Medford police Sgt. Mike Budreau had to make the decision to use deadly force on a 43-year-old Central Point man who was drunk, belligerent and drew a handgun out of his pocket in a 1998 confrontation.
"It was a very quick decision that was over before I knew it," he said.
Budreau is one of more than a dozen Medford police officers who've had to use deadly force in 16 confrontations since the 1970s, the most recent of which was the shooting of 18-year-old Elias Angel Ruiz after police said he advanced on them armed with a knife during a domestic disturbance call on Jan. 22.
Budreau and two other officers were justified in using deadly force against 43-year-old William Paul Kincaid, a grand jury concluded.
When officers arrived at his Central Point apartment, Kincaid refused to show his hands and threatened to fire his weapon, police said.
One of the officers tried to subdue Kincaid with pepper spray, but Kincaid was moving quickly and the spray either missed him or had no effect. Kincaid then pulled a gun from his pocket and pointed it at a Central Point police officer from six to 10 feet away.
Three officers opened fire, hitting Kincaid with five shots in the torso, lower neck and arms.
"The reality is you are forced into situations where you have to use deadly force," Budreau said. "Most officers go through their entire career without having to fire a gun on duty."
Medford police Chief Tim George, who also had to shoot an armed man in a 1990 bank robbery in Medford, said most deadly force confrontations occur when the officer is in close proximity to a suspect.
He said the totality of the situation dictates how an officer might react, including factors such as type of weapon, distance and the proximity of bystanders.
If an officer is 20 feet from someone, that might provide more flexibility than when a suspect is 10 feet away, depending on the circumstances, he said.
During a confrontation on a front porch, such as the Ruiz shooting, an officer has very little time to react, George said.
If officers don't react fast enough, they could endanger a fellow policeman's life, their own or an innocent bystander's, he said.
He said if an officer feels he's in a life-threatening situation, the only option is to shoot to stop the threat and prevent anyone else from being injured or killed.
"I'm not going to take the foolish risk that I am just going to wound him," he said. "If you miss the arm or miss the wrist, you could be dead. Most armed confrontations occur within 15 feet and last three seconds or less."
Medford police haven't been involved in a shooting since 2005, when there were three such cases. Two of the victims survived and one didn't in that year, he said.
Two weeks prior to the Ruiz shooting, George conducted a training with officers on the use of force.
He told them that different factors dictate how they should react in a life-threatening situation, including terrain, ability to take cover, bystanders, weather and accessibility to potential victims.
Officers can size up the threat by taking into account age, size, strength, physical exhaustion, types of weapons and verbal exchanges.
Of the 69 assaults on officers in 2010, 67 were by men and two were by women, according to Medford police statistics. Most had prior criminal arrests.
In 2010, the largest percentage of assaults on officers — 16 percent — occurred between midnight and 2 a.m. The smallest percentage — 3 percent — occurred between 6 and 8 a.m. Domestic disturbance calls resulted in the largest number of assaults at 33 percent. Almost 15 percent of assaults occurred while officers were attempting to make an arrest.
Another 13 percent of officers were assaulted while transporting prisoners.
George said the Oregon Public Safety Academy prepares new recruits for patrol work, but the Medford department continues to train officers on how to handle the difficult situations.
"You've got to base it on training," he said. "The way you train is the way you act."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.