“Tactical Retreat” Could Have Avoided Brown Shooting Death In Ferguson


Ferguson, Mo., officer Darren Wilson said his training took over when he shot Michael Brown, but what if Wilson had been trained differently? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the national upheaval from Brown's death and others since has put pressure on law enforcement to control people's behavior while using less violence. One possibility is to teach police to back away from some difficult situations until help can arrive. The concept is known as “tactical retreat” or sometimes “tactical withdrawal” or “tactical restraint.” “We add the word, 'tactical' and not just 'retreating' or 'giving up' because that's what makes it palatable for police officers,” said law Prof. Seth Stoughton of the University of South Carolina. The former Florida officer is a prominent advocate for the softer approach. “It's basically the choice to work smarter rather than harder.”

Wilson was in his police SUV on Aug. 9 when Brown struggled with him through the window and Wilson's gun fired twice. Brown was struck in the hand and ran. Wilson gave chase, and Brown turned back. Wilson then shot him multiple times, explaining he feared for his life. Had Wilson been coached in tactical retreat, Stoughton said, he might have driven away from the encounter and kept Brown in sight while waiting for backup. A misjudgment with tactical retreat could get an officer killed, said criminologist David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who urges caution in the way it's used. “If you retreat, you're giving the guy an opportunity to win the fight, and you have to be bold,” said Klinger, a former Los Angeles officer. “If you have the advantage of horsepower, you should break away. But Darren Wilson didn't think that way, because he was never trained in that.”

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