Responding to a knife with a firearm

LA Times Letters to the Editor: “Why do police officers keep shooting people armed with knives?

Oh this is a good one…

To the editor: I read with interest Steve Lopez’s column on another police shooting of a man armed with a knife. These shootings first caught my eye in 1979.

At the time, I was in law school when two Los Angeles Police Department officers shot Eula Love multiple times. The 39-year-old Love was holding a steak knife and arguing about why her gas was turned off over a $22 bill.

After reading of these incidents over 40 years, I have picked up a couple of themes. First, officers across the country are permitted to use combat fire, where they empty their guns at the suspect irrespective of opposing risks.

Second, police do not resort to alternative weapons, such as bean bags or even .22-caliber short bullets, often enough. Each LAPD squad car is loaded with special technology; is a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun the only option?

If we agree a solution is needed, and we do, my first suggestion is a requirement to hire only college graduates with a degree in criminology.

Kevin H. Park, Westlake Village

It’s interesting that he’d call out “.22-caliber short bullets”, which I presume he means the .22LR, as if it’s somehow less lethal than a 9mm pistol. Out of the right firearm, it’s actually MORE lethal.

But let’s get to the base question: why do police officers use their firearms against a threat armed with a knife? For much the same reason they will shoot someone carrying a firearm if that person refuses to follow orders. When someone is armed with a deadly weapon, on which I hope we can all agree a knife qualifies, the only logistically-sound way to neutralize that threat is with deadly force. And the best deadly force for neutralizing a threat while still keeping distance from that threat is… a firearm.

How villains use knives in movies is far different from what happens in reality. In reality, a person armed with a knife can close distance and kill or seriously injure a target very quickly. Even in the hands of someone who isn’t all that skilled, a blade weapon can pose a significant threat.

This video is older, but it still shows the reality of how quickly a situation can change when you don’t know the person is armed with a knife. But even if you know they have one and the knife is in plain view, it’s still possible to get surprised and ambushed.

And that is why police officers respond with deadly force.

Police shootings are still very much in the spotlight after several high-profile shootings in recent years. And while it has rightly caused people to question the use of deadly force by police, it has also revealed the ignorance of the general public with these type of circumstances. Since many believe a person armed with a weapon that is not a firearm, or isn’t armed at all, cannot be a deadly threat to a police officer or civilian. And such is evident in the above letter to the editor, and the continual emphasis on “unarmed” with regard to Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.