The importance of police ‘shoot or don’t shoot’ judgment training

The case of Zuchel v. City and County of Denver demonstrates the need for live-fire shoot and don’t shoot judgment training. In the case, the plaintiff’s son was shot and killed by a Denver police officer during a street disturbance on the night of August 6, 1985. At the time, Leonard Zuchel was in the middle of an argument with some teenagers and was facing away from police officers. According to Police One, the teens shouted out to officers that Zuchel was armed with a knife. When Zuchel turned to face the officer, he was shot and killed. Officers found no knife and only a pair of fingernail clippers.

One of the greatest issues taken up during the case was the lack of appropriate training the Denver Police Department provided its officers.

The jury awarded the parents of Leonard Zuchel $330,00 in damages and found that the department’s training program, which only constituted of a movie and lecture on the use of deadly force, to be inadequate.

“It’s my opinion that the absence of training caused the shooting of Mr. Zuchel. Officer Spinharney handled this just the way any guy on the street would. He did not handle it as a professional, trained police officer who had received training on when it was appropriate to shoot and when it was appropriate not to shoot would have handled this situation,” said one of the plaintiff’s experts, according to the source.

When the department tried the Federal appeals court, the court upheld the original decision. The court claimed that they had sufficient evidence to show that the use of deadly force in this case was unjustified, reports Blueline Corp.

“Viewing the above evidence most favorably to plaintiffs,” the court concluded, according to the news source. “It is clearly sufficient to support the jury’s determination that the Denver police training program in place prior [to the shooting] was inadequate, and that a direct connection existed between the inadequacy and the shooting.”

While this case was from the mid 1980s, it is important to remember situations like this when debating revenue and budget cuts that would impact police force training programs. Training for live-fire shoot or don’t shoot judgment training can’t be done with just videos and lectures – officers must be put in situations where their nerves are tested to ensure they know exactly how they will think and feel in tense situations. In addition, departments need a clear use-of-force policy and must maintain legally defensible records of all training officers receive.

Posted on May 20, 2013