Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reasonable Force?

            Police have a huge amount of discretion when responding to calls. They make decision calls that can cost people time, money and even their lives. In some situations they have to determine how much force to use when trying deal with suspects. In one case police officers in Calumet City Illinois chose to use deadly force when dealing with an unruly fifteen year old autistic boy. 
            Stephon Watts was a young man who suffered from aspergers syndrome (form of autism), he was often getting into trouble at home and the police were often called to his house and well aware of his disability. The morning he was killed he got into a fight with his parents, who call the police as instructed to do by the boy’s doctors. In past encounters with the boy officers used a stun gun when necessary to help control the boy. He was reported to have used knives in the past and his home is flagged as a house that has a violent teen as well as an autistic person residing there.  In this call the police report that Stephon had a kitchen knife and cut one of the officers. The two officers who had reported that "they feared for their lives" fired shots striking the boy in the leg and chest. Stephon's family said that he was only holding "butter knife" and that the police didn't have to shoot him. The family reported that the officers shot him in the head and leg but the coroner’s report showed that the boy was shot in the chest rather than the head. Stephon's father also said the officers could have physically restrained him but at 5'10 feet tall, 220 pounds and holding a knife this may have been a great challenge. 

             According to the use of force continuum from the national institute of justice, force starts with officer presence in which no force is used. The second step is verbalization in which an officer uses verbal commands to control the situation. The third step is empty hand control in which the officer uses his hands to try to hold or strike if necessary to control a suspect. The next step is the use of less lethal weapons. The last step is lethal force which should only be used in a situation that poses a threat to the officer or others. In the case Stephon Watts the use of less lethal weapons was often the case but in this instance the officer felt the need to use deadly force. According to the use of force continuum the officers acted correctly. A person with a knife that has already injured an officer definitely poses a threat especially a 200 pound teenager.
            However the officers were aware that this teen had a disability and should have taken that fact into account. They know that this teenager has social problems and has to be dealt with often. I think that the officers could have used less lethal weapons to control Stephon. If less lethal weapons were not available to the officer on the spot they could have easily shot Stephon in an area that would have not resulted in death. They could have then taken him to a hospital to get the necessary attention. 
            I believe that the officers under any other circumstances used deadly force in a reasonable manner. This instance however taking his condition into account they could have made a better choice. I think that this is one case where the use of force is hard to determine. The situation was dangerous but there could have been many other options rather than killing a young teen with autism. 

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  1. I am kind of confused. It says that one of the officers was cut then it says that he used a butter knife, regardless of the situation if this teen physically injuried an officer then I think its the right of the officer to protect him/her self. I feel like as a team the police in that area could have figured out ways to deal with mentally challenged individuals better or people with disorders.

  2. I firmly believe that no one should judge the actions of the police in instances like this where all the facts are not present and only the individuals that were present know exactly what happened. It always seems like everyone wants to have an opinion when the police do something wrong to an "innocent" person. The teenage boy was 200 lbs and was known to be violent and now the police are called to the house where an officer has been cut. God only knows what really went down in that house and I feel the officers had the right to use deadly force if they feared their lives were in danger. If the teenager was that mentally disabled and dangerous then he should not have been living amongst the general public, which could have prevented this from happening altogether.

  3. Whether the teen was mentally handicapped or not has no bearing on this situation. The teen has, in the past, shown he is capable of spontaneous, aggressive behavior which was probably worsened by his condition. The kid already injured an officer with a deadly weapon which warrants deadly force. I have worked with the mentally ill and I would be more afraid of someone who is not mentally stable, with a knife than an ordinary, angry citizen. The facts are this: a large, 15 year old kid injured an officer with a deadly weapon, which by the use of force continuum warrants the use of deadly force; not to mention this subject has caused bodily harm to others in the past. Perhaps this child was not fit to be in this home environment, he probably should have been someplace where they had could control these outbursts and possibly prevent future violent behaviors. This is a sad story, but officers sometimes must make these hard decisions and in this situation, I think the officer ultimately made the right decision.

  4. I pretty much disagree with this. I know that sometimes officers do use too much force, no one is perfect and not everyone is made out to be a police officer. When it comes to shootings I never trust the media's take of it, which is unfortunately the only side we get to see. Having personally know an officer involved in a situation extremely close to this one, I know firsthand that you cannot always believe the media. Officers in situations like this only have split seconds to use their discretion to make life-altering decisions. No other person can sit and tell someone "no, you were not in fear of your life". Without being in that situation ourselves we can never know. Unfortunately many people have tried to use situations like this to limit police power and discretion. It is the same with any other type of situation. The media rarely reports the good to the point that they report the bad.