Training Tulsa Police officers to use deadly force

Tuesday, January 31st 2006, 12:41 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa Police Sergeant Stephanie Jones shot and killed Shirley Hedrick this past weekend. Tulsa Police say Hedrick refused to drop two knives and charged at Sergeant Jones and another officer.

So why do officers need to use a gun against a knife? News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright says at a demonstration at the Tulsa Police Academy of one of the most important thing police officers are taught, critical distance, which is 21 feet.

Research shows if a person with a knife or other potentially deadly weapon gets within 21 feet, the officer can be hurt or killed before getting off a good shot. Tulsa Police Sgt Mike Eckert: “somebody who starts within 21 feet and is motivated, whose intent is to harm or kill the officer, and the officer is flat-footed with a gun still in a double-snapped holster, 21 feet is a short amount of time for a reaction.”

Police say that's what happened this weekend when an officer was facing a woman with two knives who was less than 10 feet away.

Tulsa Police are not trained to shoot a knife out of someone's hand or shoot in the leg; they are trained to stop the threat, which sometimes ends in death. They do have non-lethal options, if time, distance and circumstances allow. Tulsa Police Sgt Mike Eckert: "there's no time to get a tazer out, there's no time for OC spray, there's no time to go to the trunk of your car and get a beanbag launcher out. The suspect is going to dictate what the officer does in 98 percent of the cases."

The Tulsa Police Department's policy says the officer needs to stay even or be at least one step ahead of the suspect. The officers' job is to win the confrontation, not tie. The department has a use of force continuum, which means if a suspect is using his fists, officers are trained to use pepper spray. If a suspect has a knife, officers are not trained in knife fights, so an officer's choice might be a gun.

Tulsa Police say using deadly force is never an easy choice, but sometimes it goes to the other most important thing they're taught, go home alive at the end of every shift.

The Tulsa Police sergeant who fired his handgun this weekend must first go through a criminal investigation and then an internal investigation to make sure the shooting followed the law and the department's policies.

Hedrick's family told the News on 6, she is schizophrenic, and had been suicidal after stopping her medications.