Using a cell phone for self-defense

Technology can be of a great benefit in our everyday lives. When it comes to certain items, the ability to instantly communicate to others whether they are minutes or hundreds of miles away from us is absolutely awesome.  We do however need to understand the limits of that technology and when it is most appropriate to use it.

During my career as a law enforcement officer, there were several times when I was confronted with a situation where I needed to use my firearm to stop one or more criminals from continuing their crimes.  I always was equipped with a police radio and the ability to reach out to dispatch to advise them of my present danger and to summon additional assistance.  Contacting dispatch to summon assistance was always situational.  This is to say that the priority might be to first stop the immediate threat and then notify dispatch, or the reverse order.

Situation #1:  While on patrol I observe an individual who is a wanted felon that should be arrested.  In that the wanted felon is either not threatened or aware of my presence, to contact dispatch to summon additional police personnel to the scene is wise.  This option can provide more safety in that the wanted felon would see an overwhelming presence of law enforcement personnel and not consider a possibility of resisting or fleeing.

Situation #2: While on patrol I observe an individual who is a wanted felon that should be arrested.  This time, the wanted felon is aware of my presence and decides to use deadly force to resist any chance of his/her capture. The wanted felon produces a firearm and is about to fire shots in my direction.

If I were to first notify dispatch that the wanted felon has produced a firearm and about to fire shots, I would immediately be behind the curve in terms of time. My time would best be served by first defending myself (using the force that is appropriate) and when there is a “safe” lull in the action, then I should contact dispatch and advise of my present status.

There are countless numbers of police dash cameras that illustrate this exact point.  An officer conducts a traffic stop and upon approaching the driver’s side window, the driver shoots at the officer.  The officer’s first responsibility is to save his/her own life.  Previous examples have shown the officer taking evasive movements or immediately returning fire with his own service weapon.  When the officer has time after that volley of shots, the officer advises his dispatcher of what had transpired and the relevant assistance responds to the scene.

If the officer were to use the police radio to summon assistance while this violent criminal was in the process of shooting at him/her, that call for help would not stop the attack.  Again, the first priority is to stop the attack!  Once the immediate and necessary actions are taken for saving one’s life, then it might be safe to notify dispatch of the altercation and summon whatever emergency assistance might need to be rendered.

A couple of weeks ago, I observed a verbal altercation between two adult men where one man felt he was about to be physically attacked.  The potential victim took out his cell phone and began recording the aggressive man as he was being approached. The actions of being recorded did not deter the man’s aggressive behavior, however no physical altercation took place.  I really don’t believe the camera would have stopped the man if he was really bent on attacking.

This also applies to attempting to call 9-1-1 while a criminal is in the physical act of attacking their victim.  Most criminals will not easily be deterred by the mere presence of either being recorded on video, or the fact that the victim has or is in the process of summoning police.

Situation #3: You and your spouse are walking down the street of your favorite tourist attraction when a man approaches you and shoves a gun in your face.  The man says he wants your money and jewelry.  Taking out a cell phone to record the incident or telling the robber that you will call the police will not stop the crime from being committed.  If anything, the criminal’s behavior may only escalate to more violence to encourage their victim’s full and prompt cooperation.

If you are about to become a victim of a violent crime, remember your first instinct should be to do whatever it takes to survive.  If you must defend yourself, don’t waste time with your cell phone.  Calling 9-1-1 during the commission of a violent crime (more often than not) will not stop the crime from occurring.  Again, do whatever you need to do to survive and once the scene or situation is safe for you to do so, then call 9-1-1.

In the October 2017 Las Vegas, Nevada Active shooting, people can be seen running for the lives, some with their cellular phones in hand and recording the event (possibly for posterity).  This was definitely the most inappropriate time to ever use a cell phone camera.  The shooting scene was much too unstable and the exact location and number of shooters were still unknown.  Using your cell phone to record the incident at a time such as that only slows down your full ability to escape a kill zone.

In other cases, people have captured a variety of physical altercations occurring in public places such as fast food restaurants or on a public street.  It appears that the person holding the cell phone camera was relatively close to the altercation judging from the view of the incident.  In a physical altercation between two or more adults, either party is capable of producing a firearm at any time and firing shots.  During the melee, sometimes totally innocent people have been shot.

And a personal beef of mine is when a person is filming a law enforcement officer involved in a physical altercation while attempting to take a suspect into custody.  In some of these cases, the officer is on the losing side, but the person filming the attack on the officer appears more interested in their video footage and totally clueless of helping the officer. If the suspect disarms the officer, everyone present is at risk. If you are ever in that type of situation, please put the camera down and help the officer.  The life you save may be the officer’s life as well as your own!

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