VIDEO: It’s a Matter of TimeBy Calibre Press | Apr 21, 2021
Of all the elements involved in force investigations, time is one of the most critical to understand and knowledgeably apply when judging an officers’ decisions and actions. It takes time to observe. It takes time to assess. It takes time to decide. It takes time to act. It takes time to react. It takes time to stopacting. Everything takes time and in pressurized, rapidly evolving force events, that time is often measured in milliseconds not minutes.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that involve time when considered from an officer’s point of view.
It takes time to see an object in someone’s hand and then to mentally process what that object is. A cell phone? A wallet? A driver’s license? A gun?
If it’s a gun, it takes time to determine as best you can the level of imminent threat it may pose. Where is it being pointed? How quickly could it be pointed at you and fired? All that needs to be determined literally in the blink of an eye.
It takes time to decide that you must take action, to determine what that action will be, and then to initiate it.
If a suspect is holding a gun and decides to point it at you and shoot, it takes time for you to react…usually more time than you have. Research shows that a gun can be drawn, pointed and fired—even multiple times—in well under a second. It also shows that action beats reaction, so as an officer on the receiving end of a drawn and fired gun, time is NOT on your side.
On the other side of that equation, it takes time to recognize when a threat is no longer posed. Then it takes time to decide to cease your actions and then it takes time for your body to respond to that decision.
When recordings of force events are considered in the controlled, convenient light of hindsight, a realistic concept of time is warped, if not completely destroyed, by the ability to slow things down, freeze frame, back up, replay. In real time, there is no freeze frame. Things play out with lightning-fast speed and immediate urgency.
Chicago, a Shooting, a Death and Time Compression
At approximately 3 a.m. on March 29, Chicago police officers responded to an area where ShotSpotter technology detected a number of gunshots fired on the city’s West Side. There were also several 911 calls reporting gunfire in the area.
CCTV cameras in the area showed that a 21-year-old man named Ruben Roman was firing a handgun at a passing car. Next to him was a 13-yr-old boy named Adam Toledo.
Officers came across the pair in an alley and the two ran. Footage shows officer Eric Stillman tackling the older suspect. As another officer began cuffing the man, Stillman took off on foot after Toledo who at this point had the gun Roman used in the shooting.
The officer shouted commands, but the teenager failed to comply and continued running. Eventually the young man stopped by a fence with the handgun visible in his right hand.
A few moments later the boy turned towards the officer and Stillman fired one shot killing the boy. At the very moment Stillman fired, the gun was no longer in Toledo’s hand.
A Focus on Time & The Human Factor
Chicago Police released more than 20 different video recordings related to the incident. We evaluated Stillman’s body camera footage that begins seconds before the fatal encounter between Adam Toledo and the officer with a sole focus on time. Specifically, the time it appears to have taken for a gun in Toledo’s hand to have been discarded behind his back and for him to subsequently turn around and face the officer. Take a look at the video:
As determined by the time stamp on the recording, in mere milliseconds—MILLIseconds—Toledo threw the gun to the ground from behind his back and pivoted toward the officer, who fired one round that struck the suspect in the chest. When you consider the speed at which this all played out, the idea that the officer could have determined that Toledo had tossed the gun is unreasonable at best.
More accurately: Impossible.
Regardless, there are those who claim—demand, actually—that Officer Stillman should have made that determination in less than one second, including the family’s attorney, Adeena Weiss-Ortiz. “At the time Adam was shot he did not have a gun, OK?” she told reporters. Weiss-Ortiz acknowledged that Toledo had “something” in his hand and concedes that is could be a gun, but she claims that is “not relevant, because he tossed the gun. If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
Justice is only served when every possible factor is taken into account, including time and the limitations of a human being. Police officers can be highly trained to recognize things faster than the “regular” person and to make quick decisions under pressure because of pre-planning but they are NOT superhumans. They should never be judged as though they are.
Yes, Adam Toledo did toss the gun he was holding before he was shot. In milliseconds. Faster than any human being—any officer—could have recognized and acted upon in a time compressed situation that just as easily could have had that same officer facing incoming rounds…in those same milliseconds.
When the young man did turn towards the officer, if the gun was still in his hand and he decided to fire, the officer could have been shot before his brain could tell him to pull the trigger on his own weapon. It’s a terrible reality that officers have to face.
On a final note, let’s look beyond science and consider another dimension that is so often ignored – the humanity of the officer. Like we said earlier, cops aren’t superhuman. That doesn’t just mean they face the same physical and cognitive limitations as other humans. It means they also feel. They’re not emotionless robots. They experience fear, terror, sadness, sympathy…all of it.
When we analyze incidents like this for the purpose of learning, it’s important that we do so without bias or emotion. But after facts have been discussed, science has been considered and tactics have been evaluated we must step back for a moment and consider the officer. This gets overlooked constantly…and that’s a travesty.
Officer Stillman—Eric—was put in a situation that would jar anyone to the core. Imagine his heart rate. His breathing. His thoughts. He was forced to make a decision he surely never wanted to make…and he will surely never forget.
Footage from the post-shooting scene shows Eric sitting on a curb, clearly distraught and being comforted by fellow officers. His attorney said he’s “devastated” by the shooting. He shot and killed a 13-year-old. Think about that.
Eric will. For the rest of his life.
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