"They need to realize they're not God"

Yesterday we got news, based on released law enforcement reports on the incident, that a SWAT team commander involved in the Fargo standoff with Marcus Schumacher (which resulted in the death of Fargo PD officer Jason Moszer) had authorized negotiators to suggest suicide to Schumacher.

Today comes powerful comments from Schumacher’s widow who, as you might imagine, was shocked to hear about the tactic.

“They need to realize they’re not God,” Michelle Schumacher said. “They can’t just decide when somebody’s time was up. The shooting to stop him, I get that. I have no anger over that. But to tell the other person to do that instead. To me, that’s the wrong way to look at it, but it felt cowardly.”

I cannot imagine how difficult it is for her to acknowledge the justification for deadly force against her husband, and it’s a testament to her character that she can do so. But I think she’s got a point on the suicide tactic.

Meanwhile, Fargo Police Chief David Todd offered this defense, saying it shouldn’t matter if it was suggested because the tactic wasn’t used:

“One of the very many conversations that happened in the command truck was what if we encouraged him to commit suicide to save other people’s lives and stop that threat,” Fargo Police Chief David Todd said.

Negotiators mulled over the idea and determined they were not properly trained.

I’m not sure the chief’s characterization of events matches up with what Lt. William Ahlfeldt, the SWAT commander who authorized the tactic, said in his report. Here’s an excerpt, full report available here.

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The wording is clumsy, but that doesn’t sound like what Todd describes. He talks about the tactic as though it were brought up in a discussion about ways to possibly deal with Schumacher and then ultimately rejected.

But that’s not what Ahlfeldt describes. He says he authorized it, but negotiators never used the tactic.

Assuming that’s an accurate characterization from Alfeldt, and we have no reason to assume otherwise, the suicide tactic was never rejected so much as it just wasn’t used.

It’s worrisome that these law enforcement professionals would even countenance something so far outside of their training, and it is perhaps more troubling that top law enforcement official aren’t more concerned that it came up. I’m especially worried that Chief Todd, per the original story in the Fargo Forum, apparently wasn’t even aware that the tactic had been authorized until a reporter brought it to his attention.

Some of you readers have argued that there’s no real difference between authorizing deadly force against Schumacher – he was shot at least twice by a sniper before taking his own life – and urging him to kill himself. I disagree. In that sort of a situation, if you the shooter is talking to you and responding to you, then the tactic should be deescalation. Calm him down. Talk him into surrendering.

Urging him on to more violence, even if it is against himself, runs contrary to the fundamental duties of peace officers.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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