.
I don’t pretend to know anything about the St. Anthony police officer who shot Philandro Castile. I don’t know anything about his personality, his record as an officer, or his firearms training.
I’m not qualified to talk about department culture in any department, nor the individual officer’s biases, but I really would like to know what kind of firearms training he had, and how competent and confident he felt with his handgun. I ask because firearms training standards across this nation are very uneven in law enforcement, and less confident and competent officers are a very dangerous thing.
The simple fact of the matter is that if more people knew how little training officers were required to have with their deadliest tools, they’d be appalled.
It’s been my observation as both a firearms instructor and as a firearms student that those who have the least confidence in their abilities who tend to make mistakes with firearms when put under even mild to moderate pressure, while those who are extensively trained and know precisely what their level of competence is tend to make fewer mistakes in terms of gun handling, shoot/no shoot decision making, and fire more accuracy and get good effect on targets with fewer shots fired.
There are so many critics of law enforcement quick to claim race is a major factor in the decision of law enforcement officers to deploy firearms, and after seeing the issue play out in the news and in hundreds of hours of professional firearms training in recent years, I just don’t see that as being a major driving factor. Officers want to see your hands and they are going to queue on your overall demeanor. Are you relaxed? Do you look highly stressed? Is your voice breaking? Do you sound calm? They’re much more worried about what you’re doing than they are your skin color.
Competence drives confidence. It’s my conjecture that officers who are better trained are going to be less likely to incorrectly apply the tool of violence, or opt to use the wrong compliance tool (chemical spray, taser, personal weapons, baton, knife, firearms), and to use those tools to the wrong degree.
I don’t believe shrieking that “cops are racist” or “cops are violent” is either true, or helpful. Cops are just people, like you and I.
If we want to prevent incidents like the one that took Philandro Castile’s life last night, or nearly took the life of Lavar Jones in 2014, I firmly believe we need to raise the level of training of officers to a higher overall standard so that they have the training, tools, and confidence to do their jobs more effectively.