Sunday, February 17, 2019

Don't Get Shot -- Interacting with Police at Home

On January 4, 2019 a Knox County Sheriff's Deputy was performing a security check in response to a home alarm. The deputy’s bodycam shows him examining the property and as he approached a rear door on the house, the homeowner yanked open the door pointing a pistol at the deputy. The deputy fired one shot without hitting the homeowner. Although uninjured, you can hear the homeowner ask: “Why did you shoot me?”  (click here for the video)

Well duh! You yanked open a door and pointed a pistol at the deputy—that’s why. Although there is no public information concerning why the homeowner’s alarm was triggered, it is possible that the homeowner inadvertently entered the duress code on his house alarm. A duress code is a secondary, covert signal designed to be entered on the alarm keypad in the event that an intruder ambushes you at home and forces you to disarm the system. On monitored alarm systems, the duress code appears to disarm the alarm; however, it sends send a silent panic alert to a monitoring station that something is amiss in the home. This often causes the alarm company to call the police without calling the house first to see if everything is OK.

I do not believe that the deputy involved in this incident did anything wrong. The deputy was responding to an alarm at a home that indicated that an intruder might be present and his reaction to someone opening a door and pointing a pistol at him was perfectly reasonable and justified. In the end, no one got shot and everything turned out fine; however, this incident could have ended very differently.

How do we prevent situations like this? Although the homeowner believed he was defending his home from a suspicious intruder on his property, in reality there was no reason to open the door. The deputy was in uniform and simply looking out the window would have demonstrated this fact. It is unclear if the homeowner called 911; however, had he done so and provided his address, it is probable that the dispatcher would have told him the police were at his home.

In Texas, using force against an intruder who you know or have reason to believe was unlawfully and with force entering or attempting to enter unlawfully and with force your occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment is presumed reasonable under certain circumstances. Therefore, someone in similar circumstances can simply wait to see if the intruder attempts to enter their house and respond accordingly from a cover position (in Texas at least—if you live in another state your results may vary).

The first step in home security is to have a plan and that plan should probably not include “exit the home and confront intruder.” I am not a fan of leaving your home to confront intruders. I did that once and learned just how foolish that can be. Exiting your home and confronting a possible intruder outside increases your physical risk and may negate the presumption of reasonableness for your actions depending upon the laws in your jurisdiction.

If you exit your home armed and find yourself facing the police instead of an intruder, you may well finish up on the receiving end of police gunfire as happened on May 7, 2015 when Bryan Heyward called 911 to report armed men attempting to break into his mother’s home. When sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene, Heyward exited the house through the back door holding a gun. A deputy yelled “show me your hands!” and fired twice at Heyward less than a second later. One bullet struck Heyward in the neck and he may be permanently paralyzed.

Ensure that no one can simply kick in your exterior doors as shown in this video. One solution is heavy metal doors and frames, very decorative (somewhat costly) and no human can kick them in.

Other than metal doors, most pre-hung doors are not very sturdy. For exterior wooden doors (make sure they are solid wood), I personally used the Strikemaster II Pro to reinforce my door jams and hinges. I did this as the house was being built and asked the builder to install them so it was relatively painless. Similar products are the Door Armor Max (formerly EZ Armor) that Armor Concepts produces and Door Security Pro. There are probably others on the market that perform a similar function.

If someone does manage to defeat your door and enters your home, responding from a cover position increases your chances of survival and builds the foundation of “reasonableness” for your actions.

Your home security plan should also include a safe room or rooms. In my house, someone yelling “BEDROOM!” is giving the command for everyone to instantly stop what they are doing and retreat to a secure bedroom with a reinforced bedroom door. From there you can call 911 and prepare to take other necessary action.

The door on you safe room or rooms should be made from at least 1-1/2 solid wood, with a deadbolt, and have a frame reinforced with the Strikemaster or similar product. Even if someone gets in the house, attempting to enter the bedroom is impossible without power tools and significant noise that will alert the homeowner.

Remember, not every possible “intruder” is necessarily a criminal. The homeowner in this incident probably did not have reason to believe that the police would be at his house. Regardless, there was a completely valid reason for the police to be poking around his back yard and coming to his back door. There are many completely legitimate and legal reasons why you could find a police officer, fireman, or utility worker on your property. In most neighborhoods it is more likely that someone on your property is either a neighbor or first responder rather than a criminal.

It is much safer to stay put and deal with a possible intruder on your terms rather than exiting your home and charging into a situation where you may not have enough information nor enough time to make a good decision. Additionally, making contact with police on the scene is much safer if you are not visibly armed.

Police officers don’t want to get shot. Legally armed citizens don’t want to mistakenly shoot a police officer who is trying to help them and certainly don’t want the police to shoot them. In reality, both parties want the same outcome. 

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