Reasonable, Justified and Necessary: Exploring the Professional, Physical and Psychological Complexities of Deadly Force
Reviewed by Gila Hayes
I bookmarked Dan Bernoulli’s study of police use of deadly force, Reasonable, Justified and Necessary after reading an attorney law blog that recommended, “If you’re a serious student of the dynamics of the use of deadly force in defense of innocent life, your bookshelf is not complete until this book is resting on it.”
Bernoulli focuses primarily on police use of deadly force training. The lessons I sought were often beneath the surface, and long segments address police academy curriculum, so I will stipulate that there are segments our members may just skim over. Of greatest interest was Bernoulli’s repeating theme that much could be learned if survivors of violent encounters taught others what they experienced.
Police who have been involved in deadly force incidents so rarely speak candidly even with other officers about the details of their incidents, that much of the deadly force incident survivor’s experiences remain shrouded behind his or her own reticence and fear of additional legal consequences, he explains.
Essential knowledge is lost, Bernoulli writes, admitting, “We rarely go to the officer involved and discuss the incident with them. Thus we appreciate their experience of having prevailed, but we paradoxically do not send the message to the individual involved that they, and their experience, are valued. Instead, we treat them as a criminal suspect in the immediate aftermath of a deadly force incident and almost like a cancer patient afterward, avoiding all references to the incident in their presence.”
Instead, he urges, these survivors of violent encounters should become mentors to guide other officers, explaining later in the book, “The ability to describe the reality of a gunfight from the perspective of one who has been involved is invaluable.” Officer survival training requires much more than learning if A happens, do B. “Law enforcement deadly force scenarios are too complex and fluid to be dealt with simply by memorized maneuvers. The officer’s brain is their most valuable weapon and we must inculcate that fact from the very beginning of their training in weapons craft,” Bernoulli writes.
The physiological and psychological phenomenon experienced in a lethal force encounter are rarely discussed, outside a few valuable works, the foremost of which, this reviewer believes, is Alexis Artwohl and Loren Christensen’s 1997 book, Deadly Force Encounters from which Bernoulli cites a long list of physical responses, perceptual distortions, automatic behaviors and more, summing up, “Some officers have had multiple, conflicting experiences in the same incident. These experiences are varied and can be exceedingly off-putting for the unprepared. They can engender questions, self-doubt and personal second-guessing on the part of the officer, all of which can lead to a general feeling of helplessness. The important thing to note, particularly from a training perspective, is that they do happen and should not be allowed to be a surprise to the officer involved. We must address this potential outcome during deadly force training.”
Bernoulli explains that his experiences occurred during his military service, not his current police career. He briefly outlines experiencing tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, greatly increased respiration and heart rates, loss of bladder control, and describes the physical, emotional and cognitive effects arising once the physical threat was past. “One solution for lessening psychological injury appears to be the simple expedient of warning the officers before it happens, to tell them during training what to expect,” he warns.
Although Bernoulli addresses police training, armed citizens can find a roadmap to better preparation in his book, as well. He recommends, concurrent with teaching weapons skills, instruction in the psychological aftermath of use of deadly force, encouragement to seek counseling after a critical incident, and advice from those who’ve been there that most of the disruptions fade after time, but for the trauma that does not abate, “more extensive treatment may be required so that their injury does not worsen.”
Bernoulli discusses his internal conflict over survivor’s euphoria, and this passage is best read in the context of the entire book, not quoted in a brief review. Upon his return to the United States, he further experienced social withdrawal, hyper vigilance, sleep disturbance, irritability and emotional “flatness,” and a profound lack of motivation, which he countered by pushing himself to pursue academic studies, and accepting support from his family. Buy and read Reasonable, Justified and Necessary as, perhaps, a way to honor this soldier and police officer’s willingness to lay bare his experiences.
I benefitted from and wished for more of the mindset discussion Bernoulli broached by contrasting society’s conditioning to avoid violence with his personal knowledge that, “Sometimes a person’s actions just cannot be stopped without the use of a level and type of force that stands a chance of causing death or serious bodily injury.” He adds later, “Let me be clear: Violent, decisive response is the only way currently extant to provide a person, any person, with a chance of surviving a deadly physical attack.”
Reasonable, Justified and Necessary goes on to ponder crime, victimization, counter violence to stop attack, deterrence and punishment, concluding about his law enforcement contact with “numerous violent felons, including murderers, armed bank robbers, and child rapists,” that “The only safe thing to do is to train and prepare as though the next one will be the one who tries to kill me,” echoing many a private citizen who studies the skills needed for self preservation.
Bernoulli acknowledges that law enforcement is reactive, and notes that absent creation of a police state, proactive law enforcement is not only an unrealistic goal, but also a highly undesirable one. He acknowledges, “The only person I know will be present during my personal emergency will be me,” adding later, “Depending on law enforcement to stop a violent criminal should they decide to attack someone (other than a law enforcement officer) is misplaced trust.” Preparation to use deadly force in self defense is, he asserts, essential.
A combat veteran of the First Gulf War and Afghanistan, professional law enforcement officer, firearms instructor at VT’s police academy, and competitive pistol shooter, Bernoulli has much to contribute to a discussion of use of deadly force. He has the chops to write this decade’s version of Jim Cirillo’s Guns, Bullets & Gunfights as in my personal training experience, Jim Cirillo stood alone in his willingness to discuss candidly the very experiences Bernoulli believes should be taught concurrent with firearms instruction.
Though determined to teach by doing, Bernoulli remains reticent to discuss his deadly force incidents, writing, “Talking about it seems, for lack of a better word, dirty. As though one is bragging about having taken the life of another person. It ‘feels’ wrong, almost embarrassing, to talk about, particularly with those who have not had the experience. Even now it is difficult for me to accurately describe.”
Bernoulli’s work seems to me to be an initial volume in a multi-volume study. I wish, not out of prurient curiosity, but rather a profound desire for better preparation to survive deadly violence, this book could be expanded and followed up with additional studies based on the experiences and testimony of survivors of violent encounters. This is not an easy goal, and perhaps asks too much of those who suffered the lessons first hand. Dan Bernoulli’s book, Reasonable, Justified and Necessary, is an excellent first step.
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