On March 5, Southern California author David Putnam spoke to the San Joaquin Valley Sisters-in-Crime on the Anatomy of Violence: What It Takes to Shoot a Person.
Putnam explained there were three criteria for an officer discharging a service weapon: the legal right, the moral right and the emotional ability to pull the trigger. His speech was illustrated by stories from his 31 years in law enforcement.
His family background includes a father who was a deputy sheriff and an aunt who had her husband assassinated. The Mexican mafia later kidnapped his cousins. Still craving excitement, Putnam first joined the Ontario PD, then the LA County Sheriffs, San Bernardino SO and worked in Hawaii at the real Five-O. He worked patrol, SWAT and Violent Crimes Team with the FBI.
Putnam described true scenarios and then quizzed the members whether they would shoot a criminal under the circumstances. Most of us were too quick to pull the trigger. What we discovered is the gray area and split-second decisions a law enforcement officer is forced to make.
We also learned terms such as “pain compliance,” which is twisting limbs until the suspect is controlled. Ruse and subterfuge are allowed, so Putnam often went undercover posing as a truck driver. Another time he suspected the suspect was at his girlfriend’s house and pretended to be with Welfare to find out.
Putnam’s experience with being shot at started as a cadet in 1978. It was his first two weeks and he was on a ride-along when he and the officer stopped for donuts (yes, they really do that!). Dispatch radioed an attempt murder across the street from their location. The four suspects were just pulling away from the scene. A fight ensued and, with a backup patrol unit, all were arrested.
In one year on the beat in LA, Putnam was involved with 6 shootings. “Once I pull the trigger, the training is doing the shooting,” Putnam said. In Southern California there are approximately 2400 bank robberies a year. After training in Quantico, Putnam became adept at figuring out where robbers would go after the crime and started tracking armed robbers on his own.
Turning his crime fighting skills into crime writing makes for a less exciting life but definitely a safer one.