Police officers in Washington and Idaho are trained to avoid what Spokane Police Chief Terry Mangan rushed into Friday night.
Armed with a shotgun, Mangan confronted three men in an idling Chevrolet Blazer outside his rural home, fearing they were up to no good.
Most law enforcement experts, however, advise off-duty officers against such a risky move.
The Kootenai County (Idaho) Sheriff’s Department and King County (Wash.) police urge officers to call 911 when not on duty unless lives are in danger or property is being destroyed.
“We ask them to call local law enforcement unless they feel their life or the life of someone else will be threatened,” said Capt. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department.
“If it was a minor thing like a car idling outside at 2 o’clock in the morning, I wouldn’t go running out there and confront them,” said King County police Sgt. John Reed, who trains officers.
Mangan’s conduct is being investigated by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department and the city of Spokane.
Two of the men in the Blazer - Bruce Rakowski and Bill Nelson - claim the chief threatened their lives and pointed the loaded shotgun at their heads. Rakowski and Nelson said they had parked on the secluded road because they were playing an automotive game of hide-and-seek known as “bunny hunting” which involves citizens band radios.
Mangan denies the allegations. He said the men were acting suspiciously and he was concerned because his wife would be arriving home any minute.
In such a situation, law enforcement experts are divided on whether Mangan’s reaction was justified or just plain dangerous.
But training officers agree the chief should have called to request backup before taking action.
Mangan apparently acted as a concerned husband, said Mike Becar, director of Idaho’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy near Boise.
“That sounds like a personal decision that he would have done whether he was a police officer or not,” Becar said.
A former cop applauded the way the chief responded that night.
“To tell you the truth, I approve of the chief’s actions,” said Micheal Holmes, who teaches courses to aspiring officers at Spokane Community College.
Holmes, who was a New Jersey police officer in the ‘70s, said police are trained to spot potentially dangerous situations and respond quickly.
But Wolfinger said his department encourages off-duty deputies to call police rather than intervene in neighborhood disputes, such as a noisy party.
“I’m not going to tell them to quiet down,” he said. “I try not to be a cop at home.”
Reed said officers are taught to be good off-duty witnesses, calling in valuable information to authorities about crimes in progress or suspicious cars.
“I wouldn’t be a bit bashful about going out … and getting their license number,” Reed said.
Wolfinger said he hates to second-guess the actions of another officer, such as Mangan.
“Maybe he’s got more reason to worry than I do.”