Police Officers As You’ve Never Seen Them Before
As a new documentary reveals, literally every day is a life-or-death gamble for our law enforcement warriors
On Day 1 at the police academy, you’re taught that an inevitable fight is coming. You’re told that an inescapable moment, when you’ll have to grapple with someone twice your size, could be around any corner. Drilled into your mind is the message that the fateful day when you’ll have to defend your life with the Glock you carry is a fight that you can never lose. To lose is to become an urn on a fireplace — reduced to a memory in the minds of your loved ones.
Quite simply, every day is a life or death gamble. As real as the threat is, statistics show that less than 1 percent of 911 police calls in the U.S. result in an officer having to use any force. Of that 2 percent, only a tiny fraction lead to a life or death situation. In these most extreme cases, it’s kill or be killed.
The documentary film “Officer Involved” chronicles the real-life stories of officers who have survived to tell the tale. You think you know how that tale goes, but you have no idea — until now.
Since 2013, Atlanta-area police officer Patrick Shaver has been traveling the country covering the stories of officers who have been thrust into deadly situations. During my time on a Field Investigations Team with APD, I actually inherited radio number "3636" from Ofc. David Canup, who Shaver interviews about his OIS (officer involved shooting) during filming. In creating and directing "Officer Involved," my former coworker and brother in blue has found himself in a different kind of fight. What began as a quest for knowledge and understanding, has become a fight to spread the truth about the trauma sustained by cops in the aftermath of a shooting.
In today's day and age, people need to see this film. It provides much-needed perspective to the world of modern policing. This is not a piece of work that glorifies police officers as the warriors they are, but instead, presents the viewer with a window that showcases the results of extraordinarily traumatic circumstances on ordinary people. I would challenge anyone who believes the killer-cop narrative, to see if their beliefs hold up after witnessing the effects a shooting has on an officer's psyche, personal life, and career.
My guess is that many would rationalize that no one would willingly put themselves through it, unless the alternative was a flag draped on their casket.
Like any cop who has been working the graveyard shift for years, I'm equal parts zombie and vampire. I've spent many sunny days functioning in a half-awakened haze, and countless twilight hours in the dark writing for OpsLens. During these late nights, I've also spent a good deal of time speaking with fellow insomniac, Pat Shaver, about the trials and tribulations he faces in bringing to life a taboo subject that no one in the media wants to admit exists. What I've come to realize is that "Officer Involved" is the perfect representation of what OpLens was founded on — "Experience Driven Commentary."
I've been privileged to see unreleased screenings of the film and give Pat feedback. I've also been fortunate enough to help spread the director's vision to various outlets. I read on in disbelief as Shaver informed me of one rejection letter after another from film festivals unwilling to break with the Hollywood attitude towards police. To date, "Officer Involved" has been officially rejected for selection by 37 film festivals. Only the Knoxville Film Festival has been brave enough to provide an outlet for America's Finest.
What the film ultimately provides is an alternative perspective — one that the public rarely sees. Officers made infamous by being forced to take a life are not simply the headshot of a duty-photo on the five o'clock news, they are not RoboCops, and they are not the bloodthirsty racists and killers CNN would have you believe. Shaver illuminates these men and women as they recall the moment their lives changed forever. Through candid accounts, separate from the robotic style of a police report, a new perspective is gained. The result is a presentation of vulnerable, flawed, tormented, and real human beings who have one thing in common. Officers involved have discovered the hardest part isn't pulling the trigger — it is dealing with life in the days, months, and years after the gun smoke clears.
Patrick Shaver is an inspiration to me for several reasons. This is a man who began traveling the country in 2013 and put in endless amounts of time and personal sacrifice to create an accurate account of an often untold story. In 2015, he threw caution to the wind and sold his house to go on a coast to coast tour in an RV to screen his masterpiece 85 times to museums, colleges, police departments, and the communities they serve. Another 7 shows are scheduled in April. At the conclusion of each screening, Shaver leads a question and answer session with the audience. Who else is bringing this level of discussion to citizens of our country at a time when knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon are needed most?
After over 75,000 miles traveled, Pat Shaver's message is this: "We're teaching officers how to pull their gun and when to pull the trigger … the legal concepts behind it … but we're not at all teaching them all the things that happen after the shooting." Together with his wife, Carla, Pat gives us all the schooling we need. In the words of his wife and co-director, Carla Shaver, "If only we could get this knowledge out to the public, we wouldn't have so many of the misunderstandings that we are having today."
The media bias in covering officer involved shootings has invaded our culture to the point that even police departments are tucking their tails between their legs when dealing with the issue. Shaver divulges that one particular officer, whom he was in communication with for an interview, was threatened by his department's command staff — future promotions would have been withheld from the officer if he had told his story. As a writer who bares all in hopes that people will better see those in my profession as human beings, I look upon this type of censoring and lack of support with much regret. Let's make an effort to get the stories of these officers out there for the world to see.
T.B. Lefever is a police officer in the Atlanta, Georgia, area and an OpsLens contributor. Throughout his career, he has served as a SWAT hostage negotiator, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit, a school resource officer, and a uniformed patrol officer. He has a BA in criminal justice and sociology from Rutgers University in New Jersey. This article is from OpsLens and is used by permission. "Officer Involved" can be pre-ordered here and is expected to be delivered April 15.