By Anne Eickstadt

ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Daily Republican
Sgt. Washburn displayed and explained the use of several pieces of equipment used by the SWAT Team during the Citizen’s Police Academy class.


It took at least three trips for Officer Blankenship and Sergeant Washburn working together to bring in even a sample of the equipment that the SWAT Team uses for the class to see. Then Sgt. Washburn told us about the legal definitions and use of deadly force and the laws regarding both for civilians and for police officers, before he got anywhere near the equipment portion of the evening.

Deadly force, also known as lethal force, is force that is likely to cause either serious bodily injury or death to another person. In most jurisdictions, the use of deadly force is justified only under conditions of extreme necessity as a last resort, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.

Firearms, bladed weapons, explosives, and vehicles are among those weapons the use of which is considered deadly force. The use of non-traditional weapons in an offensive manner, such as a baseball bat, sharp pencil, tire iron or other, may also be considered deadly force.

Civilians have the right to self-defense, of self and of others against imminent threat or harm from a forcible felony. Forcible felonies include treason, murder, and the predatory sexual assault of a child, rape, robbery, arson, aggravated arson, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, or aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm.

The civilian use of force is justified if you reasonably believe such conduct is necessary to defend him/her self or another against the imminent use of unlawful force. For those with a concealed carry license, the gun can be legally used if someone is likely to cause great bodily harm or death, or someone is in the commission of a forcible felony.

The use of force can be used to protect your own dwelling if the intruder is violent, riotous, tumultuous, or you reasonably believe the intruder will commit a felony or to prevent violence. You must have something that leads you to believe that the other person has the intent to do great harm or to prevent the commission of a felony. Warn them in advance: “If you don’t get out, I will shoot you.”

If it is not your own property, only their own hired security, bouncers or guards, is allowed to protect the place. If you see someone about or doing harm, call 9-1-1 and let the police do their job. Even if you are on the Neighborhood Watch, it is not your job to tackle the intruders, it is your job to call the police and notify them.

“Nobody has to be a victim,” said Sgt. Washburn.

In the United States, the use of deadly force by sworn law enforcement officers is lawful when the officer reasonably believes the subject poses a significant threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or others. The use of deadly force by law enforcement is also lawful when used to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the officer believes escape would pose a significant threat of serious bodily injury or death to members of the public. Common law allowed officers to use any force necessary to effect a felony arrest but this was narrowed in the Tennessee v. Garner ruling in 1985 when the U.S. Supreme Court said that “deadly force…may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.”

In the 1989 Graham v. Connor ruling, the Supreme Court expanded its definition to include “objective reasonableness” standard—not subjective as to what the officer’s intent might have been—and it must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene—and its calculus must embody the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.

“The three things used to determine the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force are:

1.) The severity of the crime at issue; i.e. jaywalking, stealing a container of orange juice, or something worse.

2.) Does the suspect pose an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others.

3.) Is the suspect actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.

“The use of force has to be viewed in the light of a reasonable police officer at the moment of decision. Hindsight makes no difference.

“Body worn cameras can capture things that the human eye cannot see in low light or the brain’s capacity to process large amounts of data under stress. It takes a quarter of a second to see, perceive, react, and process information. I will keep shooting until I no longer recognize a threat because I’m really jacked up on adrenaline at that point. The camera is not affected by stress, it just keeps taking everything in.”

Sgt. Washburn showed videos taken by body cameras. The first one showed a swiftly moving person with flailing arms, seemingly attacking the officer. Seen from a different perspective, the officer was actually breakdancing with the man.

In another body cam video, the officer is approaching a man lounging against a car. He refuses to obey the officer’s order to take his hands out of his pockets and runs away. The officer chases, uses a Taser, and catches him. The suspect resists and fights the officer. “He’s going for my gun!” we hear.

From a different perspective, someone’s cell phone, we watch the scene again and we hear, “Why is the officer doing that? He’s not doing anything. OMG, he’s beating him up! He didn’t do anything.” We do not hear the officer reporting that the man is reaching for his gun.

We do not know why the officer approached the man. We speculate that the man has an outstanding warrant and the officer recognized him. The suspect might also fit the description given at a recent crime. The bystanders/witnesses only see the results of a trained officer doing his job. They do not why and do their own speculating.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

In both videos, the body camera is limited in that it does not capture all the information that the officer has. The camera can capture and record data that the officer may not have available during his decision-making. The decision to use force is made based on the data available to the officer at the time.

An officer’s job has become more difficult because many mental institutions have been closed down and the residents have been put back into the general population. The officer does not know, from appearances, if the prescribed drug is affecting the person, if the person has stopped taking his/her meds, or any of the circumstances regarding their aberrant behavior. The officers can only assess imminent threat, and act based on their training and experience.

Once the class was sufficiently subjected to the rules and regulations of the law regarding the use of force, Sgt. Washburn began displaying and explaining the SWAT Team equipment. He is very qualified to do so as he is the SWAT Team Commander.

The history of the SWAT Team in Belvidere began in 1991. Two officers made up the Belvidere Critical Response Team. One of them, David Ernest, was the hostage negotiator and the other, Officer John Coduto, was a sniper. (David Ernest moved up in rank and then moved onto the county payroll as Sheriff.)

In 2005, with eight members, it became the Belvidere Tactical Response Team (TRT). This caused some confusion as Dispatch sometimes referred them calls meant for the fire department’s Trench Rescue Team (TRT).

By 2015, the team had added two Boone County Sheriff’s Deputies and three firefighters as medics. With several departments involved, the team’s name was officially changed to SWAT – Special Weapons And Tactics.

SWAT specializes in hostage rescues, barricaded situations, and assisting with high-risk search…

For complete article, pick up the March 21 Belvidere Daily Republican.

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