Expert: Little Time to React
By Paul Grondahl
The Times Union
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Given the situation he faced, was it reasonable for Albany County
sheriff's deputy Vincent Igoe to shoot and kill Marcos Alvarez?
Alvarez was a small man walking alone on a darkened and deserted public
road in a commercial zone. He was not committing a crime and did not
display a weapon.
But as Igoe approached in a marked car, got out and told Alvarez to stop
in Spanish, Alvarez threw a chunk of concrete at Igoe, according to
Igoe's account. Alvarez then made a lunging move toward the deputy from
about 15 feet away with one hand behind his back and the other hand in
his pocket, according to Igoe.
There were no witnesses.
The scenario posed to a leading national expert on deadly force, Thomas
Aveni, a former state trooper in Utah and New Jersey and now executive
director of the Police Policy Studies Council in New Hampshire. He has
trained thousands of police and military personnel across the U.S. and
overseas since 1983.
Aveni laid it out like this: "The deputy was working alone and didn't
have any immediate backup. He's dealing with a guy who's openly hostile
because he's thrown a rock in his direction. He's not obeying verbal
commands. His behavior is non-compliant and he makes a furtive movement
with his hand.
"A healthy male with a knife can easily cover 21 feet in 1.5 seconds. It
takes an officer about 2 seconds to draw his gun from his holster and
fire a round. If the person is within that 21-foot zone, officers are
trained to shoot because they may not even get a shot off before they're
stabbed. More recent training is pushing that zone out to 30 feet.
"In this case, even if the deputy had a Taser and the man had a gun, the
officer is done. At close range, a Taser is less effective. The deputy
in this case had so little time to react to what appeared to be an
openly hostile individual that I'd have a hard time concluding that it
was anything other than an objectively reasonable shooting. The deputy
was not obligated to turn and run back to his car.
"Most officers carry 20 pounds of equipment on them and turning and
running means they get a knife in the back. I'm not an apologist for
officers' mistakes and they do happen. About 1 in every 4 police
shootings involves an unarmed person."
Aveni described a videotaped study he conducted with 307 officers from
six different police agencies in a scenario similar to the encounter
between Alvarez and Igoe: low light, officer alone, non-compliance to
officer's orders, a furtive movement and a split second to decide. In
Aveni's study, 4 out of 10 officers shot to kill.