What do you think of cops? I mean, what do you really think of cops? Chuck Rylant — a former SWAT member, cop, and detective — believes the media creates a perception of police shootings that’s very different from reality. That’s why he wrote Shots Fired: to offer his unique perspective to a sensitive situation.
For 15 years, Chuck covered homicides and is now a “use of force” expert. This means the defense show him what a cop did, and then asks him if it’s an excessive force or not.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Stories that police officers don’t get to tell
- How complicated shootings really are
- The consequences that extend far longer than you’d imagine
The Big Idea Behind Shots Fired
Charlie: Who is your audience? Is it the general public you want to know about this or is it psychologist? Who are you aiming for?
Chuck Rylant: I had three audiences in mind when I wrote it. The first would be the public, to help them understand just how complicated it is for an officer and how much of a consequence there is to the officer after he or she pulls the trigger. That was one audience.
The second audience was for the officers that actually have shot somebody, because they’re really isolated. They’re alone, they’re not able to talk to anybody, and when you read the book, you’ll see, they’ve gone through some hardships and they feel alone.
“The feedback I get from those guys is ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only one going through this stuff.'”
They’re usually ashamed to admit a lot of the problems they have.
Then the third—I teach at the police academy, and there’s no training for these officers before they get into a shooting. Sometimes there’s a guy in the book who shot somebody after he’d been working only a few months and then he’s being advised of his Miranda rights. It’s very shocking to a young officer that doesn’t know to expect that they’re doing their job, they think they do everything right, and now they’re being treated like a criminal. It’s very startling.
I wanted it for those three people, all of those combined.
Charlie: What is the big idea that you really hope people take away from this?
Chuck Rylant: Well, I guess I’d give you three answers for the three different audiences. I really hope the public reads it, and the feedback I’m getting from them is really what I hoped—the idea of “Wow, there’s so much more to this, I had no idea.”
What I hope the civilian will take away is to read it and when they see a video online or on the news to just not necessarily jump to judgment but just pause and say: “You know, there’s probably a lot more to the story.”
For the officers, I kind of mentioned it previously, I’m hoping that they get that, “Hey, I’m not alone in this and that these experiences that I’m going through are ‘normal’ for somebody who has gone through this kind of traumatic situation.”
The Importance of Officer Support
Charlie: What happens to the officers who do kind of stay in their own head? Why is it so important that they need to have this reassurance?
Chuck Rylant: Well, if you look at the culture of law enforcement from day one in the police academy, they’re conditioned to shut down their emotions. You’ve all seen the drill sergeant type situation on TV where they’re yelled and screamed at and they’re tired and exhausted and stressed. In normal circumstances, people get upset when someone’s screaming at them.
They’re conditioned to hide emotions, and that’s a necessary part of the job.
They can’t be at a call where a baby has been murdered and be upset about it. They can’t show that they’re sad. Or if they are being yelled and screamed at in a riot situation, which we see on news, they can’t show that they’re angry or that they’re frustrated or whatever.
They can’t show it. They have to be constantly stoic.
“That’s the culture in law enforcement, where everyone is pretending that everything’s okay all the time.”
When things are not okay—because everybody in law enforcement is a human being, right? They’re going through their own ups and downs, they’re getting divorced, they’re having alcohol problems. They’re having stress with their kids, deceased parents, all of the normal stuff that we go through, but they’re conditioned to not show it and to say everything’s okay all the time.
That’s the worst possible thing somebody can do when they’ve gone through some sort of trauma. They need to be able to talk about it. They need to be able to open up and talk with other people and seek out help and tell people, “Hey, I can’t come in to work today because I’m not sleeping at night.”
But they don’t. They hide it because that’s the culture of the business. And it magnifies the problem. It makes it worse. I’m hoping that these stories will change the culture a little, where it’s okay to talk about it, okay to see a psychiatrist, okay to get help.
Stories from Shots Fired
Charlie: Let’s talk about the stories in the book. What’s one that you want listeners to walk away with?
Chuck Rylant: They’re all different, they all add a different component, but one interesting thing was one of the very first stories about this guy, Adam Ramos. He wasn’t actually involved in the first shooting. It’s a long complicated story, but there was a big fight between a drug dealer who had a gun and several officers, and [Adam] didn’t have a bulletproof vest. It’s a long story, because he was working undercover.
He wasn’t actually one of the shooters, but a couple of his partners got shot, and one who was a close friend of his, he thought had died. He had, in that split second, thought he had died because he was laying on the ground bleeding. But he had to continue chasing these other drug dealers into the house.
He started to kind of have a breakdown while this happened, because he thought his partner had died. In the end, the partner lived and everything worked out, but he had severe PTSD. It caused him a lot of marriage problems, alcohol problems, problems with his job.
It was a result of what they call survivor’s guilt, which was really interesting to me because this was something I hadn’t heard of before this.
“The people who survive, they start blaming themselves for mistakes that they may or may not have made.”
Then later, after a considerable amount of time, he got into his own shooting. There was no controversy at all, and he had no trauma as a result of that particular shooting. That was really interesting—sometimes the survivors have much more trouble than the people actually involved.
Probably all first responders, right? Like paramedics, fire fighters, soldiers, probably a lot more, right? They’re facing a lot more of that stuff. Maybe even in the medical profession. I’m sure that’s common, too, where a patient doesn’t make it or whatever, right? It’s interesting. A sad subject.
Charlie: Is there anything in the book that leaves the reader feeling hopeful, uplifted, or at least filled with compassion?
Chuck Ryland: My police academy was talking about this yesterday—this was an unintended result to this book, where several of these students in my class, they all got the book. Somebody had donated money to give all the students in the class a book, which was really neat. More than one of them had given it to their spouse to read. I had never even considered that.
The spouses were looking at this from a spouse’s perspective, and the spouses were bringing up the risk to their marriage that all of these officers had faced. They looked at it from a very different point of view.
There’s one guy in here who is an extremely type A guy, he’s a really amazing guy. Everything he does is to the top. He was in the special forces in the military doing some really crazy top secret stuff. He got a PHD, professional MMA fighter, I mean, everything he does is in extreme. He’s one of these over achiever kind of guys.
His marriage melted down, and they were on the edge of divorce.
His wife came up to him and said, “You know, you excel in everything you do, you’re the best in every single thing you do. You do nothing halfway except your marriage.” He was on the edge of suicide when she said that, and that really rocked him.
“Now, they work together, they have a great marriage, they do counseling for PTSD for other couples, and they’ve written a book on marriage.”
They’re definitely a success story that was in this book, and I’m impressed with what they’ve done. It’s pretty amazing.
I remember [being] a cop for 15 years, and I was married during much of that. I think you lose sight of what they’re going through, sitting in bed at night. As the officer, you feel some degree of control, even if you’re not in as much as control as you think you are. You feel some sort of control, whereas the spouse is just sitting at home having no idea what’s happening. Not knowing if the spouse is going to come back in the morning or not. It’s a completely different side of the stress.
I hear the same thing with dispatchers. You’re in a foot chase or a car chase or some tense situation, and for the officer, it’s somewhat of a calm. You’re in the zone when you’re in those kind of stressful situations.
But meanwhile, the dispatcher is sitting over there blind. They have no idea what is happening, and they have a lot of stress as well, probably similar to the survivor’s guilt. They just don’t know what is happening. They have a loss of control.
An Officer’s Perspective
Charlie: How do you retain that healthy, normal perspective that “I’m catching people at the worst moment of their life?”
Chuck Rylant: Yeah, that’s such an interesting topic. Multiple answers to that question. I think part of the problem is a lot of officers go into there extremely idealistic. I can talk from personal experience. They have an idea of the world that maybe they learned from TV, which is there’s good guys and there’s bad guys.
“And the world is just not that way. There’s just people, right?”
Everyone goes through ups and downs. Some people more than others, and some people make dumber choices than others, but as you said, they’re at their worst moment, right? The officer is dealing with people at their worst moment every day all day. So it’s easy to see every single person like that. Eventually officers, they separate themselves with us versus them—meaning us being cops and everyone else.
Here is an example, I arrested a school principal, a female, high school principal for having sex with kids. You see somebody like that, and you think she’s beautiful, got an education, the principal of the school—so you automatically assume they’re the “good guys.” But then they are making these bad decisions, and so it is very easy to say, “Okay everyone is bad.” Everyone does these things.
On top of that, especially in today’s society, everybody is anti-cop. It’s kind of the in-thing to be, and so cops even separate themselves from the public even more because they don’t want to be bashed on or be around people that don’t understand them.
“The first thing would be to not separate yourself.”
I imagine this applies to lawyers and soldiers and every one of these—don’t separate yourself. It’s very comforting to disconnect from society and only be around police officers. They understand you, you can talk your own language, but I think that’s the worst thing.
The other thing is not to have such an overly idealistic perspective. It’s when we are young, we’re little overly idealistic, then we grow up and realize the world’s grey instead of black and white. So maybe just understand that everyone has their ups and downs, their highs and lows
Try not to categorize people as “good or bad.” Try to be understanding. It’s definitely easier to do with age because you have been through your own ups and downs.
And then I think the third and most important part is balance, which is a common phrase in all self-help stuff. But it’s really important to not let your identity come from your job. As young cops, often you get introduced to social parties as a cop. whereas a UPS driver does not get introduced as a UPS driver. They get introduced as John or Hector or whatever, right?
“It’s important to separate your identify from your job.”
Let your identity be, “Hey, I’m a surfer,” “I’m a father,” “I’m a church going guy,” whatever. Whatever your real interests are, I think that’s important. I think it’s a very healthy thing to do.
Interactions with Law Enforcement
Charlie: What do you suggest for normal civilians in their interactions with law enforcement? Do you suggest hey, legally it’s not going to help you to interact with them?
Chuck Rylant: Well, that’s an interesting question because I agree with these people in their right. The cops are not there to be your friend, and I think it’s a mistake where society is expecting that.
Police departments are caving into it and trying to give that appearance, which is fake. So you have a lot of these nonsense where officers are pulling people over and giving them ice cream and stuff. It’s just nonsense, right? It’s a scene. They are in their uniforms and they’re dancing. It’s just fake nonsense but they get a lot of likes on Facebook, right?
People are like, “Oh look at these great officers, they are dancing—good officer there!” and it’s not a “good officer,” because as you said, if you’re going to interact with a cop it’s because you did something wrong or are suspected of it. That’s pretty much what their role is, their job is law enforcement right?
“Their job is to not give you a pat on the back and give you an ice cream.”
So I think pretending they are something that they’re not is a mistake, and we should just accept that that is their role. When somebody screws up, that’s what they do.
But on the flipside of it, I don’t know of a single incident in the US history—I am sure there are some outliers—when somebody is literally obeying the law, sitting there, cooperating when the officer contacted them, and the officer started shooting at them. I don’t know that has ever existed.
Usually what’s happening is the person did something that the officer perceived was illegal, whether the officer was correct or not, we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, if the officer had the legal right to interact with that person, then the person needs to cooperate or have the disagreement in the court room. That’s what it’s made for.
So if you get pulled over and you put your hands on the steering wheel, you say “yes sir, no sir” and you do exactly what you are told, 99% of the time there is no problem. But when people fight the police and argue with them and disagree and all, that’s when all of these problems occur.
And it’s very complicated why the officers are reacting the way they do. I mean police officers are human too. If you pull someone over and the guy’s a jerk, the cop’s immediately are going to be a jerk too, and if the person in the motor vehicle is polite, the officer’s generally going to be polite, or at least not mean.
“I have been pulled over too, and they are not always friendly, right? So I agree with that, but acting like an idiot definitely is making the problem worse.”
I think if people just put their hands on the steering wheel and roll the windows down, “yes sir, no sir” and cooperate—but having said that, I agree with you. I wouldn’t voluntarily go out of my way to make their job easier as far as getting you in trouble, right?
They say, “Can I search you?” and you say, “Well I am not going to give you permission. I don’t want you to search me. If I had a choice, the answer is no.” But when he says, “Well get out of the car, I’m searching anyway,” then he has the legal right. Go along with the program.
Reader Response to Shots Fired
Charlie: Have there been any other surprise reviews of your book, people that is touched in some way?
Chuck Rylant: The marriage thing was news to me. That one really surprised me. Most of the feedback that I have gotten was what I anticipated.
I had some questions in my own mind that I wanted answered that I don’t think the public will pick up on, but things that I’ve gotten from other people were what I expected. The very common thing I have heard from many, many people is civilians saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that that’s what it was like.”
“And then the officers saying, ‘You know, that was very helpful to me. I felt I was alone.'”
Those are the common things that I’m getting from people and kind of what I anticipated hearing from people. What I didn’t get, which I was really expecting in today’s world and maybe as the book gets out there more, is the hatred. I was expecting to get a lot of negative stuff. I really anticipated that.
I thought that there would be more anti-cop feedback, and maybe it’s just that the people who feel that way aren’t going to pick up this book and read it. But I really expected more of that. I haven’t gotten a single piece yet. So maybe when I hear the first one, I’ll be happy. I don’t know.
Charlie: What is one thing that readers can do after this conversation that might make their relationship with law enforcement, in their mind, a little bit healthier? Do you have something you can challenge our listeners with?
Chuck Rylant: Yeah, that’s a great question. I never thought of it. Thinking on the fly, I would like to hear from people who generally are “anti-cop,” or are against a lot of the things that they’re seeing in the news, I would challenge them to hopefully read my book and maybe hear a side they haven’t heard. But what I would [also] challenge them is to watch those things that come on the news and look deeper into it, not take on face value the thing that you want to hear.
For example, to do a parallel—if you are a Republican and you hear something pro-Trump, you believe it because you want to believe. Or if you’re a liberal and you hear something anti-Trump, you believe that because that’s what you want to believe.
So, if you correlate that to some law enforcement incident, try to step out of your own beliefs. It’s really hard for us to do, for all of us. Try to just say, “You know, this is the narrative they are selling me because this is going to sell clicks and create controversy and all of that.” There’s probably a little more to the story.
Before you go clicking share on Facebook and venting and all of that, dig a little deeper and ask somebody.
“Reach out to a police officer and say, ‘Hey I saw this video, it concerns me, maybe you could explain it from your point of view.'”
Dig a little deeper rather than just automatically accepting the narrative that maybe you want to believe is true. I think if we all did that, it would be a much different world than what we are living in now.
Momentum: Mamie Kanfer Stewart and Tai Tsao