COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina has endured 18 officer-involved shootings so far in 2019, as law enforcement officers say interest in the profession is steadily declining.
On Tuesday morning, an Upstate police officer shot and killed a motorist after he attempted to make a traffic stop and was subsequently dragged by the suspect’s car. On Saturday, deputies in Lexington County exchanged gunfire with a suspect barricaded inside his home after a domestic dispute.
“We don’t set out thinking, oh I’m going to take someone’s life today,” Lt. Dominick Pagano of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department said. “Our mission is to save lives we try to avoid those deadly force situations at all costs.”
Body camera video released Monday by the Charlotte Police Department shows a 27-year-old armed man being fatally shot by officers after they asked him more than 20 times to put the gun on the ground. Critics say the video shows the man attempting to place the gun on the ground when he is shot by officers. An investigation into the fatal shooting is ongoing and the officers involved are on administrate leave, as is standard protocol.
Pagano urges members of the public to reserve judgment in the immediate aftermath of officer-involved shootings and wait for the entire story to be revealed.
“As humans, we’re quick to judge based on what we see, it’s natural, it’s natural to get upset but we always ask you see the whole story and give law enforcement a chance to put out the whole story,” he said.
When an officer has mere seconds to make a deadly force decision, years of training come into play, he said. Officers rely on that training and instincts to protect themselves from what they consider imminent danger. He said he’s seen an overall shift in attitude toward the police, with younger adolescents and teenagers showing increasingly less respect for law enforcement. The increased scrutiny and fallout associated with officer-involved shootings also have less people interested in pursuing a law enforcement career, he said.
“A lot of people now, especially younger populations say hey, I don’t want anything to do with this. So you see it,” he said. “It’s across the board, across the US, because in a lot of people’s minds, perception is reality and that’s not always the case.”
Along with domestic disputes, traffic stops can prove most dangerous and deadly for officers, according to law enforcement instructor Karl de la Guerra.
“Once I control the hands, then I control the scene, the hands are the most dangerous thing,” de la Guerra said. “No officer has ever been hurt by an evil look, I want to control those hands.”
De la Guerra’s background consists of a combination of military law enforcement, civilian law enforcement, and international corporate security management. He began his career in the U.S. Air Force in 1979 as a law enforcement specialist and was selected as a protective services officer.
In other situations, such as a known armed suspect walking away from an officer, de la Guerra said an officer could have to decipher what is in their hands before deciding whether to use lethal force.
“Is it a cell phone, a tool or is it actually a gun,” he said. “It’s a life and death decision made in seconds.”
In 2018, 52 law enforcement officers across the country were killed in the line of duty. So far this year, 33 officers have been killed, 14 have died as a result of gunfire.