Tamir Rice was Killed by Reckless Tactics

The other day I heard about the shooting of Tamir Rice by Cleveland PD, and as soon as I saw the video, I had to write about it! I know it happened a while ago, but I haven’t seen much talk about the officers’ tactics.

Now, I don’t know what kind of tactics they teach officers up in Cleveland, but Loehmann and Garmback lucky Rice wasn’t actually an armed hostile, or it would have been they who’d be dead. If Cleveland PD actually trained officers to get that close, then they need a training overhaul, but if not at least one of those officers should have been fired long ago!

Distance Is Our Friend
When given a choice between confronting a suspect believed to be arm from a distance or close up, only an absolute idiot would choose to make the shot easy for the suspect. Unlike most people officers encounter, we are actually trained to shoot targets from a distance, giving officers an advantage at long range.

Plus, the psychological impact of that distance naturally makes everyone less jumpy, meaning that a suspect’s less likely to make sudden moves, and any confusion about what the officers want them to do is less likely to result in a shooting, justified or not. Hell, Even if Tamir did reach for his waistband, it he well have been thinking, “Oh crap! Here! Take this stupid thing!” And that sudden flurry of thought and action could have been completely avoided, if Loehmann and Garmback weren’t all but running him over!

The Better Part of Valor is Discretion
While we all hate to have a suspect run from us and get away, unless you’re chasing down a guy who you know just killed a bunch of people, and will likely kill more if you don’t take him down right then and there, sometimes you just gotta (cue the music) let it go. And if Loehmann and Garmback were that concerned about him running, then they should have called for more units and tried to set up a perimeter, before they made contact, or at least had another unit nearby to help chase him if he ran! You know what? There were two officers in that car. How about dropping Loehmann off one street over, then Garmback could attempt to make contact from the other side, so Garmback herds him towards Loehmann! Use that mushy gray thing in your head guys!

The best part about the defense of their extreme proximity to Rice was claim that the patrol car slid on the grass. Seriously??? Unless that car slid a few hundred feet, those officers planed on being WAAAAY too close in the first place, ESPECIALLY if the dispatcher didn’t relay the comments about the gun possibly being fake!

Officers Who Assume the Worst Survive
Speaking of the fake gun comment, what the general public doesn’t understand is that information provided to officers is often inaccurate. Sometimes it’s as simple and harmless as an “E” on a license plate being misread as an “F”, or a dark blue being called black, but sometimes the “fake” gun is real.

Add to that the daisychain game of police dispatch systems, and even with perfect information provided by the caller, by the time it gets to the officer, there may be substantial inaccuracies. I personally remember a call where two black men in a white car were described to me by dispatch as two white men in a black car. Thankfully, it was the only car in the area, and there was enough additional matching information to assure me that I was looking at the right car, which led me to stop them, and find that their car was loaded with freshly stolen electronics!

Even if we did get highly reliable information 99% of the time, it would still be in the officer’s best interest to assume that the info is unreliable, when it comes to potentially dangerous situations. While this approach naturally increases the chances of a non-threats being mistaken for threats and hurt, it greatly reduces the chances of the officer getting killed, and like it or not, when faced with the “which of us gets to go home tonight” choice, all but the most fanatical believers in the afterlife default to self preservation.

Orange Tips are for Parents
Many news stories harp on the claim that Rice’s gun was an airsoft without the orange tip, as if that was the key to the whole thing. Just run an image search for “Colored Handguns”, then see how reassued you’d be by an orange tip, when the gun is pointed at you! Like I said, our lives depend on our assumption of the worst. The only people reassured by orange gun tips are people who never genuinely consider that someone might try to kill them that day.

So Who’s to Blame for Rice’s Death?
There is no question that the actions of Rice created the scenario leading to his death, but it was the keystone tactics used by Cleveland PD that ultimately was the causative factor.

Cleveland PD
Cleveland PD is clearly responsible. If Cleveland taught Loehmann and Garmback that tactic, then they will most likely be granted qualified immunity from prosecution, and the department will be held solely responsible. However, even if Cleveland PD didn’t teach that tactic, they are still responsible for hiring the Loehmann without even checking his personnel records! I mean, what kind of an idiot do you have to be to hand somebody a gun and send him to a call about an armed suspect in the park pointing a gun at people, without even checking to see if he’s an idiot or a nut job! So, regardless of their defense, the city of Cleveland will definitely be funding the Rice family college & retirement funds.

The veteran officer, Garmback, is also largely responsibile, because he was driving the car, which placed the Loehmann at point-blank range with a reportedly armed suspect. In fact, even if Cleveland taught them that stupidity, 10 years of experience in law-enforcement should have taught Garmback that such a tactic was basically asking for 40 cal lead crowns! The news reports claim that Garmback had a spotless personnel record, but if Cleveland PD didn’t even check the personnel records of Loehmann, when he applied to work there, I’m hard-pressed to believe that they have any serious disciplinary system in place, that would have recorded Garmback’s shenanigans in the first place! Again, Cleveland might have written the recipie, but Garmback’s the one directly responsible for putting the ingredients together for this tragedy.

As for the Loehmann, you may not like hearing this, but unless that strategy was his brain child, he was basically a helpless victim of circumstance. He was hired by a department that didn’t even bother to check his personnel records from the previous employer who apparently fired him for poor performance, he almost certainly got terribly tactical training, and he was stuck riding shotgun with a 10 year veteran who didn’t understand or didn’t care that he was basically shoving a rookie directly into an armed confrontation at point-blank range where the Loehmann’s only viable option for surviving was fight, not flight. And when you’re talking about a guy with a gun, standing a few feet in front of you the only viable option for fighting is quick use of your gun. Any talk about tasers or pepper spray is simply naïve over estimation of them by people who know nothing about them. When it comes down to it, Loehmann’s only real guilt here may be that he hired on with a crappy PD.

So there it is. What do you think? Any important info I appear to be missing? How do you think this could have been avoided?


10 thoughts on “Tamir Rice was Killed by Reckless Tactics

  1. Your ending paragraph is more telling than the whole article. A policeman critiquing another policeman usually ends in such a way. Give the policeman in question a pass and levy the blame for his actions somewhere else. It seems that individual policemen cannot think logically on their own and cannot ascertain what appropriate action to take involving someone else’s life unless one is trained properly.

    Why bother with such extended analysis when you could have just written the last paragraph as the complete article? It falls right in with the usual police’s “We have investigated ourselves and found we never do anything wrong” when police do something outlandish.

    Very similar to an instance that happened in LA Ca. a few years ago which, no doubt, you in your police mode will probably give the policeman a pass once again.

    The police were called about a noise complaint. A house filled with people partying on Halloween night. People dressed in costumes as is tradition of many during the Halloween season. A policeman, upon peering through a window, saw a guy dressed as a cowboy and holding two silver guns in his hands. The officer drew his own weapon and fired five shots through the glass, killing the male dressed as a cowboy. The guns that he was carrying in his hands were the old style Hop-a-long Cassidy cap pistols. A female dressed as Annie Oakley and carrying the same type of guns was not shot, an Indian carrying a bow and arrows was not shot. I assume that once the officer’s logic was used up, he didn’t think of taking the other ‘threats’ out..

    Of coarse, the police used the usual self investigation and cleared the policeman of any wrong doing just as the police did to my next door neighbors.

    Again, a supposed complaint of excess noise, at least, that’s what the police PR man stated. This time, the swat team was used complete with two armored vehicles, one with a gun turret on top and destroyed a birthday party for a young child. The swat team had to realize that it was a party for the youngsters because of all the balloons and party streamers and party hats that were in plain view but did that stop the swat team??? Nope, they crashed through doors and windows in full combat amour with guns drawn and scarred the hell out of 20 first grade kids who now think of the police as worst things on earth..

    Once again, police logic became unfathomable, both by the swat team and the police chief’s reaction to the incident. The police stated that while the incident could have been tragic in it’s consequences, it was the result of good police work……

    When are the police going to go back to thinking for a living and at least show some concern for their victims???

    • First off, if you care to pay any attention, far from saying that nobody did anything wrong, I clearly blamed Garmback and Cleveland PD for setting the stage for the wrongful death. I even included the caveat that Loehmann’s actions were only reasonable if he was not on board with that tactic! Obviously, the implication is that if that tactic was Loehmann’s idea, then is responsible for the wrongful death of Rice! 

      As for your comment about officers acting logically, when you are a few feet from someone coming your way and reaching for what appears to be a gun in their waistband, after having been dispatched to a call about someone pointing a gun at people in the park, the ONLY logical conclusion is that you are about to be shot, and the only logical way to prevent that is to shoot the other person first! 

      As for the rest of the article, I wrote it because the concepts I discussed apply to more than just this individual incident, and give a deeper understanding of why the officers actions were either reasonable or outlandish.

      In regards to the two incidents you described, you are correct that they do sound completely unreasonable, based on the information that you are providing. Have you seen the full police reports on those incidents? There may have been a reasonable explanation for the officers actions, or they may well have been the idiots you think they were! Like any profession, we have exemplary people and crappy people too.

      About your snide costume custom comment, I’ll tell you right now that every police agency in the country has a predictable spike in offenses with masked suspects around Halloween. We often have shootings and stabbings at parties, and Halloween parties are no safer than any other party, but it is harder to differentiate between threats and non-threats because everyone is in costume. In fact, alcohol sales are higher at Halloween than any other time of the year, which means more people with their “maybe I shouldn’t do that” alarms deactivated. Then add to that the fact that anonymity (in this case provided by costumes) is proven to increase people’s likelihood to act violently (as in the case of road rage), and you’ve got a recipie for tragedy. In short, the officers actions might not have been as bone-headed as you think.

      Oh, and the SWAT team raiding your neighbors house for a noise complaint? BS! If that were true, then any reasonable parent would have sued the crap out of the city and won millions of dollars! Maybe you should ask your neighbor to see some of the documents from their lawsuit!

      • OF, you make some really good points in this article, and officers do have to deal with complete morons. But like you said, there are idiots on both sides of the equation here. I mean, why would officers use words and tactics to de-escalate a situation when they have the bigger gun, a huge financial incentive, qualified immunity to kill, and forfeiture laws to steal, right? A very dangerous moral hazard, and what helped lead us to this situation, and many others, in my opinion.

        I’m surprised you called BS on the SWAT issue above. I agree it doesn’t sound reasonable, but many things SWAT does across the country is not reasonable. Nor is a lawsuit going to help when the entire justice department decides that LE are largely immune from prosecution, even if they were found negligent! SWAT teams have destroyed homes only to realize they had the wrong house, (oops, got the neighbors house), opened fire IN THE DARK within seconds of entering, destroyed lives and private property without recourse because they thought tea grinds in the trash were weed, even flash grenade baby cribs because they were in the process of serving a warrant for non-violent crime. The equivalent of having your house bombed because of unpaid traffic tickets. This isn’t just some lone officer making a mistake. These are entire teams of supposed highly trained elite that are consistently making these simple, yet deadly, “mistakes”. You even said yourself that officers are often given the wrong info by dispatchers, so there is a built in mechanism for plausible deniability of wrong doing. Why wouldn’t they have a policy in place to verify this info before engaging in a war in someone’s living room? How about holding the judge responsible for rubber stamping a warrant based on false info? After reading from PD’s some of the stated reasons why SWAT “accidentally” kills unarmed civilians just sleeping in their bed at 3am, I wouldn’t be the least surprised that SWAT would show up for nothing more than a noise complaint. Maybe even just to test their new non-lethal weapons and surveillance equip from the Pentagon. Of course, that’s not going to be found in the incident report.

        P.S. You say, “Officers Who Assume the Worst Survive”. It’s sad, but don’t you think this is why some ordinary citizens reciprocate that feeling toward LE? i.e. I stay away from LE as much as I can because I have to assume they are all corrupted a-holes who want to take my property and freedom for their own personal gain.

        Keep up the good work though! I admire what you’re doing, and the risk you are taking for sharing your thoughts.

      • James,

        Thanks for the encouragement! Your willingness to engage in civil discourse about these things, despite your apparent negative beliefs about our system and those in my profession speaks highly of you.

        While there are certainly officers who have no business being LEOs, most officers get into the profession to protect people, not to lie, kill, and steal. I have no idea what financial incentives you’re talking about, and (assuming the courts do THEIR job) qualified immunity only applies to officers following the law and the rules of their department, not whack-jobs with badges recklessly killing and maiming innocents.

        While there may be some department out there doing it, as a rule, SWAT teams don’t just roll around town in the Mystery Machine looking for flimsy excuses to storm houses. Hell, even the patrol schelps who are actually dispatched to noise complaints hate responding to them, and unless it’s just dead that night, even patrol doesn’t often get there until the party’s over, because we usually have plenty of better things to do. Trust me, if there is any truth to that story about the SWAT team crashing the kid’s birthday party, I guarantee you they were probably trying to serve a felony warrant on the father of the birthday boy/girl.

        Regarding liability, any police agency IS legally responsible for ensuring that their officers don’t needlessly inflict injury or damage property. Likewise, any officer writing a warrant lacking probable cause, which is served, IS personally liable, even if a judge signs it (although officers serving the warrant are protected because they are acting under the trust that the judge did his job). 

        Now, I’m not sure about all of the SWAT situations you referenced here, but I do know the baby flash bang incident. You compared it to bombing a house for a traffic ticket, but they were serving a warrant for distribution of meth on a suspect with a history of weapons charges, with guards reportedly at the entrys. When SWAT attempted to break the door open, just a few hours after a CI buy at the house, they found the door was apparently barricaded. The only reasonable deduction at that point was that the CI was right, and the front door was blocked specifically to slow any raid of the location long enough for the people inside to either destroy evidence, or prepare a counter-attack.

        Flash-bangs are designed to disorient the target long enough for the entry team to safely enter and establish a tactical advantage. No one would have imagined that the target house would have it’s front door physically blocked by an occupied play pen! That wasn’t a case of careless cops. That was a case of a drug dealer using his family’s house to conduct his business, effectively making them his human shields!

        Now, officers do often get somewhat incorrect information, from citizens, from call taker or dispatcher misunderstandings of the citizen or each other, etc. So long as you have humans involved in the data collection, this is a problem which cannot be totally eliminated. However, in most departments there are policies in place to reduce the probability of such errors, and to prevent them from resulting in injustice by the police. When such injustices occur, the problem is often a lack of compliance with or enforcement of these policies, rather than a lack of policies.

        Along those lines, unlike the quick & dirty nature of patrol responses to 911 calls, SWAT raids are far more controlled undertakings, with most of their operations following a substantial response by patrol or a judge reviewing a warrant affidavit to check it’s reasonableness and legality. Furthermore, SWAT teams typically draft detailed plans based on highly scrutinized procedures before every operation. That is why it took hours for a CI buy to turn into a SWAT raid in this case. Nonetheless, mistakes and unintended tragedies will happen, because we can never know everything ahead of time (people comitting crimes tend not to share info with police). That said, the fact that there are thousands of SWAT teams across the country running operations day-in and day out, with very few newsworthy negative results is a testament to how careful they truly are in most cases.

        When I said that officers who assume the worst survive, I was primarily talking about situations where they are suddenly faced with an apparent deadly threat, where even a second of hesitation could cost their life. I never said that officers were justified in being thieves or thugs. Admittedly, there are plenty if badge-heavy a-holes, who only have “bad cop” mode, and ruin things for the rest of us, just as “ghetto” or “trash” types feed negative prejudices against people of their communities.

        As hard as it is sometimes, jumping back and forth between Andy Grifith and Rick Grimes at a second’s notice is part of our job. If we’re on a call, and some dude starts running up to us, we have to assume he’s comin’ to do harm to someone, and get him to stop his approach and show us his hands. Then we can dial it back, to figure out how he fits into the picture, while still ready to rock. If everything seems kosher, then we can become Officer Gladhands. It’s a balancing act between PR and safety.

    • Thanks for the link! I hadn’t seen that one yet. After seeing his cowboy approach in the Rice incident, I can’t say I’m surprised. Assuming Cleveland fires Garmback, hopefully he won’t get hired by another PD as “thorough” with their background checks as Cleveland.

  2. I think you are right about the tactics, except about them splitting up. I am surprised only one unit was sent to a call of this nature.
    Loehman’s background is irrelevant to what happened here, however. He was placed in an untenable position by his partner.

    • I agree that approaching a guy with a gun with only two officers is not a great idea. I was mostly trying to further illustrate how horribly planned their tactics were to achieve their supposed goal.

      As for their only being two officers, I honestly don’t know if more had been dispatched or not, but my agency also would have probably only sent two, with a supervisor notified of the call. I personally would have requested additional officers, due to the increased likelihood of the suspect trying to run or fight.

      As you and I both agree, Loehmann was apparently forced into an untenable position. His background was only mentioned because it went to further illustrate the wanton negligence of Cleveland PD which led to this tragedy.

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