It has happened again in America. There has been another terror attack in another American city. This time it was Columbus, Ohio. Columbus is one of my favorite cities in America. I have been there many times, and I have always enjoyed The Ohio State University (OSU), the food, history and culture of that city. Everything in our country is now viewed through a political lens. In the coming days and weeks, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and the talking heads in broadcast, print and social media, will debate every aspect of this terror attack. This terror attack involves some of the most volatile and hotly debated topics in our country: race, religion, and immigration. I will not debate those topics here. I’m a cop, and tomorrow I will put on a vest, badge and a gun, go to roll call and hit the street. OSU Police Officer David Horujko did the same thing Monday morning. If you are cop like David and me, here are 2 things to remember about this terror attack.
THE DEBATE ABOUT UNIVERSITY POLICE AND GUNS IS SETTLED
For some reason, the public has a negative perception about campus Police Officers. The perception is that campus police officers are poorly hired, trained, are not qualified and thus should not have law enforcement powers or carry guns. This negative, unfair and untrue perception was highlighted recently by protest on college campuses around the nation. You can read about more this debate here.
I think it is ironic that according to early media reports, the terrorist attended Columbus State College in Columbus, OH before transferring to OSU. The first article is dated in 2003 and that university president is no longer at there, but you get the point. These opinions are still out there.
During my time in law enforcement, I have found university Police Officers to be incredible capable and professional. Campus Police Officers work in a very unique environment and sometimes it is not traditional law enforcement. I have friends that are campus Police Officers and they have told me about the challenges of working in a university setting. These challenges include having many ancillary duties associated with their work, such as unlocking doors, and parking enforcement duties. Additionally, campus Police Officers are required to deal with students of their universities in a sensitive manner as the students are there to learn, and campus Police Officers often recommend students to non-judicial procedures, rather than the justice system.
However, campus Police also respond to domestic assaults, burglaries, thefts, sexual assaults and other calls for service that cops handle every day. In order to do their job effectively and safely, campus Police Officers need to be armed. Ask any of the students or professors that narrowly escaped being stabbed Monday by the terrorist and whom Officer Horujko saved, if they think campus Police Officers should carry weapons.
DE-ESCALATION IS GREAT: BUT IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK
Our profession has always been evolving and cops have continually searched for new trends and better ways to do the job. One current trend in law enforcement that has been in the news lately is: de-escalation.
I won’t go into a definition of de-escalation here. Every cop knows what it means, what it looks like in practice, and has done it. Earlier this year I read David Klinger’s book, “Into the Kill Zone: A Cops Eye View of Deadly Force.” I encourage everyone to either read his book, or listen some interviews that he has done recently. Klinger is a former cop, who has worked some of the toughest beats in the United States, and unfortunately was involved in a lethal force encounter while on duty.
Klinger is a proponent of de-escalation and stresses that it is a skill set every good cop has. Additionally, Klinger talks about talks about how when he was a cop in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were no formal de-escalation programs for Police Officers. He says it was just something that veteran cops passed along to rookies.
I learned this concept the hard way as a young officer. I was out to save the world, and all law abiders beware! I racked up several citizen complaints, including several involving use of force, until a veteran officer pulled me aside one day to provide some guidance. Essentially, he explained to me to that a Police Officer should always, ALWAYS, be nice, until it was time, to not be nice anymore. He stressed that the times in police work when we are required to NOT be nice anymore are a very VERY small fraction of police work.
I am a big proponent of de-escalation techniques, and I believe that a Police Officer’s goal on every call for service should be that everyone walks away. Someone may walk away in handcuffs, but the goal should be that everyone walks away. I have never attended any formal de-escalation training, but I use it all the time.
Some in the media have discussed e-escalation training for Police Officers as a panacea. It has become a sexy catch phrase for politicians and those in the media and described as some sort of cure-all to prevent Police Officers from using force. If only police work were that simple. Police work is often complicated, stressful, and lives hang in the balance in a matter of milliseconds.
A veteran Police Officer in my department, who I highly respect and consider a friend, told me recently that we have to make sure we don’t lose our edge in law enforcement. This Officer and I, we police in a very similar manner, and last year he and I were on the scene of several calls for service where we de-escalated tense situations to avoid using force. My friend is right. We have to make sure we teach future Police Officers that de-escalation is great. But we have to make sure we don’t over-rely on it. It might not always work. We have to keep our edge.
Early reports indicate that OSU Officer Horujko was dispatched to a vehicle accident/pedestrians struck on campus. He arrived, and saw a man with a knife who was trying to stab people. Officer Horujko gave commands for the man to drop the knife, and when he didn’t, Horujko stopped the threat. Witnesses say they heard Officer Horujko order the terrorist to drop the knife. There was no time for de-escalation techniques. Horujko had to act quickly to save lives and he acted according to the highest standards of the law enforcement profession.
As my friend and fellow Police Officer said, “We cannot lose our edge.” We must ensure that we train new Police Officers that de-escalation is a great tool, and that de-escalation techniques should be used by Police Officers every day. However, we should also ensure that new Police Officers understand that de-escalation does not always work and they might be required to use force.
Officer Horujko was required to take a human life. It is sadly, sometimes a requirement of our profession. It is paradox. As Police Officers, we are sometimes required to take a life to save a life.
I attended an incredible training class last year with Northern Red Training. I was fortunate that my agency sent me to this class. It was incredible. I encourage anyone that can, to attend a training session by Northern Red. One of the instructors, JD Potynsky, discussed what it is like when you are forced to take a life. He called it a “significant emotional traumatic experience.” I am sure that Officer Horujko is going through that right now.
It is said that buying someone a drink or a beer and toasting is the ultimate sign of respect and goodwill. Well, when he is ready, I hope someone one day will buy Officer Horujko a beer or a drink, and in the words of Toby Keith, “raise up a glass against evil forces.” I know the next time I have a beer or a drink, I will toast to Officer Horujko. Here’s to you!