Vargas: Routine contact in Tulsa, Ok. turns into life-and-death struggle as camera rolls

By Joe Vargas

A recent video clip from the A&E network show “Live PD” shows two Tulsa Police Gang Unit officers contacting occupants of a car that has a strong odor of marijuana. As they get them out of the car one of the occupants steps out and then takes off running.

One officer immediately responds by taking down the suspect and then what started as a simple detention for possible smoking of weed quickly turns into a potentially life-and-death struggle.

The officer wraps up the suspect in a control hold as his partner comes to his aid.

His partner quickly discovers the suspect has his hand on a gun in his pocket and between the two of them they attempt to disarm the suspect. The suspect, on the other hand, keeps trying to pull the gun out of his pocket.

And remember there is still a car full of his buddies looking on to worry about.

This video should serve as a reminder to all of us about how quickly an ordinary contact can go south in a matter of seconds. This was, in fact, a life-or-death struggle.

The officers eventually are able to disarm the suspect and take him into custody. No one was seriously injured and, thankfully, no one was killed.

But the struggle wasn’t easy.

If not for some great conditioning, sound tactics and maybe sheer luck, the confrontation might not have turned out so well.

Should the officer holding the suspect have punched him harder? But then that would have looked terrible, wouldn’t it have?

Should he have applied more pressure on his control hold and possibly killed the suspect by stopping his breathing? That would have been brutal, wouldn’t it have?

Should the officers have shot the suspect at very close range? But then that would have been portrayed as an execution, wouldn’t it have?

Across the country, police officers make these life-or-death decisions every day. In the aftermath, it’s easy to second-guess what might have worked better, what should have been done or maybe what shouldn’t have been done at all.

But then again, most of those who pass judgment after the fact have the luxury of time and the relative safety of their armchair from where to do it.

What would you have done?

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at jvargas@behindthebadgeoc.com.