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NEWS9 Special Assignment: Restraint under fire

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Police-involved shootings in the national news have sparked outrage, protests and many conversations.

As a news organization, it's our job to report on those incidents.

But tonight, we want to call attention to the stories that often don't get told. They're the stories of police in dangerous situations, when officers risk themselves to protect others -- and succeed.

NEWS9’s Jessica Haberley asked local law enforcement to bring us into their world and talk us through what happens when they have to face armed suspects.

This gives a new perspective on policing. It’s an example of restraint under fire.

A call to dispatch

Here’s a snippet of a call that sent Steubenville police racing to the Pleasant Food Mart on Maxwell Avenue on Oct. 27, 2014.

“He has a gun underneath his sweatshirt, he's intoxicated, and he's being a little belligerent with the patrons around there,” the caller said. “He kept staring in the car, and I have a young child in my car. He's wearing blue jeans a black hooded sweatshirt, (and) he has a gun.”

Immediately, the dispatcher takes control of the city's surveillance cameras.

There's a lot of activity. People are coming and going and others are lingering.

Who has the gun?

The dispatcher swings the camera across the street. There are more people gathered there. He's looking for a black hoodie with an image of a white gun. The dispatcher hones in on the group. No one matches the description. He directs the camera back to the parking lot.

He finds him, watches, and waits.

Steubenville officers approach from both sides.

Seconds later, the man's arms are held. The gun is removed. He is not harmed. The crowd is safe, and so are the police officers.

“Whoever called gave the most perfect description I could ask for,” patrolman Ryan Lulla said.

Lulla and fellow patrolman Wes Crawford were there that day. It was a call when everything went right.

But there's no way of knowing when things could turn.

“You try to think things through before you get there so you can go there with a plan,” Crawford said.

Both Lulla and Crawford have had close calls on the job.

A few years ago, Lulla wasn't hit or hurt when chasing a robbery suspect

“I grabbed the back of his sweatshirt, he turned around, had a gun in his hand and fired several rounds at me and another officer who had showed up during the foot pursuit,” Lulla said.

Crawford was face-to-face with a suspect who pulled out a gun, then attempted suicide.

“You've got to fall back on that training and remain tactical at all times in our job,” Crawford said.

Officers’ training

In 2017, the state required Ohio officers to have at least 26 hours of training on the topics of wellness, legal updates, defensive tactics, trauma, intermediate weapons, and firearm qualifications.

Here’s the breakdown:

4 hours of wellness

4 hours of legal updates

4 hours of defensive tactics

6 hours of trauma

2 hours of intermediate weapons

2 firearm qualifications

The training, while invaluable and potentially life-saving, cannot explicitly outline when and how officers are to respond to armed suspects, or when to shoot.

“I think the main thing that people need to understand is not one of us ever want to have to be forced into a lethal force encounter,” Crawford said.

Objectively reasonable manner

Under the Fourth Amendment, officers are expected to use force in an objectively reasonable manner.

More often than not, it never comes to that.

“We're always impressed with the restraint our officers show,” Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin said.

Hanlin understands the dangers of police work, and says cooperation is essential.

“Even if you think you've been wronged, even if you think you shouldn't be in this position, when an officer orders you to stop and orders you to show your hands, it's essential that you do that because when people don't comply with the commands, the first response of the officer is to wonder, why not?” Hanlin said.

You never know

When officers get in their cruisers, they can only wonder what their day will hold.

Their families left to hope there are no surprises.

“I love you is the last thing is say before I leave and the first thing I say when I get home,” Lulla said.

They’re laying it all on the line for the city they love.

“I come to work every day and hope to make a difference,” Crawford said. “That's what makes me the most proud. I get to come and serve a community that I feel has our backs.”

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