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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Guns in Police Interrogation Rooms

     Detective Eric Smith, a twenty-year veteran of the Jackson, Mississippi Police Department was assigned to the Robbery-Homicide Bureau. On Thursday, April 5, 2013, Detective Smith was in the third-floor police interrogation room questioning a 23-year-old murder suspect named Jeremy Powell. Detectives suspected Powell of the stabbing death of a man named Christopher Alexander.The suspect wasn't officially under arrest.

     At six o'clock that evening, during the station-house interrogation, the murder suspect attacked the detective. As they struggled, Jeremy Powell got control of the officer's sidearm, a 9 mm pistol. With that gun, Smith shot the detective four times. After killing the police officer, Powell took his own life by shooting himself in the head with Detective Smith's gun.

     Ken Winter, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Chiefs of Police Association, told an Associated Press reporter that it's not unusual for police officers to wear their guns in police department interrogation rooms. But according to Fred E. Inbau, the world renowned authority on criminal interrogation, that should not be the case. In his classic text, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, Mr. Inbau wrote that when interrogating a suspect in the police station, "Do not be armed. The interrogator should face the suspect as 'man-to-man' and not be police officer-to-prisoner. Another reason for not being armed is the fact that in close quarters the suspect, if so inclined, might be able to seize the interrogator's weapon for use on the interrogator or others...."

     Keeping guns out of the interrogation room was the rule years ago when I went through the FBI Academy. If it's not standard operating procedure to follow that precaution, police supervisors should enforce Fred Inbau's rule. In this case, the enforcement of that simple prohibition would have saved two lives. 

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