This is regarding your editorial, “The moral dilemma” in the May 9 edition of the Oliver Chronicle.
Moral dilemmas develop in fractions of a second. A police officer who is faced with a justifiable reason to draw their service pistol has already embarked on a path which will demand all their attention. In a few seconds they must assess the risk, make a life or injury decision which could affect their life both mentally and physically.
When you shoot at the range the target is designed to record the highest score at the centre of a person’s body mass. The use of deadly force does not include trying to wound the person. Trying to wound a person creates an immediate and life-threatening risk to all down-range of the weapon and includes the risk that the person will return fire if they are carrying a weapon. Once an officer has decided to draw their pistol due to a mortal threat, they will aim for body mass thus totally immobilizing the threat.
I worked for Loomis Armored Car and we were armed. Some of us participated in range practice alongside VPD, DPD and RCMP because we knew the threat of a deadly confrontation was a reality. During the early 1970s tension ran very high on some of the Loomis routes; we had received several alerts from an undercover member of the VPD who told us of plans to snipe Loomis guards from a rooftop across the street from a major downtown Vancouver store. There would be other criminals on the ground waiting for the guards to drop; other crooks would grab the cash.
In Vancouver there were FLQ sympathizers. Two threats in particular drove a blue van with tartan curtains and two tires on roof-racks; we were alerted to the threat of semi-automatic rifles. A powder blue rental car licence NJJ 172 was another potential threat in the West End. Both of these vehicles were on my route and my partner and I saw these vehicles during our bank deliveries. We received a warning of a possible robbery during a cash delivery in the basement of a commercial high rise. My partner and I plus four other armed personnel provided coverage during the delivery. Clearing a concrete stairway with no possibility of seeing around corners takes on a whole new meaning if you are holding a shotgun.
Noon, November 10, 1972, I delivered cash to the Royal Bank corner of Broadway and Granville. Armored cars could not stop in the bus zone so my driver parked behind the bank. I walked into the bank behind the tellers and as always, checked the people at each of the teller stations. The only thing of interest was a man depositing receipts and an Oriental man. Both of them wore blue coats. While signing acceptance receipts a teller came running up yelling she had just been robbed at gunpoint. She yelled: “That’s him leaving the bank!” I caught a brief glimpse of a blue coat. Without even thinking I drew my gun and ran for the door; as I exited there were pedestrians waiting to cross Granville. Standing with their backs to me were two men in blue coats. I did not know which of them was the gunman. I yelled: “Put your hands up” and the Oriental man turned around and put his hands up. It was imperative that I get him away from the pedestrians; if he pulled a gun I could not defend myself without hitting innocent pedestrians. My option was to move him against the narrow wall separating the bank’s two doors. I indicated where to go but he stood and started to lower his arms. I had to yell again, “Keep your hands up and move!” By this time I was very, very concerned at the outcome; my driver had parked the car across the Broadway sidewalk but he did not see me waving around the corner of the building while I held the robber at gunpoint. Finally a VPD officer arrived. I felt huge relief and started to holster my gun, but the officer yelled, “Have you got him covered?” Out came my gun again.
I reflect on that day when I hear reports of deadly force police incidents. I recall how events could have unfolded for me, my wife and many around me if I had shot this man as he lowered his arms. He could have been reaching for his gun. I would have had to make a split second decision; shoot or not shoot. Could I protect myself without hitting pedestrians? If this man had produced a gun what would have been the outcome? Thankfully the ‘gun’ was a large felt pen! It turned out he had stolen $4,800.
I phoned my wife Linda to let her know I was safe and continued my route. I went through periods of elation, tears and remorse. I finally realized I felt sorry for this criminal because it was so close to Christmas.
Please do not criticize the police if they are obliged to use deadly force and do not question whether or not a police officer is a hero. The trend of extreme violence today requires an officer to make a split-second decision based on training; each situation will be challenging with the possibility of receiving a mortal wound.
Everyone who assumes this danger and exercises his or her judgment deserves our thanks.
Pat Hampson, Oliver