Police Officer Fired over Using Military Training

September 13th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

A man who served four years in the Marines was reportedly fired after putting his military training into effect as a West Virginia police officer, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The case has illustrated a key difference in military and police use of force protocol.


Earlier this year, Stephen Mader was responding to a domestic incident, when he encountered an armed man. But rather than open fire, he attempted to deescalate the situation — noting that the suspect wasn't pointing the gun at him and had asked the officer to shoot him. Military training had taught him to assess "the whole person" before using deadly force.

"I thought I was going to be able to talk to him and deescalate it," Mader told the Post-Gazette. "I knew it was a suicide-by-cop."

police car

As Mader attempted to calm the man down, two additional officers arrived, and one fatally shot the suspect in the head after he waved his gun, which was unloaded, officers later discovered. After the officers returned to work, however, Mader was placed on administrative leave, investigated, and ultimately terminated in June for failing "to eliminate a threat" and thereby putting other officers at risk. The notice of termination also referenced two past misconduct complaints against the officer.

As ATTN: previously reported, military and police firearm protocols differ in several respects.

Military servicemen receive extensive firearm training, and there are strict guidelines respecting the rules of engagement. Identifying a weapon isn't necessarily enough to justify shooting a suspect; each threat must be judged holistically in order to minimize risk. And as Iraq War veteran and military reporter Alex Horton previously told ATTN:, servicemen are taught only to point their weapon when they intend to kill.

"Police training — though its content and length varies enormously across police departments — by and large does not prepare policemen to manage high-stress situations the way the military prepares its soldiers," The Washington Post reports. "Police training tends to be short and classroom-based, and rarely emphasizes deescalation."


Not only that, but there's not as much legal accountability for police as there is for members of the military. While police are held to the same legal standard as civilians in terms of lethal force, which allows for discretion from a "self-defense perspective," soldiers have to ensure that there's a "hostile action" or "hostile intent" before using lethal force. If they don't, they're subject to prosecution.

American policing practices have come under intense questioning in recent years, largely driven by civil rights advocates who've voiced concerns about fatal police shootings of black people. Some attribute the problem to a lack of training on deescalation — efforts to contain threats that don't involve the use of force — in police departments.

To an extent, this incident, which contributed to Mader's termination seems representative of this issue. The department determined that his attempt to deescalate a potentially dangerous situation put him and other officers in harm's way; and an investigation by the West Virginia State Police later found that the other officer's decision to shoot and kill the suspect was justified.

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