In recent years, the term officer-involved shooting has become synonymous with excessive force.
"I believe the public often narrowly perceives officer involved-shootings. Generally, the information received initially is limited and potentially incorrect, if not received from the authorities involved," McPherson Police Department Chief Robert McClarty said.
Over the course of two years, Patrick W. Shaver, a police officer in the State of Georgia traveled the U.S. to explore the topic of officer-involved shootings. Utilizing experts, law enforcement and first-person accounts, he created a film that looks at the perceptions and realities of officer-involved shootings across the nation. From this, he created the documentary "Officer Involved."
"The film is about real-life officers around the country who have had to use deadly force and what they have to go through personally, mentally, emotionally, and career-wise in the aftermath of the incident," aid Megan Bowen, secretary of the McPherson Police Benefit Association. "It is a great insight to see the other side of the story. There are always two parts of a story."
The McPherson Police Benefit Association is hosting a community event with a public showing of "Officer Involved" at 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Aug. 12 at the McPherson Opera House, 219 S. Main St. in McPherson. Admittance is by free will donation with 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to the McPherson Police Department.
"The proceeds will go to an officer or an officer's family in the event of an injury and or death," Bowen said. "To help cover medical, funeral, or other final expenses."
Violence is a part of the job, that most officers don't like or relish and in fact do everything they can to avoid. A shooting is not something officers strive for.
"Our agency makes substantial efforts in training our officers in a vast array of de-escalation methods, and dealing with those in crisis, as well as use of force techniques. Tools for the officers to use i.e., their presence, their voice, their back up, other community resources, and of course those carried on their duty belt afford them options in varying degrees," McClarty said. "Ultimately, the subject they are dealing with may require an officer to use lethal force to stop the threat of death or great bodily injury to themselves and or others. However, society dictates the officer's job is to enforce the law and protect the community, including themselves."
Without first-hand knowledge of a situation, one cannot definitively say how they would react in someone else’s shoes. In addition, rules of engagement dictate law enforcement official’s actions.
“The public also lacks an understanding of police tactics and the factors that contribute to an officer utilizing lethal force. While I acknowledge there are some situations where officers have used inappropriate force, those situations are much fewer than the public realizes. Those situations are generally due to a lack of training and only rarely caused by a rogue and or racist officer who may face criminal charges later,” McClarty explained. “Nationwide some politicians, media, and focus groups have speculated about the circumstances surrounding officer involved shooting incidents. This misperception, the lengthy criminal justice process, and the occasional corrupt officer as mentioned, can cause deterioration in officer and community relationships.”
The last death associated with an officer-involved shooting in McPherson County was in 2016. Jeff Robertson, a 54-year-old white man, was shot on April 14, 2016 during a traffic stop. McPherson County deputies attempted to arrest Robertson on a warrant. He violently attacked two deputies. A taser was used, but had no effect. The entire incident was caught on video which was used by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation during their investigation.
The decision itself is difficult to make, but the repercussions of that decision reverberate for a lifetime. Such incidents can take a toll on the officer and his or her loved ones.
“Every officer-involved shooting deeply effects the parties involved and their loved ones, as well as the agency and the community. The trauma to the officer is subject to the officer’s knowledge and experience, their mental health and wellness, and the events leading up to the shooting. The effects differ for every officer, but they carry them for a lifetime,” McClarty said. “Depending on the circumstances surrounding an officer involved shooting, the administrative process varies; every situation demands an investigation. During initial investigation, the agency generally places the officer on administrative leave. The time affords the officer an opportunity for spiritual, mental, and or legal counsel. In a situation where there is no criminal negligence on the part of the officer, the officer undergoes evaluation to determine fitness for duty prior to returning to work. Obviously, criminal proceedings change this outcome. All involved may incur additional trauma during these processes.”
The McPherson Police Benefit Association has been around since 2012 with a mission of providing resources to support officers and their families. The association is made up of Bowen, President Shannon Quinn, Vice President Ryan Olbricht and Treasurer Beth Odell.
“We are huge supporters of law enforcement across the nation. However, this event will benefit our local police here in McPherson,” Bowen said.
The association also strives to raise awareness for law enforcement and the issues they face.
“The part we do not see, are the difficult calls, suicidal subject, unattended deaths, domestic altercations and countless other situations. These men and women are human beings. They are just like you and I. They have heart, compassion, and faith,” Bowen said. “My belief is that this film could help the community see just a little clearer of the day to day in an officer’s life see that there is another side to them. They put on a uniform, and they appear as a super hero. They are heroes, at least in my eyes, however they are human heroes in a uniform without the traits of your classic Marvel superhero.”
This project has been in the works since April. Tickets will be sold at the door and there will also be an opportunity to purchase T-shirts and wristbands.
“In central Kansas, we sometimes grow lax due to our idyllic small-town environment and fail to recognize these incidents can occur anywhere and at any time. This is an opportunity to increase our awareness as a community,” McClarty said. “We encourage residents to take advantage and increase their understanding of officer involved shooting incidents, the aftermath, and the effects on everyone involved.”
Officer-involved shootings are a tragic part of public service, but officers are doing just that – serving the public. It isn’t an easy job and is often thankless, but someone has to do it and the situations they face will stay with them.
“As chief, my philosophy is that if we hire well, train well, and make the appropriate tools available, as well as work tirelessly on improving and maintaining community relations, the McPherson Police Department will continue to keep officer involved shootings to a minimum,” McClarty said. “The aftermath of an officer involved shooting has repercussions for all involved. Sadly, officers face situations, which may require deadly force, and they must make split-second determinations, which have lifelong effects.”
Contact Teri L. Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @MacSentinel.