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The best approach is to wait for answers

Write to the Point


September 13, 2018

Like the rest of you, I want some answers to why a knife-wielding man was shot and killed in Mitchell’s Harvest Foods parking lot late Sept. 3 by three Cheney police officers.

Unlike some of you, however, I’m willing to wait before I start offering up conjecture on why the officers fired and condemnation for doing so until I know more of the facts.

There’s a saying that “Facts shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of a good story.” Contrary to popular belief, we in the news journalism profession don’t adhere to this.

But out in the social media world, expressing an opinion without knowing any facts — indeed attempting to pass off opinion as fact — is the norm. If you want don’t understand what I’m saying, check out the comments on any news media outlet’s — ours included —Facebook page or article comments section.

Many of the comments I’ve read ask why officers didn’t use non-lethal force in stopping Steve L. Anderson, employing weapons such as Tasers or beanbag rounds. They’re valid questions, if worded correctly without the insinuation that the officers, faced immediately with a threat upon arriving, had time to make such a call.

There is a lot of information out there about the effectiveness of Tasers, but what I’ve been able to uncover is that they’re only effective 30-50 percent of the time. They also have to have a minimum amount of distance between the officer and the suspect because if fired too close, the probes won’t have enough force to lodge correctly in the suspect, if at all.

There are also stories of people getting tased who simply pull the probes out.

Beanbag rounds are more crowd-control devices and as such are stored in the trunks of police vehicles. If you’re an officer confronting someone almost immediately upon exiting your vehicle, you probably don’t have time to say, “wait a minute while I get my beanbag gun.”

Other comments ask why the Cheney officers didn’t shoot to wound, rather than to kill. It’s a valid question, but if your desire is to shoot to stop someone, trying to hit an arm or a leg in the heat of the moment, while everyone is moving around, and you’re trying to figure out what the person coming at you is going to do is probably a bit difficult.

If you miss, you’ve got problems.

There are questions I would like to have answered, and which most people making comments don’t seem to immediately ask. What was Anderson doing at 11:40 in the evening waving a knife around in Mitchell’s parking lot? And, most importantly, why did he fail to heed the officers commands to put the knife down, or to stop?

We’ll know these answers eventually, but in the meantime, it does no good to throw more fuel on an already blazing fire with comments condemning the actions of police. I know some Cheney officers, including one involved in the Sept. 3 incident, and I’m pretty sure none of them wish to ever get into the situation they found themselves in that night.

Did this have to happen? Some people on social media adamantly claim it didn’t.

My question is this. How do you know? On what facts do you base your assertion?

Social media can be a wonderful tool. I’ve seen it used to help raise money for a cause, alert people to an issue or a situation and to spread good news.

But social media can also be used for bad purposes, even if done so innocently and with the best of intentions. Social media is the old rumor mill on steroids, and that old rumor mill can spread false and misleading information that often never goes away.

Yes, social media is free speech. But even with free speech, it’s still illegal to yell fire in a crowded room.

John McCallum can be reached at


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