Our View: Protecting lives trumps rash action
April 8, 2014
Monday’s 21-hour police standoff with an armed man got a lot of attention in Havre and across the state. More than 40,000 people viewed the online version of the story over the course of the day, and about 300 people shared the story on Facebook.
A number of people commented on the story and on Facebook — and no doubt many others had similar thoughts — that the Havre Police Department should have used force to subdue the suspect early on, with less-than-lethal weapons or by shooting to disable him. Other commenters said the officers should have used lethal force to end the 21-hour standoff.
Lethal force should always be an option of very last resort, when officers or civilians are in imminent mortal danger. Less-than-lethal techniques like rubber bullets or tasers are often useful in defusing dangerous situations while minimizing injuries. But when a loaded gun is involved, there’s always a risk that a taser or rubber bullet won’t subdue the suspect fast enough to prevent serious injuries or deaths — or worse, it could escalate a situation that might otherwise be resolved peacefully.
The Havre Police Department and other agencies did the right thing in keeping the situation calm, cordoning off the area to minimize the risk to civilians, and using patience and tact rather than rash force. Unfortunately, the man ultimately chose to take his own life, despite constant negotiation by Havre officers throughout the day.
We don’t know what was going through the man’s mind as he stood on the US Bank lawn with a gun held to his own head as officers surrounded him. We don’t know if he suffered from mental illness, or if he had a history of criminal behavior, or if it was a moment of bad judgement compounded by alcohol or drugs. We don’t know if he has a mother or a father who loves him, or friends that care for him, or children that depend on him.
But no compassionate person should want another human to die needlessly, or for a police officer to have to live with the burden of an avoidable death by his or her hand. It’s easy to armchair-quarterback and imagine that you would resolve the situation with the speed and style of a television cop — it’s more complicated when lives are on the line.
We’re proud of the Havre Police Department for taking their time, securing the area, requesting help from other agencies and waiting for a peaceful resolution. It’s tragic that the standoff ended the way it did, but law enforcement did the best they could in what turned out to be an impossible situation.