Marquette Police discuss guidelines for use of lethal force

Wednesday was the calmest night in Ferguson, Missouri since August 9th, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Exactly what happened between them is very much unclear. Witnesses say Brown was unarmed and had his hands in the air. Police have said Brown wrestled for Wilson’s gun.

A grand jury is hearing evidence to determine if Wilson will face a criminal indictment.

Closer to home, Munising Police Officer Justin Schlabach won’t face criminal charges for shooting and killing Timothy Mitchell in mid-July after a high-speed chase.

The Marquette Police don’t have a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy. They say training helps inform the split-second decision of whether or not lethal force should be used in a dangerous situation. However, since every situation is different, hard-and-fast rules are difficult to come by.

“There’s so many variables that could come up, but typically, we as the Marquette Police Department would authorize use of lethal force to protect oneself or another citizen from imminent bodily harm, up to and including death,” Det. Capt. Mike Wasie said.

He knows of several Marquette incidents in recent years in which lethal force could have been an option, but he says in each of those, officers were able to use other tactics. Tasers have become one of those tactics.

The Marquette Police were first issued tasers in 2005. Until then, they’d had some periods in their history when they didn’t have any intermediate tools between hand-to-hand combat and a firearm.

“The use of a taser oftentimes limits the amount of injuries that could occur in a conflict,” Det. Capt. Wasie said.

They can also negate a size and strength difference between an officer and a suspect. However, tasers aren’t foolproof; they can fail unexpectedly.

“Lethal force is the last resort,” Wasie said. “Oftentimes, officers will even go put themselves in more peril than they should in order to try to de–escalate a situation.”

Some area residents have wondered why Officer Schlabach didn’t use a taser in Munising Township. He didn’t have one. The Munising Police Department does not issue tasers to its officers.