By Katherine Sundt
WASHINGTON — Ordered to kneel on the ground and put his hands up, the young white man with glazed-over eyes reached for something in his back pocket.
At that moment, Cpl. Humphrey Rutherford knew he had a split-second decision to make: either shoot the man to protect himself, or wait to see just what the man was reaching for.
The decision was not an easy one.
“I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six,” recalled Rutherford. He took the risk and chose not to shoot, avoiding killing a man who was trying to pull out his wallet.
“Safety is paramount,” said Rutherford, 52, a corporal with the U.S. Postal Investigative Service. He talked about his career recently at a news conference at National Public Radio that was staffed by student journalists.
Rutherford said he was introduced to gun safety during his training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynn County, Ga., in 1996. There, he learned the four rules of safely bearing a gun: treat each weapon as if it’s loaded; keep your finger off the trigger; know your target, backdrop, and beyond; and never point the gun in a direction where an unintentional discharge could do harm.
These four rules, Rutherford said, all support his view that “safety is always the utmost of any organization.”
Despite years of training, Rutherford still must take a course every six months to ensure that he is still competent enough to handle a weapon.
He did not seem bothered by this requirement. In fact, he said he believes all officers must maintain a high aptitude with their weapons.
“You just never know when something is going to jump off,” Rutherford said.
Rutherford has worked for the Postal Service for 14 years. His job is to keep other postal workers safe and free from harm. Officers also patrol in and around postal facilities.
Rutherford said officers monitor what is being mailed and who is mailing it. He said they also help pursue criminals who use the postal service to mail contraband such as narcotics, weapons and pornography.
Rutherford explained that collaborating with other federal agencies is one of the most important aspects of his job.
“You don’t want to do anything by yourself,” Rutherford said. “You don’t know what (the suspect) just did.”
Rutherford went beyond his basic training and completed courses in Delaware to become an instructor for defensive tactics and firearms.
To signify his prowess, he often wears a bright red-collared shirt that bears the word “Instructor” and the U.S. Postal Investigative Service logo.
Rutherford said he believes he has found his niche.
“I think I’ll be in it for the long haul,” he said.