What a Difference a Few Seconds Could Have Made


If you follow shootings of unarmed Black civilians by White police officers, you probably have heard about the death of Tamir Rice. The basic facts surrounding the shooting have never been in dispute.

It is not difficult to imagine circumstances that would require a police officer to fire his [her] weapon without taking the time to thoroughly assess the situation. A developing situation might present a clear and present danger to civilians or to the officer himself. The use of deadly force might be the only reasonable option available to prevent the loss of life or destruction of property. The cliché that officers often have to make split-second life or death decisions has a lot of truth to it. With this great power to legally take a life comes the heavy burden to use it wisely. Police academies train future officers in the methods and techniques to properly assess a situation to properly respond. Officers are required to take part in continuing education courses that reinforce and add to their assessment abilities. All police departments have rules and guidelines to aid officers in making the right decision to use force.  Granted, there will be times when officers act reasonably under a set circumstance only to later discover that they made the wrong decision. Police work involves a great deal of subjectivity which history can prove either right or wrong.

With this great power to legally take a life comes the heavy burden to use it wisely. Police academies train future officers in the methods and techniques to properly assess a situation in order to respond appropriately. Officers must take part in continuing education courses that reinforce and add to their assessment abilities. All police departments have rules and guidelines to aid officers in making the right decision to use force.  Granted, there will be times when officers act reasonably under a set circumstance only to later discover that they made the wrong decision. Police work involves a great deal of subjectivity decision-making, which history can prove either right or wrong.

On November 22, 2014, at 3:30 PM, Tamir Rice (Tamir) was playing outside in a small park located next to a recreation center.  About that time, a 911 emergency call was received

CNN picture
CNN picture

about a “guy waving a gun” in the play area of the Cudell Reaction Center. The caller, who authorities have not identified, mentioned that he (she) thought that gun might be a fake. 911 police-dispatcher Beth Mandl dispatched officers to the location where the person waving the gun was said to be. Unfortunately, Ms. Mandl neglected to include in her dispatch the critical fact that the person might be waving a “fake gun.” Cleveland Police Department (CPD) dispatching rules in effect at that time required her to have included all relevant information in her dispatch. The lives of innocent civilians and police officers depend on informative and correct dispatches. I believe that Ms. Mandl’s omission as to the possibility of the gun being fake put into motion a series of events that cost Tamir his life. The error eventually led to her termination as a CPD dispatcher. Regardless of Ms. Mendl’s egregious error, the dispatched officers knew that they were responding to an emergency at a recreation center. Consequently, the officers had to be have been aware that they might arrive at the scene and discovered children playing, especially since it was Saturday.

Here is an excerpt of the relevant parts of the 911 call:

Time: about 3:19 pm

  • Caller: I’m sitting her [sic] in the park by West Blvd Rapid Transit Station. There’s a guy with a pistol. It’s probably a fake, but he’s like pointing it at everybody.
  • Call taker: What’s the name of the Park? Cudell?
  • Caller: Cudell, yes. Guy keeps pulling it in and out of his pants. It’s probably a fake, but you know what? It’s scaring the shit out of me.
  • Call taker: What does he look like?
  • Caller: He has a camouflage hat on. He has a gray, gray coat with black sleeves {and} gray pants.
  • Call taker: Is he black or white?
  • Caller: I am sorry.
  • Call taker: Is he black or white?
  • Caller: He’s black.
  • Call taker: You said a camel jacket and gray pants?
  • Caller: No he has a camouflage hat on.  You know what that is?
  • Call taker: Yes
  • Caller: Desert Storm and his jacket is gray, and it’s got black sleeves on it. He’s sitting on a swing right now, but he keeps pulling it in and out of his pants, and pointing it at people. He’s probably a juvenile, you know.

Here is the excerpt of the relevant part of the CAD, the actual radio run

  • Adam 2-5: We’ll take it. The alarm check’s OK.
  • Dispatcher: Alright, thanks. Charlie 20 [21 ?] just disregard then.
  • Alright, it’s at Cudell Rec Center, 1910 West Boulevard, 1-9-1-0 West Boulevard.  calling. He said in the park by the youth center there’s a black male sitting on a swing. He’s wearing a camouflage hat, a gray jacket with black sleeves. He keeps pulling a gun out of his pants and pointing it at people.

Officers Garmback and Loehmann manned “Adam 25.” They were the officers who initially  responded to call. Garmback was driving the vehicle while Loehmann wrote in the passenger seat. Loehmann was a probationary officer who had only begun his field training in August 2014. His training officer for the day was Garmback.

 

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