Race has been the prevailing theme after Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s arrest at his Cambridge home, but for many police officers, the encounter highlights a difficult balancing act they must perform as they try to bring the appropriate level of force to bear on inherently unpredictable situations, the Boston Globe reports. Underestimating a seemingly routine call can be deadly. Overreacting can lead to accusations of civil rights violations, litigation, and physical harm to an innocent person.
Terrifying confrontations can erupt out of the most mundane scenarios. A patrolman working a construction detail is suddenly confronted by a suicidal man who lunges for the officer's gun. A sergeant trying to help a troubled man becomes his victim when the sergeant is pinned against a wall. An officer is tackled by two men after he walked to their stopped car to see if they needed help. The FBI analysis says that 19 percent of the 57 officers killed by criminals in 2007 had either just pulled someone to the side of the road or were trying to.