THIS YEAR’S FATAL INCIDENTS
Palm Beach County has had six officer-involved fatal shootings this year, doubling the total for all of 2011.
Feb. 10: Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies shoot and kill 18-year-old Christopher Thompson outside a suburban West Palm Beach credit union office after Thompson fired at the deputies.
March 5: A West Palm Beach police officer fatally shoots Marcus Neloms III after the 28-year-old shot an officer in the shoulder at Springbrook Commons.
April 6: Riviera Beach police shoot and kill 50-year-old Leon Sahakian of suburban Palm Beach Gardens after he lunged at them with a knife during a confrontation on Sun Terrace Circle.
May 16: Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer fatally shoots Seth Adams, 24, after a confrontation in a parking lot on Adams’ property in Loxahatchee Groves. Custer thought Adams was armed and said he was assaulted by him.
June 4: Sheriff’s Lt. Richard Burdick and a K-9 deputy fatally shoot Armando Gonzalez Felipe at a mobile home park near Greenacres. Felipe killed his girlfriend and wounded Burdick and dog Kenzo.
June 7: Victor Arango, 26, of Lake Worth, was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in the parking lot of the 1st and 10 Sports Bar & Grill while the deputy was attempting to break up a fight.
Tuesday: Calvin Wallace, 52, is pursued by Boynton Beach police officers who spot him 10 minutes after a bank robbery driving a car that matches the description of the getaway car. He fires at officers from the car after he crashes into another car. Officers fire back and kill him.
What a cop can expect
Different officers react differently to shootings, but certain post-shooting symptoms are common, troubling and if not addressed, can persist for months or even years. Among the most frequently reported:
* Sleepless nights. May include nightmares.
* Mentally replaying the shooting over and over again, concurrent with second-guessing how the incident could have been handled differently.
* Anger and irritibility. Can be directed at family, friends or coworkers.
* Hypervigilence. May react suddenly to loud noises or other disturbances.
* Drinking. May drink to self medicate.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice
-7 in six months
-4 since May 16
-4 involved an exchange of gunfire
For 30 years, retired Miami-Dade police Sgt. Tony Monheim says, he had the same bad dream.
He is on the job. He is being assaulted.
Something is wrong with his gun.
“I couldn’t pull the trigger or there was something wrong with the bullet; it just fell out of the end of the gun. And I was still being attacked.
“Well, I came to find out lots of cops have this same dream.”
If buried dreams of assault are common among cops, so is the aftermath of a real shooting. True, only a tiny fraction of law enforcement officers will ever be in what is known as an officer-involved shooting.
But local enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County aren’t dealing with a single shooting. Four agencies are grappling with a stunning seven officer-involved killings in six months – four of them in a matter of weeks.
By comparison, just three people were killed by law enforcement officers in Palm Beach County in all of 2011.
And when an officer does fire his gun, the potential psychological backlash is predictable, troubling and can span months if not years: In the immediate aftermath police officers almost inevitably experience some symptoms similar to those of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In fact, entire departments can be shaken by a single fatal shooting.
There’s sentiment that police are facing increasing violence that can lead to such shootings. Figures compiled by the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington D.C. report 70 officers nationwide died in gunfire in 2011, a 19 percent increase from 2010 and a roughly 70 percent increase since 2008. Of the seven fatal shootings in Palm Beach County since the first of the year, four involved an exchange of gunfire.
Gun pulled; senses sharpen
The psychological effects on cops start as soon as their gun is drawn. For more than 60 percent of officers involved in a shooting, time slows down, said Monheim, who has lectured nationally to law enforcement agencies on how to handle such shootings. For roughly 20 percent, time speeds up.
Officers frequently report tunnel vision. Their sight is focused on the perceived threat in front of them. As a result, they can later describe extreme detail in their narrowed vision.
In one study, a police officer recalled seeing what he thought were flying beer bottles. He was all the more puzzled because they had the word federal on them.
It turned out he was seeing the writing on shell casings falling to the floor from his partner’s gun.
Officers’ hearing is diminished as their bodies automatically focus on other senses key to survival. That’s why so many involved in a shooting recall hearing gunfire as only “pops” or don’t recall hearing orders to stop shooting.