Christopher Dorner: Murderer

The rapid staccato sound of gunfire was reminiscent of similar sounds accompanying film clips of the Vietnam war. Only this war unfolded on U.S. soil near Big Bear Lake, California. The shooters—police officers and a man believed to be former LAPD officer/fugitive Christopher Dorner.

You all know Dorner’s story, a tale where he described himself as a victim of the LAPD’s racist good ‘ol boy system. So I won’t go into those details. Instead, I want to focus on Dorner the murderer of innocent citizens and police officers. Dorner, a man angry at his former department, and, apparently anyone in law enforcement who didn’t let him have his way. A cold-blooded murderer of the worst kind.

And then there’s Christopher Dorner, a man many are calling …a hero. Someone who stood up to the LAPD and his superiors. A hero because he didn’t back down, taking his personal war straight to the enemy, facing them head-on, using guns and ammunition to murder his opponent(s). Dorner, a man who crept up on an innocent man and woman, murdering them in cold blood simply because the woman’s father represented Dorner in the proceedings that cost him his badge. Yeah, that’s a hero all right.

Back to the people who praise Dorner and his spree of murders. A quick search on the internet will lead you to Facebook pages in his honor, featuring comments of praise and encouragement. Urging him to kill more police officers. Comments such as:

“This guy is a HERO, someone to stand up against un-constitutional cops and to stop Tryanny. GOD SPEED DORNER!”

“…chris from me, take out as many as you can cause they have no plans on hearing your case, God Bless you brother, Do your thing son.”

“Keep fighting the good fight, man.”

“Keep fighting Christopher!”

“…If you Support the man’s Movement then good for you …”

“Mr Dorner I hope u see that as far as most of the citizens are concerned your name has been cleared. My only hope is that u flee the country and find a place to regain a life and live happily. It’ll b sad to see u die they’re not worth your life.”

“You shot a cop you do it again with out getting cought and i will tip my simbaro to you.”

“I don’t think he shot anyone!! I believe they set him up!! And now its on!! Good luck sir!!”

“i salute u and ya mission no innocent people i f u can help it goddess god bless”

“Very pathetic police force we have in the USA. Disarm these pathetic pigs now.”

“All police precincts are KKK organizations. I hope he gets away with it.”

“He is a hero.”

These comments are just a few of the thousands out there praising Dorner for killing police officers and anyone else who stands in his way. Many of the comments indicate the poster’s joy at the notion of police officers dying. Many express their own desire to have enough courage to kill a few officers.

I ask you, after seeing these comments, is there any solid reason to wonder why police officers are wary when approached by people they don’t know, especially during violent and/or confrontational situations?

Well, Christopher Dorner just may have met his end yesterday in that burning cabin on the side of the snow-covered mountain. Personally, I can only hope the charred body that was found inside is positively identified as Dorner. Besides, life in prison for him would have been grand. Many of his fellow thugs and killers would have seen him as a true hero for killing cops, and they would have catered to his every whim. He’d have had inmates cooking meals for him, cleaning his cell, washing his clothes, shining his shoes, and tending to his other “needs.”

I’m not a big fan of the death penalty, and it is normally my preference to see most killers sentenced to life in prison without parole. I say so because I believe life in prison is far worse than execution, which is a peaceful ending for someone who caused so much pain and grief to others.

As for Dorner, however, I say good riddance to someone who was nothing more than a murdering coward.

My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in this case.

*Top photo – CNN

*     *     *

Don’t forget, the new season of Southland begins tonight!

Gracie Watson: Reincarnated

All alone, in a secluded section of Savannah’s Bonaventure Cemetery, is the grave of little Gracie Watson. Born in 1883 to W.J. and Francis Watson, formerly of Boston, Gracie, an only child, lived only 6 short years. During her short life, Gracie quickly became well-known and deeply loved by Savannah residents and tourists alike.

W.J. and Francis managed the Pulaski Hotel, catering to Savannah’s elite society, a group Francis longed to be a part of. Guests and visitors were often greeted and entertained at the Pulaski by little Gracie. She was a shining star in the lives of many.

In 1889, Gracie contracted a severe case of pneumonia, an illness from which she never recovered. Two days before Easter of that year, little Gracie succumbed to the sickness and departed her life on earth. Her parents were heartbroken, as were the residents of Savannah.

Gracie’s body was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery.

W.J. became deeply depressed and left the Pulaski Hotel for employment at the Desoto Hotel on Madison Square, but his term there was brief, as he and Francis decided to leave Savannah and return to Boston.

Before leaving town, the Watsons commissioned Savannah sculptor, John Walz, to sculpt a statue of Gracie out of Georgia marble. Today, the statue is surrounded by a black iron fence to protect it, and Gracie’s grave, from vandals.

It has been reported that Gracie is still seen and heard today, as she visits and plays at the graves of other children. Her laughter is often heard by employees of a bank that sits on the site where the Pulaski Hotel once stood. Visitors and residents alike have reported seeing Gracie playing near the bronze sundial located at Johnson Square. To this day, visitors to Bonaventure Cemetery still leave crayons, coins, and other items at Gracie’s grave-site.

I’ve visited Gracie’s grave site, and found myself drawn to it and the story of the little girl who once touched the lives of so many. I also found myself staring at the statue of Gracie, wondering what it was about the cute little girl that captivated me. Then it hit me, so I hurried home and began to search for one particular photo. I pawed through stack after stack until I found the one I sought. Holding it in my hand, well, I simply couldn’t believe what I saw. Was the photo I held a picture of Gracie Watson, the little girl who died in 1889? The person in the picture certainly bore a strong resemblance to her. The only problem, though, was the photo I held was taken sometime around 1982, or so.

I quickly placed the photo beside a photograph of Gracie Watson, and, well, you tell me. Is it a match close enough to be Gracie reincarnated?

I contacted the modern-day “Gracie” (she’s an adult now) to ask her opinion, and she was stunned when she saw the photos. “It’s like looking at…well, me. She looks like me when I was a child,” she said.

We continued to chat, reminiscing about the times when the early photo of her was taken, and about the days since. The conversation eventually turned to Gracie’s dress. I was reminded that the little girl in the photo above (right) had worn a blue outfit quite similar to the one in Gracie’s statue, when she’d posed for an elementary school class photo. To add a further twist to the story, her pose that day was identical to that of Gracie’s statue—no smile, facing slightly to the right.

I’m still searching for that second photo, and I should have it somewhere, because the little girl in it is my daughter. I remember that day as if it were yesterday…or was it a day in the 1800’s that I recall so vividly? Maybe I’ve been reincarnated, and not Gracie. I wonder…was I, in a former life, once the manager of a Savannah hotel? Was it I, a reincarnated W.J. Watson, who passed on historic genes. Or, does Gracie live on through my daughter?

Hmm… I wonder…

*By the way, I don’t know if you believe in reincarnation, or not. Or, if you’re into superstitions, voodoo, or crystal balls and numerology. If so, you might be interested in knowing that the above article consisted of exactly 666 words.







They see England, they see France

In the days of frequent “wardrobe malfunctions” that seemingly occur most often when paparazzi cameras are conveniently nearby, and when many people couldn’t care less that their pants hang low enough to expose more of their “Joe Boxer’s” than they cover, well, I ask you, who’d even for once pretend that modesty is an issue?

Yet, most of us have a problem with airport body scanners that transform our images into unattractive blobs of various shades of gray? Be for real, people. I mean, everywhere you look there are folks who willingly expose their unmentionables—plaid boxers, striped boxers, white thongs, blue thongs, polka-dotted thongs, and even no thongs, or boxers, just a good-size portion of a refrigerator repairman’s vertical smile. All out there for the world to see…whether we like it or not. And, the bare skin next to the exposed undergarments is displayed in full flesh-toned and natural living color.

Still, many of those people who think it’s their position in the world to showcase their granny panties, compression shorts, boxer and sports briefs, bikini and string panties, and jockstraps, instantly balk, scream, cry, and pout when it comes time to step in front of the full-body scanners at the airport.

No problem, though, when it comes to “lettin’ it all hang out” in the checkout line at the local Piggly Wiggly, where you and I are forced to view gargantuan moles, freckles, and unsightly warts in places only a fully-licensed and well-seasoned doctor who is, by many years of experience, numb to the horrible truths about those places that should forever remain beneath clothing.

Still, when it comes to body scanners…well, the public just does not like them. “They’re too intrusive. A stranger can see my privates. I don’t want those people to see beneath my clothing.”

Then there are the people who resist. hate, and balk at the alternative to the body scanners…head-to-toe pat-down searches. Even on the street, pat-downs by law enforcement are seen as offensive. No matter that the touchy-feely searches often produce illegal weapons of all types. You know, the weapons used to commit violent crimes, like rape and murder. But…nooo. Heaven forbid that cops try to stop violent crime before it happens.

Well, the days of stop and frisk may be ending. Officers in New York City are currently testing a new way to see if people are carrying concealed weapons. Remember the airport body scanners that people hate so much? Well…

Please allow me to introduce you to ThruVision TS4, a device that detects the human body’s natural radiation emissions (terahertz radiation). And, since the radiation doesn’t pass through things such as guns and knives, what’s left in its place is a clear-as-day outline of the weapon.

Of course,  convincing crooks to go out of their way to walk past the bulky unit may be a bit of a problem, but officials say the outlook for the future is promising.

You know, maybe a simple solution to the nation’s gun problem would be to ban all clothing, not weapons and extended magazines. On second thought, remembering my last trip to the Piggly Wiggly, I think I’ll stick with the scanners and cold hands.

*     *     *

*ThruVision photos

*Top photo – painting by Julie Opell,

Goodbye Dear Friend

My former detective partner, and friend of nearly 45 years, passed away Sunday afternoon. He and I solved a lot of tough cases together, and side-by-side we fought the good fight, sometimes not knowing if we’d ever make it home again. And, believe me, we’d been in many tough spots in our day.

Not only were we police officers who shared a love of our job, we also enjoyed a friendship away from the bad guys, guns, and our gold badges. He was a singer and I a guitar player, and throughout the years we played in a couple of bands together.

I eventually gave up the days of hauling heavy equipment and playing cover tunes to people gyrating on sticky dance floors. He, however, was still performing until the last week of his life. He loved it. In fact, the last time I saw my friend, he gave me a copy of his band’s latest CD.

During his time as a police officer and investigator, my former partner had been shot twice and managed to survive both incidents. He’d also been stabbed once while making an arrest. He pulled through that time too. But his recent illness was far too much for his tired body to bear. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, daughters, and brothers and sister. In just a few short months he would have been a grandfather, but he didn’t make it to see the new addition to his beloved family.

You’ll be missed by many, my friend, especially by me.

I know heaven’s door has opened wide for you.


Gun deaths since Sandy Hook

I don’t know how many of you follow the “crime” headlines in your towns, cities, and counties, but it’s something I watch closely. I suppose my obsession with real-life cops and robbers is deep-rooted due to my background and the fact that I, like other unfortunate officers, have been in situations where it was shoot back or be killed. However, the whole gun control/no, or limited gun control issue has greatly enhanced my interest in situations involving death by gunfire, especially here in coastal Georgia.

Slate Magazine, an online publication I’ve contributed to/consulted for in the past, is keeping a running total of gunfire deaths in the United States. As of yesterday, Slate reported 1173 people killed by gunfire since the Sandy Hook school shooting. Unfortunately, this enormous total of senseless killings is not all-inclusive. These are only the deaths they were able to record through various searches and other research methods. And, their graph of stick figures doesn’t include names or faces, such as the pretty young Savannah, Ga. college student, Rebecca Foley, who was gunned down Monday night in the parking lot of her apartment building on White Bluff Road.

Rebecca Foley – Facebook photo

Rebecca Foley was killed when a bullet traveling at a speed of approximately 1,500 feet per second (nearly 700 miles per hour, or so) penetrated the rear window of her car, shattering the glass, and then struck her body, fatally wounding her. And just like that, someone’s precious daughter was dead. Her body was later found lying in a wooded area 100 feet from her beloved red Volkswagen Beetle. Police have no suspects and no motive. This was Monday night in Savannah.

On Tuesday, in the Windsor Forest community, less than a mile from where Rebecca Foley was murdered, 17-year-old Evan Colquitt was shot multiple times, mostly in the chest. He died on a gurney at Memorial Hospital. Another death not included in the Slate tally. Another set of parents who won’t be able to see their child graduate, or grow into an adult.

Last night saw more gunfire. And, again the shots rang out less then a mile from Rebecca Foley’s apartment building—this time in the Turtle Creek apartments just off White Bluff Road. The victim had been arguing with a man and had turned to go inside his home, closing the door behind him. The suspect fired through the door, striking the victim in the upper torso. Police are still searching for the shooter.

Of course, I should mention the fight between two women in Forsythe Park. The altercation started with hair pulling and ended with one of the women pulling a gun and firing. Luckily, she didn’t hit her target.

Oh, and let’s not forget the shooting on 39th Street, or the 8 people shot at the local fair. The latter was a gang-related shooting that occurred in the midst of innocent men, women, and children who were enjoying a fun-filled night of rides and cotton candy. Sadly, some of the innocent were wounded by stray bullets.

Then there was the shooting that happened at the Fred Wessel Housing Complex. Luckily, the victim survived.

Needless to say, city residents are scared. And, normally, they’d merely avoid “trouble spots,” however, the latest shootings occurred in the better, “crime-free” neighborhoods. As a result, a meeting between city officials and the local police has been scheduled for this week to discuss the latest wave of shootings.

The good news to come from all this murder and mayhem is that Savannah police chief Willie Lovett’s latest crime report indicates that violent crime is substantially down from past years.

*By the way, the Savannah Police Department is under currently fire regarding several allegations of “numbers fudging” on their crime reports to make the stats seem better. One of the people to come forward is a former Savannah police officer who says he actually witnessed the cover up on several occasions. Altering police crime reports is a felony. The case may soon be turned over to federal authorities for further investigation.

Anyway, y’all pack a bag and come on down. It’s a great place to visit! (P.S. – you might want to wear body armor under your Hawaiian shirts).

How are things in your neck of the woods?

It’s delightful here…

Happy 5th Anniversary

Next week marks the fifth year The Graveyard Shift has been online. We’ve been through a lot together, you and I—from murder, B&E’s, and cordite, to weddings, funerals, and two U.S presidents. We’ve seen happy days, and we’ve experienced some that were, well, downright tear-jerkers. But, as a team (there are thousands of you, by the way), we’ve prevailed to begin the next five years. To celebrate, we”ll feature some of my earlier blog posts, starting with the writer’s question that set this blog in motion.

At some point between now and next Monday, the actual 5th year mark, there’ll be a fun contest where the winner will receive a free ticket for FATS training at the 2013 Writers’ Police Academy. Monday is also the day when I’ll announce the names of the 2013 WPA keynote and special guest speakers. By the way, the 2013 WPA is the largest and best we’ve ever produced.

So, I thank you all for stopping by throughout the years. I hope you’ve enjoyed The Graveyard Shift, and that you’ve found at least one article that has helped with your writing. Also, I’d like to send a special thanks to all the guest bloggers who’ve contributed to the site over the years. And, as always, I appreciate those who took the time to post comments and questions. After all, without comments I sometimes feel as if I’m at the microphone speaking to an empty room.

Oh, and here’s an extra special thank you to everyone who’s supported me by purchasing a copy of my book on police procedure. I simply cannot thank you enough.

Anyway, here’s my very first blog post.

*Remember, I never edit or proofread. What you see is always a first draft. The mistakes, well, they’re part of the fun. Perhaps one day I’ll post a “blooper” edition.

January 2008 -Blog Post #1



Each day I receive many interesting questions and comments about police procedure, CSI, and forensics. So I thought it would be fun to share my answers and experience on a Q&A blog. I welcome your questions and comments. Here’s a question I received yesterday.

Question: Do all cops use the same type of handcuffs?

Answer – The two main types of handcuffs used by law enforcement are pictured above. The top image is of a pair of chain-linked handcuffs. Most police officers prefer to carry and use chain-linked cuffs because the chain between the bracelets swivels, making the cuffs flexible and easier to apply to the wrists of combative suspects.

The lower image is of a pair of hinged cuffs. These are more commonly used when transporting prison or jail inmates. Hinged cuffs are not flexible (the hinge between the two bracelets does not swivel) which greatly reduces wrist and hand movement. This type cuff is somewhat difficult to apply to the wrists during a scuffle.

Both style cuffs operate using a ratchet and pawl locking system. Both are equipped with a second lock (double-locking) to prevent any further tightening of the ratchet which can injure the wrists of the cuffed suspect. The second lock also prevents prisoners from picking the lock.

Steubenville sexual assault

Nearly fifty Steubenville, Ohio teenagers gathered to celebrate the end of summer. Some would soon begin their college years, while others would see more time in high school.

Alcohol, and plenty of it, was at the center of the informal party. And, as usual when too much beer and liquor are mixed with teens, trouble wasn’t very far away. Only this time the trouble came in the form of a sexual assault on an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. An assault that went on for several hours while others looked on.

Some party-goers photographed the assault(s). Others recorded the actions on video. And, after all was said and done, some even urinated on the unconscious girl. No one, not a single person, attempted to stop the actions of the young men who so cold-heartedly violated the girl. Could it be that people today are so desensitized to violence that they saw this as entertainment? Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

Information, photos, and videos of the sickening crime quickly found their way onto social media, which finally led to the arrest of two high school football players. They were each charged with kidnapping and rape.

Adding to the horrific details of this night is a disturbing video made by some of the teens who witnessed the assault(s). In it, the teens make jokes about the victim and the things done to her by the young men at the party. One of the teens in the video actually talks about the victim as if she’d died during the assault(s), which is even more appalling.

It truly is disgusting to learn that people see humor in such a vile action. And this is one case where words alone can’t do enough to describe the recording. So here’s the video. Warning, the language is sexual in nature, graphic, and not definitely not suitable for young ears (video leaked by Anonymous).


Gun violence

We had out-of-town friends visit us yesterday, and it was embarrassing, and sad, that we had to advise them against following GPS directions in order to avoid certain areas of the city. But, it was a necessary evil due to the number of seemingly random shootings that have occurred there over the past few months. Of course, several of the gang-related killings were accidental shootings—the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. But dead is dead, no matter how the unfortunate person became a murder victim.

Our police chief seems to be doing everything humanly possible to combat the gun violence, including assigning a special task force to work nothing but gang-related crimes. He’s saturated the trouble areas with patrol cars, officers on foot, undercover officers, and more. He’s even asked council to approve the hiring of dozens of new police officers. The same is true for surrounding jurisdictions.

Still, the shootings continue…and continue, and continue.

For example (just this week alone):

– local deputies conducted a traffic stop where the driver jumped out of the van and began firing a revolver at the officers.

– narcotics agents arrested a drug dealer who was carrying a .22 pistol containing a 100 round magazine.

– a man came home for the holidays, and then shot and killed his mother before taking his own life.

– a man walking in a local park was robbed at gunpoint, and after handing over his money, he was shot by the robber. The victim, a convicted felon, then pulled his own weapon and returned fire.

– a man broke into a local residence and forced the homeowner to the floor at gunpoint.

– a man walking down the street on his way to a store was shot and killed.

– a man dressed as Santa Claus robbed a downtown bank at gunpoint.

– a suspect wearing a black hoodie robbed a grocery store at gunpoint.

The good news is that our overall crime is down from 2011. The bad news, though, is that gun-related crime is up—over double the number of the same type of crimes in 2011.

So what’s the answer? After all, the chief of police in our city has already attempted, with no luck, to reduce gun-related crimes by increasing the number of good guys with guns.

Will new, more restrictive gun laws do any good? How about banning large capacity magazines?

If more restrictions/laws are enacted, will the bad guys then suddenly come to their senses and begin obeying the law? Will they stop using high-powered rifles with 100 round magazines, and pistols with 30 round capacities, as their murder-weapons of choice?

Honestly, I don’t see a good, solid solution to the problem. However, I know we have to do something, and we have to start somewhere. But where?

In 1975, the unthinkable happened in a small town in Virginia. An 88-year-old retired school teacher was brutally raped and strangled, and her attacker left her lying on the floor believing she was dead. Moments later, though, the woman managed to crawl to her telephone and called the police. While on the phone, in an extremely weak voice, all she managed to get out was that she’d been attacked. Minutes later, when police broke into her back door they found the gasping woman seated in a chair wearing only a torn slip. She managed to tell the two patrol officers that she’d been raped and choked by a “negro man.” The woman died at the hospital less than an hour later.

The local police, assisted by the county sheriff and his deputies, immediately initiated a manhunt. In simpler terms, in 1975, that meant round up all suspicious black men and bring them in for questioning. And that’s what the officers did, but the results were negative. Each of the men brought in were ruled out.

The search for the killer continued for several days until a sheriff’s deputy happened upon a young black man riding his bicycle near a small country store. The man appeared to be a little “odd,” and after a quick background check the deputy learned that his “suspect” had been released from a mental hospital just two days prior. So the officer hauled him in for questioning…lots of questioning.

The local sheriff decided to personally conduct the interrogation, hoping to put away the man who killed that defenseless and sweet retiree, a woman he thought highly of and checked on two or three times a week. A woman who also brought brownies and other treats to the local police on a regular basis.

During the interrogation, the suspect’s attention often wandered, and was extremely unfocused. In fact, he often starting singing, warbling theme songs from old TV westerns. The sheriff’s patience wore thin, telling the man to, “Look at me. Look at me!” Finally, tired of the suspect’s lack of interest, the sheriff said, “”You’re not half as damn nuts as you act like you are, you know that? You know what happened last week, don’t you? Huh?”

Twice, the sheriff took his suspect to the woman’s home hoping get some sort of reaction from him. Nothing.

According to transcripts, the sheriff’s continued interrogation was relentless, and at one point told the man, “Go ahead and tell us what happened so we can go home, OK?” Suddenly, out of the blue, the suspect uttered the words the sheriff wanted to hear…sort of. He said he pushed a woman down, tore her clothes, and then had sex with her. But most of what he told the sheriff was wrong according to what they knew about the crime and what they’d found at the scene. The man also said the woman, his victim, was “colored.” She was white.

Well, after hours upon hours of intense interrogation and hearing the “confession,” the suspect was finally charged with the rape and murder of the sheriff’s elderly friend. And a few weeks later he was tried and convicted for those crimes and was sentenced to life in prison. The evidence used to convict him was a single pubic hair found on the suspect’s clothing (it was not tested), his odd confession, and a single fingerprint that did not match the victim.

In 1983, lawyers for the convicted man appealed his case with success. The court ruled that the sheriff had not, in spite of hours and hours and hours of intense questioning, advised his suspect of his rights. Charges were dropped and he was released from prison after already serving five years. However, he was committed to a mental institution.

The real twist to this case came thirty-three years later, when the Virginia State Police re-opened the case as part of Governor Warner’s effort to exonerate wrongly convicted innocent people. Within a few days of submitting DNA samples for testing, state investigators received a match to items seized at the original crime scene. However, it was not the DNA of the mentally challenged man who had already served five years for raping the schoolteacher. Instead, the DNA matched another man, a man who’d recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for rape and sodomy.

The second man was arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison for the schoolteacher’s rape and murder (based on the recent DNA tests), and his conviction finally led to the exoneration of the wrongfully convicted mentally challenged man. Sadly, he’d passed away a few years before he was exonerated.

Experts say intense questioning tactics by the sheriff led to the suspect’s false confession, an attempt to please the top officer so they could both simply go home. Also, taking the man to the scene of the crime provided him with details he otherwise wouldn’t have known. Poor police tactics was the conclusion of many experts.

By the way, the fingerprint that was found at the scene, the one police said didn’t match the victim…it belonged to the sheriff.

Dairy Farmers

In the coming weeks, dairy farmers from each county in the continental U.S. will begin the arduous task of reviewing all mystery and thriller books. Yes, these farmers, cow pokes, and manure-movers will put down their pitchforks, switch off their John Deere tractors, and begin turning pages. Yet, and I think it’s safe to say, most have absolutely no experience as editors or writers. In fact, some of them have probably never read an entire mystery book, like I’ve never read books on farming. Not one. Still, county, city, and state governments have decided that the bovine farmers will have the final say as to whether or not your books will make it, or not.

Actually, a single thumbs-down review by “Mort the Morning Milker” will result in the author’s banishment from writing, confiscation of all computers and pens and paper, and the immediate termination of internet service (no more Facebook or Twitter). It’s the law because elected officials say it’s the law, and they know best, right?

Anyway, you, as a writer, if banished by the milkers, will be immediately ejected from all writing organizations and critique groups. In short, your life’s dream and career will soon be in the hands of people who don’t have a flippin’ clue about your vocation.

Is it fair? Certainly not. But I understand that soon to follow will be landscapers critiquing the landing techniques of jet pilots. Daycare employees are on schedule to begin pointing out flaws in the design of all ballistic missile submarines. Me…well, my first order of business is to have someone round out the corners on Picasso’s The Three Musicians (people don’t have square and rectangular legs, you know).

Absurd, huh? Doggone right it’s absurd. Crazy even.

So I ask you, then, what on earth makes officials in the city of Pasadena, Ca. think the average “Joe and Jane Citizen” are qualified to determine whether or not a police officer is justified in his/her decision to use force? Who knows, but that’s exactly what they’re planning to do (have police review boards made up entirely of average citizens).

Honestly, it’s difficult enough for those of us who’ve worked in the field to come to those conclusions. However, as experts using many years of training and experience as a basis for our determinations, we can generally place ourselves in a position similar to what the officer(s) in question faced at the time of the incident.

A civilian, however, who’s most likely never been in a physical confrontation of any kind, especially one where the use of deadly force is necessary, has no experience or training to draw on as a basis for forming a logical and educated conclusion. Mostly what they have to go on is someone’s testimony or written words, and possibly a video or aftermath photos, and that’s it. And that’s not enough. Not even close.

Perception of threat, escape, harm, etc. at the exact time of an incident is a crucial factor when determining when or if to use force. How an officer (or anyone else for that matter) perceives an immediate (imminent) threat is also crucial when determining what level of force is necessary.

Is this guy going to escape and harm someone else? Is this person going to harm me? Is this person who’s holding what appears to be a weapon…well, is he going to kill me if I don’t stop him?

How long does an officer have to make those determinations? Sometimes a fraction of a second—not even a whole second…think about it—, and it is extremely difficult for a police review board to know what an officer experienced at the exact moment the incident occurred. But police officers usually have some idea because they’ve “been there, done that” even if it was only in a training capacity. It is, however, IMPOSSIBLE for an untrained, inexperienced civilian—a “Mort The Milker”—to sit in a meeting room several weeks after a legitimate use of force incident occurred and make any sort of educated determination based solely on photos, videos, statements, etc.

Nope, these decisions cannot be accurately made by an average civilian any more than the average Mort The Milker should be scrutinizing the latest Dean Koontz novel, hunting for dangling modifiers and the correct usage of lay and lie. I do agree, however, that strong checks and balances be in place. And I agree that they should be utilized whenever needed. Err on the side caution. Review all cases, if necessary. But the reviews should be conducted by people with education and/or experience in the field.

One way civilians can educate themselves is to sign up to shoot FATS (firearms training simulator) or a similar system. And when they do, it’ll take approximately two minutes to make a believer out of them. In fact, ask anyone who’s participated in the FATS training at the Writers’ Police Academy. Lots of doubting writers enter the room as skeptics, but they come out believers in having to experience “the moment” to truly understand.

Use of force is a serious matter, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Nor should force be used unnecessarily and/or without justification. Never.

BUT…dairy farmers should stick to what they know best, milking cows. And Joe and Jane Citizen should do the same (stick to what they know), and leave policing to those who know the business. Unless, Joe and Jane want to and are able to take the time to learn about what it is they’re tasked to judge. And they must leave emotions and media opinions at the door, along with their own personal beliefs about police officers. This would not be the time to seek revenge for receiving a traffic ticket. After all, we’re talking about someone’s life, and someone’s dreams, and someone’s career, and someone’s family. And it could all be over with a “thumbs down” verdict by a citizen with a vendetta. But, if the officer was indeed wrong in his actions, then so be it. And the truth will come out without a lot of digging.

I believe the fair way to handle this is to have a panel consisting of both civilians and police officers. But with the mixed panel comes the possibility of a draw, and who gets the job as tie-breaker?

I, for one, know what it’s like to have bullets zinging by your head. I also know what it’s like to use deadly force, and it’s a gut-wrenching experience—both killing someone and then waiting to hear, even though I knew, that the shoot was justified.

Still, I’m comfortable in knowing I did the right thing in that particular situation. No doubt whatsoever.

What I’m not comfortable with, though, is dairy farming, because I know nothing about it, which is why you’ll never hear of me passing judgement on Mort’s milking mannerisms.

Now, Pablo, about that painting…you do know that people don’t have eyes on the side of the head, right? And the nose, it goes between the eyes…geez…

At no time were any cows, writers, or dairy farmers hurt during the writing of this article. Also, any implication that farmers or writers are less than intelligent, well, that’s your conclusion, not mine. Some of my best friends and family members are farmers and they’re far more successful than I could ever hope to be….an theys probly better righters than me too.