Protecting oneself keen interest at 'Coffee'

By Christina Sampson

August 13, 2012 - 4:45 pm
Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl talks to residents Saturday about protecting themselves. Christina Sampson photo

Citizen’s arrests, road rage and when it is legal to shoot a home invader were topics touched on during Saturday’s Coffee with the Chief at the Maricopa Public Library.  

In the best attended coffee since they started in December, and at the request of those who attend the monthly meetings, Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl discussed citizen rights to protect themselves, their loved ones and their property.

“This is a pretty important topic,” Stahl told the attendees, adding that his goal was to have a “balanced discussion.”

“There’s too much rhetoric going on, on both sides of the equation,” Stahl said, referring primarily to gun rights.

Caroline Tiffany, who attended Saturday’s event, said she “learned some new things I shouldn’t do.”

Although Arizonans can carry a concealed weapon without a permit, that doesn’t mean they can just shoot anyone perceived as a criminal or a threat.

First, Stahl explained the most basic guiding principle anytime there’s a question of force being used, either by an officer or a citizen against a potential criminal.

“The key word is ‘reasonable,’” Stahl said. “And I’m going to keep going back to that word again and again. What is ‘reasonable’ in the situation?”

The chief fielded questions from participants, including one about the stand-your-ground law.

Contrary to popular belief, Stahl said, those laws were written to protect citizens against unlawful arrest and often are exploited by gang members and other criminals to avoid arrest.

For that reason, Stahl said, “most police departments are not in favor of it.”

In reference to home-invasion crimes, the chief said most home invasions occur by criminals against other criminals, such as when an addict is attempting to steal drugs or money.

However, the chief went through a number of scenarios to illustrate just how murky handling a home invasion could be.

First of all, a resident doesn’t necessarily have the right to start shooting the home invader.

“A reasonable person would figure out if they were in danger,” Stahl said.

As an invader attempting to steal property, the chief pointed out it may be a case of “I’m not a threat to you; I just want to take your stuff.”

Stahl also said if one were to come home and find a stranger stacking appliances up by the door, the best course of action is to “call 911, stay hidden and let us handle it when we get there.”

 “You could shoot the guy leaving, and you’re probably not going to be charged criminally,” the chief said, emphasizing the “probably.”

“But I guarantee you there’s going to be a wrongful death suit, and some of those civil consequences you may not like very much.”

Also, Stahl pointed out reaching for a weapon first often results in tragedy, such as when loved ones have been accidentally shot because they were unaware of a spouse or child being locked out of the house. The loved one breaks the window to get in and the resident mistakes the person for an intruder.

“My suggestion: Be the best witness you can,” Stahl said.

Ultimately, Stahl underscored the great responsibility being a weapon owner entails.

If you’re going to carry a gun, be prepared to take a life and all the things that go with it,” Stahl said. “There’s a huge difference between telling yourself you’re mentally prepared to take a life and … (being) prepared for the psychological ramifications of doing so.”

When it comes to conducting a citizen’s arrest, Stahl warned that “it’s not the movies.”

He pointed out that it was important to know when to identify yourself, and a citizen is only allowed to use the amount of force necessary to conduct the arrest.

However, Stahl warned, many times perpetrators may be intoxicated, either on alcohol or drugs, and may fight back and not even feel any physical force used against them.

A citizen can and will be held civilly liable for any injuries suffered by the perpetrator during a citizen’s arrest.

Stahl also discussed how motorists should handle someone with road rage or who is trying to force them off a road.

The most basic answer is to pull over to be safe and call 911, taking note of the vehicle’s license number.

If the other motorist gets out of his or her vehicle, simply drive away.

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