DECISION TO FIRE: Retired officers talk about being involved in shootings and the price they carry

Two JSO officers discuss the decisions they made when firing weapons in the line of duty, as well as the repercussions of injuring or killing someone.

The two former officers talk about the magnitude that comes with the choice of firing during a situation.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A recent study by Pew Research revealed that police officers do not use their weapons as often as you think.

The study stated only 27 percent police officers fire their gun while on the job; basically 1 in 4.

"I think you have people who think you have police officers out there who want to go out and shoot people," said Kim Varner, a retired JSO narcotics officer.

In Jacksonville alone, based on JSO's data on its website: 

In 2017, there were nine JSO involved shootings. 

In 2016, there were 12. 

In 2015, there were five.

"It is not easy being a shooter," said Antonio Richardson, another retired JSO officer who worked several years in narcotics.

Richardson graduated West Nassau High in 1982 and Joined JSO in 1987. Being a police officer is a lifelong dream.

"I loved being a police officer," he said.

Meanwhile, Kim Varner graduated Sandalwood high in 1980 and joined JSO in 1984. Varner comes from a family of law enforcement officers. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and two brothers.

"There's nothing glamorous about being involved in a shooting," Varner said.

Both worked in narcotics together for about three years. It is the dark underworld of drug buys and guns. The danger is ever-present.

The Burden of Taking a Life

Combined, the two officers were involved in 15 shootings.

"It is something you don't want to talk about," Richardson said.

Varner was involved in six shootings. Richardson was involved in nine.

One person died and that the decision to fire left Richardson with questions.

"There is always ‘what could I have done?’ You play the scenario over and over again and live with it because this was in my old neighborhood I grew up at," he said. "I knew the young man. I knew his family."

One person also died as a result of Varner's decision to fire. All of their shootings were ruled justifiable by a police review board, but they remained in their memories.

FCN On Your Side's Ken Amaro interviews former police officer Antonio Richardson as he recounts officer-involved shootings he has been a part of during his career.

"There's an emotional burden," Richardson said. "And for me, it is a big emotional burden because I am a believer [in God] and I was going into ministry. I am wondering ‘Lord did I do the right thing?’"

For Varner, the shooting that comes to his mind is the one that left the suspect scarred for life.

"In one of my shootings the guy ended up losing his leg," Varner said. "He had to have his leg amputated. I constantly think about that person. He had a family." 

The emotional burden, the intense scrutiny from the police review board and the impact it takes afterward can all impact an officer's judgment for the next time.

After his last shooting, Richardson decided to transfer back to patrol and learned the impact of his decision to fire.

"First night back in patrol here I am in a position where nothing would happen," he said. "Here comes a kid shooting at another kid. When I chase him he opened fire on me. I could feel the bullets. I hesitated because I wanted to be sure I was justified, and hesitation can cost you your life."

Over the years some of their peers have lauded them for their shootings, but have been quick to discourage them.

"You don't come to work hoping to get in a shooting," Varner said. "You want to come to work to help some people and go home."

Why talk about their experience now?

"I am doing it now to bring awareness to people that officers are humans," Richardson said. "It is nothing glamorous."

Even so they acknowledge that there are bad officers eager for the opportunity. They say don't judge the entire police force on the actions of a bad officer.

"I know there are bad officers," Varner said. “I know there are bad shootings. But my message to the community would be get the full story."

Richardson retired in 1999 and is in full-time ministry as bishop of New Life Evangelistic Center.

Varner retired in 2010 and now works as an investigator with the public defender's office.


First Coast News On Your Side's Ken Amaro interviews former police officer Kim Varner, who worked in narcotics for several years. He discusses officer-involved shooting in this FCN exclusive.

The voices of two former police officers who have dedicated their lives to protect and to serve for a combined 41 years.

They want the community the decision to fire does not come easy, even though they are trained to do so, and when it comes, it comes with consequences.

"We all have families too," Varner said. "We have parents, wives, kids, we want to go home just like everybody else."

 

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