August 19, 2022

Deputy Matt & Others Who Serve

The individual voices and opinions of some first responders

Theoretical Expertise vs. Practical – Which Is More Valuable?


So, I was reading the pictured LA Times article about an officer involved shooting which just recently occurred in which a SWAT officer, presumably one of their snipers, shot an armed suspect from the air.  In reading the article, which includes a photo of the scene from the air, it is the perfect example of a situation where a shot from a helicopter is not only reasonable, it was best option.

Although not totally related to the point of this blog post, let me provide a quick rundown for those who are not familiar with the incident.  A home invasion occurs, suspect arms himself and barricades the home.  The home is located on a hill, is isolated (no other homes immediately nearby), and is surrounded by brush and debris.  The suspect is forced from the home by tear gas, and when he exits he starts shooting at the cops from his high ground (a huge tactical advantage).  The SWAT officer was in the helicopter overhead and neutralized the suspect who was actively engaged in a shootout with officers on the ground.  After being shot, the suspect’s body rolled down the steep embankment, the steep embankment which was the reason that the helicopter was needed.

Overall, even considering this is the LA Times, the article was not too bad, until I got to the comment provided by “Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor and policing expert.”  According to the article,

Walker “called the LAPD’s move ‘reckless,’ saying the movement inside a police helicopter increased the risk of a dangerous mistake. Even if there are strict policies in place, Walker said he did not believe officers should fire their guns from the air.

‘I just worry that it sets a bad precedent,’ he added. ‘You can have some other departments saying, “Well, if the LAPD can do it, we can do it.”’”

That statement seemed a bit odd to me, even, dare I say reckless, and since I was unfamiliar with their so-called “policing expert” Samuel Walker, I decided to do a little digging.  It turns out Mr. Walker is a proud former hippy, anti-war protester, and an academic.  From his biography on his own website, there is no mention of ever working a real job of any sort, let alone any experience in law enforcement, tactical training, self-defense, or firearms.  In fact, his bio reads like that of a liberal college professor, not one of a “policing expert,” and that is because that is exactly what he is (was).  Based on the “issues” that Walker has chosen to list on his website, it would be far more accurate to refer to Walker as an “expert critic of policing” as opposed to a policing expert.

2015-11-13-Samuel_Walker_expert_1447439694833_26761864_ver1.0_640_480Based on his background, I would hazard a guess that Walker has never fired a modern sporting rifle at all, let alone a  precision rifle, let alone trained with one on a consistent basis, including firing from a helicopter.  I can guarantee that the LAPD SWAT officer who took that shot has.  I know for a fact that my own department has trained our SWAT guys to shoot from our helicopter, and I would be surprised to hear about any agency, with both a helicopter and SWAT team, that has not also trained for such a situation.  To fail to do so would be irresponsible.  In law enforcement, we train to deal with all conceivable scenarios, that way when the odd situation presents itself, hopefully we have a plan to deal with it, or at least one that can be molded to work.

It is no different than the average person carrying a concealed firearm.  You do not carry one because you are planning on getting into a gunfight; you carry one on the off chance that something might happen that requires a firearm.  If you knew you were going to a gunfight, you would wear body armor, be armed with a rifle and have with plenty of spare ammo.

Just to clarify my contention here, being educated in any particular topic, no matter how highly educated one may be, does not in fact make one an “expert” in that field.  Education is only part of the equation for being an expert, experience is the other.  For example, I could study brain surgery in an academic setting extensively, for years.  I could read every book on the topic, take classes from professionals in the field, watch videos on the topic, I could totally immerse myself in the topic, but until I go hands on and actually perform some surgeries, successfully, I would not be considered a brain surgeon, and I would absolutely NOT be an expert in the field.  The same can be said about being a pilot, or a mechanic, or a plumber, or a welder, or a veterinarian, or a motivational speaker, or a (fill in the blank).

It seems the world understands that education alone does not an expert make in almost every field, except for law enforcement.  Politicians and the media are perfectly content to point to people without an ounce of real world experience in law enforcement, and call them an expert.  Theoretical knowledge of a subject is all well and good, but without experience applying said knowledge in the real world, one is hardly an expert.

Before placing too much credence on the words of an “expert,” one should first know if they are in fact an expert.  Do not assume that just because the media or some politician is holding a person up as an expert that they in fact are one.  Verify their expertise.