SAN ANTONIO – If you wear the badge, it’s a risk you take every day.
"No officer comes to work expecting or wanting to use deadly force,” SAPD Chief William McManus says.
San Antonio Police report three officer-involved shootings this year, and each one is investigated and dissected to make the shooting was justified.
News 4’s Emily Baucum sat down with the chief for an exclusive interview about the emotional toll of officer-involved shootings. It was a candid discussion about a part of the job that haunts everyone, from seasoned veterans to rookie officers.
Ready, aim, fire. Officer Jonathan Welch practices the routine over and over and over.
"We get the book knowledge here,” the recent recruit says. “You learn what you're going to be doing when you get out there on the street."
And on the street, he’s never pulled the trigger – but he is prepared.
"The last thing before I go to work: I kiss my kids goodbye, tell my wife that I love her, and then it's off to work and working the overnight shift,” Officer Welch says.
He patrols San Antonio after dark where trouble could lurk around every corner.
"In the back of your mind you always have that thought: what if this goes bad?" Officer Welch says.
That sinking feeling is felt all the way at the top of the ranks.
"Because you literally have seconds,” News 4’s Emily Baucum asks.
"I mean, they happen in a blink of an eye,” Chief McManus says.
And for him, one chase in Washington D.C., more than 30 years ago still haunts his thoughts.
"These guys took off running, guns in hand. I ran, gun in hand,” Chief McManus says. "There's not a week goes by that I don't think about that."
That’s why when officers are involved in shootings he goes straight to the scene.
"They've got to talk with attorneys,” Chief McManus says. “They're interviewed by internal affairs. They're interviewed by the shooting team."
That team prepares a report to evaluate if the shooting was justified – meaning, were lives in grave danger?
The report is reviewed by the Chief and then, the District Attorney’s Office, who can take the case to a grand jury if necessary.
"Every shot that leaves the barrel of that gun is either going to be justified or not justified,” Chief McManus says. “They look at all those factors."
"Say the person fired five shots,” reporter Emily Baucum asks. “Could that team come back and say, well maybe the final two were not necessary?”
“Yes,” he answers.
The officer who fired the gun is put on administrative duty and meets with a psychologist.
"The after effects can be devastating,” Chief McManus says. “They can be devastating."
Over his 38-year career, he’s seen a few officers’ lives crumble after a shooting.
"It impacted their family life in such a way that their wives ended up leaving them,” Chief McManus says. “A friend that I went through the Academy with was killed. His partner – his partner never got over that. Never got over that."
That’s why training is so important – so if that moment ever comes, officers know instinctively how to respond.
"I hope it's something I never have to do,” Officer Welch says. "It's something I'm prepared to do."
And the effects don’t stop there: the suspects’ families will wonder for years if the officer made the right decision. It becomes a public trust issue, and that’s something that gets reinforced in training.
For comparison, San Antonio has had three officer-involved shootings so far in 2013. Austin Police report 2 and Houston Police report eleven.
Chief McManus says the numbers go up and down each year, depending on what officers encounter on the streets, but the benchmark is if all the shootings were justified.