I was really disappointed after reading “Let’s start by controlling police gun violence” by Jim Bovard (Commentary, Monday). Apparently Mr. Bovard’s qualifications for analyzing gun violence and, specifically, police use of weapons, is that he has written a book. I feel comfortable declaring myself an expert in this area, having served 20 years as a police officer and police official supervising others.
Mr. Bovard makes a big deal out of the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. He should be aware that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution also applies to police officers. They, too, could refuse to answer any questions they think could be used against them. The desire to have complete information on police shootings is important for many reasons, not the least of which is training. Therefore, allowing an officer the opportunity to cool down after an intensely emotional and traumatic incident and to speak to someone (whether an attorney or union representative) goes a long way in inducing the officer to participate in follow-up investigations. The officer always must consider whether he will be the victim of a politically motivated investigation or efforts to pacify one group or another at his expense.
Mr. Bovard’s statement that “[t]here were hundreds, if not thousands of people shot unjustifiably in those decades” is evidence of not only ignorance, it indicates a bias and irresponsibility on Mr. Bovard’s part.
Finally, I would like Mr. Bovard to know that although I cannot speak for (or against) every law-enforcement agency in the country, the department I worked for required reporting on every use of force, whether by gun, nightstick, Mace or any other weapon.
The use of force, especially deadly force, is an intensely subjective and situational decision by an officer who knows his decisions will be scrutinized by others later. I know officers can and do make mistakes, but mistakes in judgment do not inherently carry with them “intent to commit a crime.” Yet in the case of law enforcement officers, mistakes are often misperceived and end up being prosecuted. A Police Officers’ Bill of Rights seems totally appropriate.
ROBERT A. POGGI
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