When you’re off-duty, you need to think through your actions and consider the impact of not having normal police equipment available. The lack of a radio, Taser, or handcuffs reduces options. In a dangerous situation caught on video, an off-duty Albuquerque, New Mexico police officer fights a suspect in a gas station parking lot. Headed home from a day of training, the officer found himself in a fight for his gun.
According to an Albuquerque Police statement, the man in the video, Dino Bailey, was threatening to kill a security guard at Bluewater Apartments, located next to the gas station where the video was filmed. An off-duty SWAT officer, Stephen Arias, was heading home when he heard the radio call describing a man with a gun. Officer Arias arrived at the gas station and confronted Bailey, who ran to a red car. This is where the video starts.
Without his patrol gear and its array of less-lethal options, he was at a disadvantage. In the police world, there is a gulf between what is taught in firearms training and arrest techniques, also known as defensive tactics. This officer did well, but was uncomfortable fighting and placing handcuffs while holding a rifle.
In firearms training, the solution to every problem is ballistic. Defensive tactics training is more nuanced, but the guns are rubber and quickly disappear into holsters when performing subject-control techniques. The real world is less predictable and may careen between lethal force and handcuffing. Many officers have never trained to cuff a suspect while holding a rifle.
While well-trained for a SWAT team encounter, he appeared to be inventing techniques on the fly, and his single-point sling did not help him transition to handcuffs. He got back up and the situation turned out well, but he found himself in a position that he had not anticipated.
I applaud him for taking action when it would have been easy to stand by. If the suspect had been armed, a mass shooting may have been avoided. Some things that were overlooked in the heat of the moment: police markings, handcuffs, and less-lethal options. This video could have just as easily been a car jacking as an arrest. Imagine another officer responding to a man with a gun and seeing the action on the video. What would his assumptions be?
It is never ideal to confront a potentially armed suspect by yourself, particularly off-duty. Doing this while armed with only a patrol rifle reduced his options further. That said, there are occasions where there is no other choice and a suspect must be confronted due to immediate danger to the public which can be mitigated by prompt action. This officer clearly felt this was the case and jumped in with what he had at hand at the end of a training day.
If possible, wait for on-duty officers to arrive. If you must take action, take that action, but be aware of the disadvantages of that and what the risks are if things don’t go as you had expected. Have an exit strategy if things don’t go as planned:
- Make sure you are marked as a law enforcement officer.
- Call 911 or dispatch and let them know an off-duty cop is responding.
- Consider the impact of your limited equipment.
- Shout “Police” so witnesses calling 911 describe you as a cop.
- Be prepared to physically subdue the suspect if he/she does not comply and lethal force is not justified.
This has a happy ending. Officer Arias was able to fight Bailey off, and when Bailey ran, they caught him as backup arrived. Even though lethal force could have been used in the struggle as Bailey tried to grab the gun, he instead ended up in jail with minor cuts, and Arias avoided a murder investigation and the inevitable allegations of racial profiling and excessive force.
The law requires that law enforcement use of force be reasonable and necessary. Officers must to train to fight with a gun in their hands. The SPEAR system has some great techniques for this. Most times, violent, immediate action can bridge the gap until backup arrives. In the modern world, the fight with the suspect is only the beginning. We have to posture to win in the press and the courtroom also.
(Featured Image Courtesy: KRQE)