Opinion

Stanislaus County ex-assistant sheriff Breshears criticizes Stephon Clark editorial

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, stands while a police officer body camera video is played during a press conference regarding the Stephon Clark shooting investigation in Sacramento on Saturday.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, stands while a police officer body camera video is played during a press conference regarding the Stephon Clark shooting investigation in Sacramento on Saturday. dkim@sacbee.com

I find very troubling and difficult to understand the position taken by the editorial board in the use of deadly force by peace officers. I know that members of the editorial board are aware of the real-world situations that officers find themselves in that could result in deadly force by them or an offender.

I served Stanislaus County as a peace officer for almost 36 years and speak from experience. These situations often take place under low-light conditions and require making life and death judgments in nanoseconds, relying on your training more than thought processes, to make that decision to shoot or don’t shoot, asking yourself, “Is that really a gun I see or something else? Should I risk my life?”

Often in these situations, the person being approached by law enforcement flees or is noncompliant. This immediately raises the danger level for both officer and suspect.

Officers do not have the luxury of fleeing to safety, as it is their duty to “run in.” School shootings are a good example; the policy is that the shooter must be actively confronted by a responding officer who does not wait for “SWAT” trained officers.

The law requires that deadly-force incidents be weighed by what a trained law enforcement officer would do in a given situation. One cannot expect officers to continue to expose themselves to high risk situations that require these nanosecond decisions without allowing the same options as citizens: staying in a position of safety, taking no undue risks and letting the bad guy run away. Any less would subject officers to an unrealistic standard.

Everyone mourns the loss of life, but there is a great toll on the officer as well. I find it strange that you would compare split-second decisions to one taken after a lengthy analysis of the facts. Emotions are high, but they must be excluded from the legal analysis and should maybe be excluded in a newspaper editorial board’s opinion when they really do not have all the facts.

Richard Breshears retired in 2004 as assistant sheriff of Stanislaus County

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