When Can Police Draw Their Guns?

April 14, 2014

A Charlottesville father is questioning the way police handled a situation after his 16-year-old son found himself surrounded by officers with their guns drawn.

"It's a hard thing to swallow as a child knowing that the police can pull guns out on you," said Robert Allen.

Allen's son was stopped by police last week when he and his cousin were cutting across the parking lot of the Express Laundry Center to walk to a store down the street.

The two teens were said to have matched the description of someone police were looking for in the area with a gun.

Police approached them with their guns out. The teens were told to get on the ground and were handcuffed while police investigated the situation.

When it was determined they were not the suspect or suspects police were looking for, the teens were cleared.

"[I'm] still kind of feeling scared about coming outside," the boy said.

Allen says his son has never even held a gun. He wants to know why police had to draw theirs.

"All it takes is a pull of a trigger and you could take a child's life," said Allen. "Nowadays you have kids that are so quick to fidget with their phones, walking, not paying attention, and all it takes is to reach for his phone that rings, and the first thing you know, the police then pull the trigger."

When he asked police, Allen says he was told it was protocol.

"I'm like, 'That's protocol to jump out of your cars with guns pointed at kids and not even know what's going on?'" he said.

Lt. Ronnie Roberts of the Charlottesville Police Department says it all depends on the situation.

"You have to meet the level of threat with the same when the officer, he or she, gets out of the vehicle," said Roberts.

For example, if the call is about a suspect recklessly brandishing a firearm, police have to be prepared to deal with that threat when they locate a person matching the description -- not only to protect themselves but also people in the area.

"You can't get out of the vehicle and deal with a person who has a firearm or potentially has a firearm that has been indicated through the call for service by taking out a can of pepper spray to deal with it. I mean, it doesn't work," said Roberts.

He says officers' training kicks in to help them make those split-second decisions.

Though police sometimes temporarily detain people who did not commit a crime but do match a particular suspect description, Roberts says their policy for investigative detention is consistent with other police departments in the state.

He says it's a delicate balance.

While it can be difficult for a person to put themselves in a police officer's shoes, Roberts says law enforcement officers try to educate the community about their training techniques during the Citizens Police Academy.

"The bottom line is, it's the safety of the officer and it's the safety of the people in our community," he said.

Meanwhile, Allen has filed a formal complaint with the police department regarding the incident. He says he is scheduled to meet with a representative from the NAACP later this week.

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