The Bias of 1.566 Seconds

Bias is a fact of life, but some types of bias are better than others

By Jim Glennon  |   Apr 1, 2016

40-year-old Freddy Centeno was shot and killed by two Fresno police officers last September.

The officers, who fired simultaneously at the man, were wearing fully operational body-worn cameras (BWCs). Consequently the entire—albeit very brief—incident was recorded and has now been released to the public for all to see and hear.

With audio and video depictions of the event, there are no longer contrasting opinions, right? Just the optical and auditory facts? After all: Seeing is believing.

Or is it?

Watch the entire video clip we have attached here. On it you will find a news account with opinions from the lawyers for the Centeno family. There is also an opinion from the police chief. And guess what? Their opinions differ though they are both describing the exact same event seen (and heard) from the exact same angles.

So why the difference? There are a multitude of reasons but one is the most important. The most impactful.

Bias: The Officers

Did the officers in this case prejudge? Did they have bias?

You bet. Bia based on information that people who only view the video from the BWC vantage point didn’t have when they made their decision to fire.

The info: Dispatch advised the officers that Freddy Centeno approached a women, at her residence, pulled a gun and announced that he was a federal agent.

Is that information important? Did it create bias? Yeah, on both points.

The officers prejudged Centeno as a potential dangerous threat. Someone who has and brandished a gun at a woman for no reason.

Bias: The Lawyers & Family

Let’s look at the bias of the lawyers who stand to make a considerable paycheck if the officers and/or their department are found civilly liable. In fact let’s examine their verbiage, terminology and phraseology as they talk to the press. What are they saying? What are they not saying?

Humberto Guizar, who is filing the lawsuit against the officers and the City of Fresno said that he’s “never seen a police shooting this bad.”

“This is a bad shooting. This is an atrocity,” said Guizar. “They tell him get on the ground. He didn’t have the chance to get on the ground you could count the time, until they stopped the car, one second, before they began to fire.”

Guizar also made it a point to say that Freddy Centeno never actually raised the black nozzle or pointed it at the officers.

The family, also biased, added that Freddy had just been diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenic disorders.

Conflict of Biases

So whose bias is the most honest and practical?

Not surprisingly, I say the officers.

They were looking for a man who had allegedly threatened someone with a gun. That alone raises their level of stress and awareness.

Did the officers call their bosses and state the following? “Hey listen. We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we are actually looking for a guy who is pointing guns at innocent people. That sounds really dangerous. No thanks.”

No. They purposefully went looking for a gun-wielding subject.

When they spotted Centeno they immediately exited their car. They used the door jams as best they could for cover—because contrary to what many think, cops don’t want to unduly risk death—and they told Centeno to “get to the ground.”

Centeno did not immediately comply when told to get on the ground. His lawyer says they didn’t give him the chance, and to that I say: Poppycock!

Instead of moving towards the ground Centeno went to his pocket and drew—what anyone would believe under these circumstances to be—a gun. And he did it in approximately 1.5 seconds.

From that position Centeno could have raised and fired in less than a 1/3 of a second. Would the attorneys have waited for the gun to be raised and fired?

They wouldn’t have even been there. If they were, they would have run.  Cops can’t do that.

The police obviously didn’t know that it was a hose nozzle and that the man had mental troubles. They couldn’t afford to wait to see if there were any other circumstances outside of what they were told and rationally believed.

Conclusion

The lawyers are biased. The family, with the pain they feel at losing a loved one, are very biased. Anyone who watches this video with the 20/20 vision of hindsight is biased. Just look at the comments on YouTube: “an execution,” “murder,” and so forth.

But the real hard truth is this: 99% of the populace would never, ever intentionally put themselves in the position these officers purposely placed themselves in: protecting the public—total strangers—from violence.

These two officers in Fresno did what any good officer would have done under these circumstances. They did what any reasonable person would have with the informational bias they possessed.

But if you already hate the cops, maybe it’s your bias that is the problem?

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Jim Glennon
Lt. Jim Glennon (ret.) is the owner and lead instructor for Calibre Press. He is a third-generation LEO, retired from the Lombard, Ill. PD after 29 years of service. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he commanded both patrol and the Investigations Unit. In 1998, he was selected as the first Commander of Investigations for the newly formed DuPage County Major Crimes (Homicide) Task Force. He has a BA in Psychology, a Masters in Law Enforcement Justice Administration, is the author of the book Arresting Communication: Essential Interaction Skills for Law Enforcement.