Protect and serve

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Police officers have to make split-second decisions, and those decisions can carry the consequences of life and death. Faced with situations where their own life is threatened, police officers are trained to use deadly force. They shoot for center mass; they shoot to stop.

And on Friday, August 8, Tisbury Sgt. Jeffrey Day and West Tisbury Sgt. Matt Gebo, by all accounts, faced a situation where such a decision would have been warranted. The call they were heading out to in the early morning hours was for a man who was threatening to “kill the first officer through the door.” And when they entered the State Road house in Tisbury, the man was wielding a butcher knife capable of doing the job, and refused to drop the weapon.

Instead of pulling the trigger of a gun when the man refused to drop the knife he was wielding, Day and Gebo used less-than-lethal force. They subdued the man with Tasers, took him into custody, and hopefully got him the help he needs.

“If officers had used lethal force, everything shows they would have been justified,” Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio said in the aftermath. “For Sgt. Day and Sgt. Gebo to consciously disengage and use less lethal force is just an outstanding job on their part.”

Within a few days, another Island community was confronted with a similar situation. The report was of a man having barricaded himself inside a house on County Road in Oak Bluffs.

Again, police faced the unknown of what they would confront inside the walls of that house.

The Martha’s Vineyard Tactical Unit assembled at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School parking lot, preparing for that unknown.

Meanwhile, police attempted to negotiate with the man, and spoke with his attorney, who told them he was making threats against his own life. With all of the support they needed in place, police entered the house, and the man surrendered to them without incident.

These are the types of outcomes you hope for in these situations, but they are by no means a given in these days where access to high-capacity weapons is so easy.

We’ve all read and heard of instances where officers have used excessive force in instances where it wasn’t justified. More recently, news came that the officer who put an illegal chokehold on Eric Garner, causing an asthma attack that cost him his life five years ago, was fired.

Those cases get a lot of attention, as they should. We should also pay attention when the outcomes are positive.

We’re hopeful that the chiefs who lead these Island departments will take the opportunity to look at what went right in these situations, and continue to provide training and support to their officers in the effective use of less-than-lethal force. Last week, the tactical team was given such an opportunity on Chappaquiddick, where it used a house owned by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation to do some advanced training.

All of the officers involved in the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs incidents — successful because they ended peacefully — lived up to the police motto to “protect and serve.” They deserve our appreciation for a job well done.