QuestionWhat happens if someone tries to pull a gun out of a cop's holster?
Hopes&Fears answers questions with the help of people who know what they're talking about. Today, we asked about the repercussions for anyone who tries to pull a gun out of a police officer's holster.
In the United States, where it's protocol for officers to have guns on their person (if not two), it is not uncommon for a police officers to be disarmed and killed with his or her own weapon. A felony charge is commonplace as the minimal charge for theft of a weapon, and police forces are working to instate further penalties to ensure safety of police officers. Columbus, Ohio, for example, recently wrote language into a bill that would even penalize the theft of a taser, pepper spray, a baton, and other utensils with the same felony charge of taking a weapon to further protect officers from situations that might threaten their well-being.
Abroad, it is less common for patrol officers to carry weapons. Chinese police officers, for example, only began carrying guns in April 2014 after a decade-long ban. Iceland, despite being the 15th most armed nation per capita, recently had their first fatal police shooting in 200 years. The United Kingdom and New Zealand tend to have special armed units to avoid loose triggers.
We asked legal and law enforcement professionals what happens if someone tries to grab a police officer's gun out of their holster.
Dr. Charles Crawford
Professor of Sociology, Western Michigan University
The exact penalties vary from state to state [in the US], but for those that have laws on the books attempting to disarm a police officer or prevent them from communicating is a felony. This may also include correctional officers depending on the law and state. Most officers are going to view attempting to take their weapon as a serious threat, one that will look like the citizen or suspect is attempting to use deadly force against them and most will respond accordingly. We have to keep in mind there are around 18,000 or so police departments in the United States, each will have policy or guidelines on what constitutes a threat that warrants a response with deadly force. In short, if a suspect attempts to take their firearm I imagine most officers would think "this person is trying to kill me."
New York City-based Attorney at Law
I think the most serious charge would probably be criminal possession of a weapon and because it’s highly likely that the gun would be loaded the charge would be a 2nd degree felony (CPW 2) meaning at least 3.5 to 15 years in jail. If the cop has a partner, you’re just asking to get shot, we’ve all seen how the police can have itchy trigger fingers.
In the criminal possession of a weapon charge, the gun would be stolen and so although that wouldn’t bump the it up higher than 2nd degree it would add layers to the chargers: an additional charge of a 3rd degree felony, petty larceny, grand larceny (cause it’s stolen from a person), a misdemeanor, and they would probably hit you with an OGA (Obstructing Governmental Administration) charge which is reserved for when someone prevents a cop from pursuing someone. Rest assured, they would throw every charge they could at you. There could be a reckless endangerment charge as well if you pointed the gun at someone, but even without pointing the gun directly at someone they could still try to get that charge.
If you have no prior criminal record, the lowest sentence they could possibly give you is two years. This happened in the case of Plaxico Burress, the football who shot himself in his right thigh accidentally when carrying a loaded gun at a nightclub in New York City. In his case, they dropped the charges down to a class D felony.
Raymond E. Foster
retired Lieutenant of the LAPD (1997–2003), police officer since 1980
If you attempt to take an officer’s gun you have 1. committed an attempted Grand Theft Person (a felony) and it is a reasonable presumption that the only reason you are attempting to take the officer’s weapon is to use it on him or her. You are also, therefore, committing an Assault with a Deadly Weapon (ADW). An ADW doesn’t require you physically hurt someone, only that you obviously intended to. As an example: you attempt to run over an ex-lover with your car. The crime doesn’t require you to run over them, just to try with a reasonable expectation of success. If you attempt to take an officer’s firearm and they fear for their life, they can (and very likely will) use deadly force. The concepts surrounding this do not vary between states. The 1985 US Supreme Court decision Tennessee v. Garner established the concepts of 'reasonable' and 'necessary' which guide all US law enforcement. You would have to go to the FBI UCR website and look at the data on police officer’s killed in the line of duty to obtain an official number. However, a cursory look seems to indicate that of the 511 police officers killed between 2000 and 2010, 52 were killed with their firearm or another police officer’s firearm—that’s about 10%. So, yes it happens.
Overall, the use of deadly force heavily depends on the "severity of the crime, whether the suspect is resisting or trying to escape and above all, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others." There have been times in the past when the theft of a police's weapon qualified as self-defense and ideally the maintenance of cameras on police lapels will reveal contemporary obstructions of justice. Or, on the other hand, perhaps its time to investigate the Armitix iP1 Pistol, often referred to as the James Bond smart gun. It's been tested and approved by the BATF and may be the way of the future. A sensor and pin requires the owner be within ten inches of the gun for it to discharge, and it has its own internal camera. Furthermore, a sensor that ensures it only shoots at a particular target will prevent all those cops shooting themselves in the foot.
As holsters have become more technologically advanced, there has been less training for defense in scenarios where a gun may not be an option. Holsters come in many shapes and sizes, and are categorized according to the type of action they might see.
Holsters prioritize one of two concerns in their make: the safety of the officer or protection from the threat of someone taking it. Undercover, plain-clothes officers resort to the Level 1 holster for minimal detection—it coyly secures the weapon with tension, most often in the waistband. It enables quick discharge in the wake of danger possible. A Level 2 holster is most common with patrol officers, and maintains the gun's position with a thumb-break or retaining strap that protects the weapon from movement and theft. Holsters can be worn in any number of places including inside and outside of the waistband; upon the ankle, thigh, or shoulder; and in unique tactical vests.
cover illustration: Nikita Treptsov