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Don't blame the cop when a bad guy gets shot

Published: Saturday, April 17 1999 12:00 a.m. MDT

Send this column to all your friends you think might be in danger of getting shot by a cop. Such shootings have been in the news a lot lately.

We feel sorry for the victims' families as we see their grief. Often, they think officers should have used more restraint. We also feel bad for the police officers and their families, who are traumatized as well. These shootings are a tragedy for all involved.Therefore, even though I'm no law enforcement expert, I've devised a five-point plan to help citizens avoid being shot by a cop. Admittedly, this plan won't prevent all shootings. A very few fall outside these parameters. But I'd guess we could prevent 95 percent of them if everyone followed this plan. So here are the rules:

1. Don't commit a crime. It seems rather elementary, Sherlock, that crime is a high-risk occupation/recreational pursuit, but that seems to escape some folks. They do a crime, get shot, and wonder how this could possibly happen. So don't beat your wife. Don't rip off a convenience store. Don't do a drive-by shooting. Don't get spaced out on drugs. Don't sell drugs. Don't do a hit-and-run. Don't get drunk and go for a spin in your car. Don't get in a fight. In case you've somehow missed it, crime makes cops think you're not such a good person. Society expects cops to go after you. With loaded guns.

2. If you ignore rule No. 1 and they find you, don't try to flee. This just makes them think you're even a badder guy. Don't try to escape. Don't run red lights or ignore stop signs. Don't race through residential neighborhoods where children are playing or speed down crowded freeways. Don't sneak into some innocent person's home or back yard. Don't hide in the bushes or in a closet or under the back porch. Makes cops think you're up to no good.

3. If you disregard rules 1 and 2, and they still catch up to you, don't disobey a cop's orders. Do exactly as he or she says. Don't make fast movements with your hands. Don't reach under your seat. Don't go for your coat pocket. Don't grab a shiny beer can or a tire iron or, for heck's sake, a toy gun. Do exactly what you're told. To do otherwise makes cops really edgy.

4. If you're bone-headed enough to disregard rules 1, 2 and 3 and you're still alive and somehow manage to get a gun or knife in your hand, don't point the gun at anyone. Don't act aggressively. Don't wave the knife around. Don't lunge at an officer. Don't shout that you want to die and you're going to take a few cops with you. This really gets them riled up.

5. If you've disobeyed rules 1, 2, 3 and 4 and, amazingly, you're still breathing, don't expect your friendly neighborhood cop to be an instant psychiatrist. Don't expect him or her to understand that you're basically a nice person who's had a really bad day and this is just your way of crying out for help. Don't expect a cop to feel sorry that your wife left you, your dog growled at you and you're tired of the lousy weather. Don't expect him or her to empathize with your bad childhood or that society has done you a raw deal.

If you get to rule No. 4 and you violate it, you won't have time to think about rule No. 5, because you'll be dead or seriously injured. So think about it in advance. Cops aren't psychiatrists. We can't expect them to analyze a fleeing, gun-wielding criminal and conclude he's really just a lost soul trying to communicate his angst to the world. We expect them to react to an immediate threat and not worry about what's going on inside a person's head.

Most shootings do follow, at least roughly, some part of the pattern described above. So I have a hard time criticizing an officer who must make a split-second decision in a terribly dangerous situation. Even if the officer makes a mistake, even if the person didn't really have a weapon, even if the person isn't a hardened criminal but a petty teenage thief, I can't fault the officer.

It's pretty simple. If you don't want to get shot by a cop, don't commit a crime. Don't run. Don't disobey. If you do those things and you end up with a bullet hole, whose fault is it?

If we take crime seriously, cops have to play for keeps. Personally, I'm awfully glad the police officers are out there going after the bad guys.

LaVarr Webb, Deseret News managing editor/operations, may be reached by e-mail at lwebb@desnews.com.

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