Don't Call U.S. Gun Violence 'War,' Longtime Police Officer Says At least 14 police officers have been killed in the line of duty this month; many more have survived gunshots. But a longtime police officer says the media and his colleagues should think twice about calling it a "war" between police and criminals.
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Police Officer: Don't Call U.S. Gun Violence 'War'

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Police Officer: Don't Call U.S. Gun Violence 'War'

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Police Officer: Don't Call U.S. Gun Violence 'War'

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Welcome to the program.

INSKEEP: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I'm just curious. As someone who works the streets, how closely do you follow the news of police shootings around the country - like the ones we've heard about this month?

INSKEEP: Well, as a matter of fact, the last two shifts in our night-shift briefing, we've looked at the news reports and discussed the officer-safety aspects of the shootings. And we want to keep our officers safe before we send them out on the streets, so we do keep track.

INSKEEP: This has got to be a moment where training is critical, because you are dealing in a civilian population. And I would imagine that even if somebody opens fire, your first inclination has to be not to shoot.

INSKEEP: Exactly. The approach we have to take cannot be like the military. We're civilian police. We have to know what our background is before we fire our weapons. We have to identify our target. We're not at war like police in Mexico, police in Afghanistan, and we do not have anywhere near that environment in America.

INSKEEP: One of the reasons we wanted to talk to you is that you wrote a letter to the editor of the Las Vegas newspaper making this very point. You said: We're not at war - and people who say we're at war because of police fatalities, they're exaggerating the case, you think.

INSKEEP: I do. We don't want to minimize what's happened. Every police officer that dies, it's a tragedy to the community and to the family, and to our profession. But I think we face a greater danger in indoctrinating employees, especially our new employees, into the mindset that it's us versus them.

INSKEEP: Would you explain some jargon to me? What did you mean when you said you have to know what your background is in a shooting situation?

INSKEEP: Well, if I was working the strip on a bike and somebody came out with a gun and started shooting at anything, I can't just pull my gun and shoot back. The first priority's the safety of the public that might be in the area.

INSKEEP: There's been at least one, rather well-publicized incident in 2006, in which you were involved - with a shooter in a hotel. What happened?

INSKEEP: We got a call that shots had been fired on the 21st floor of Harrah's Hotel. We raced to the scene, got enough officers together that we could make an approach down a long hallway. We saw the victim laying in the hallway moaning, asking for help. The door was closed, and the suspect was barricaded inside, as it turned out. A group of six or eight of us went down the hallway and we were able to drag the victim to safety, then evacuate the floor. And then we called our SWAT team. The SWAT team was able to blow out the window from the outside so that the snipers could see what was going on inside. And after a lot of negotiations and attempts to get the suspect out, they did enter. He had a gun, and they took him into custody. And I think he got 28 years in prison.

INSKEEP: I'm curious: In that whole, incredible sequence in which a guy pulled out a gun, actually shot people, barricaded himself in a hotel, did the police fire any gunshots?

INSKEEP: No, we did not.

INSKEEP: Would it have been safer for police if they had opened fire?

INSKEEP: Well, we didn't know who was in the room, how many people were in the room. One of the things I did, I was down on my knee with the victim, asking him what happened, how many people in the room. And we just did not have a shot. It's not as easy as it looks in the movies.

INSKEEP: This must be the part where it's important to you to not think of it as a war, because you have to think about who else might be killed.

INSKEEP: Exactly. We are training now, across the United States, for active shooters and even terrorist-type attacks, where we do deviate from our normal, cautious response. But we don't have acceptable casualties. Top priority of the police department in America is to avoid police officers and citizens dying, if we can prevent that.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

INSKEEP: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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