Skip navigation

Is it too easy to enter law enforcement?

Needless deaths came at the hands of Deputy Sheriff Tyler Peterson

MSNBC video
  Wisconsin shooter fired 30 rounds in rampage
Oct. 8: Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen describes what happened in a shooting where an off-duty sheriff’s deputy went on a shooting rampage, killing six and critically injuring another before authorities fatally shot him.
  Most Popular
Most viewed

Clint Van Zandt

Crandon, Wisconsin, population 2,000, is like many communities before it, a stunned community in a state of confused mourning. No one could have suspected this past Saturday night that this sleepy hunting and outdoor recreation community would soon witness a senseless blood bath that would challenge a city 100 times its size.

It was homecoming weekend and students and graduates from the local high school were doing what all teenagers do on a Saturday night, trying to find something to do. The parking lot of a small bank was a local gathering point; a place where all teenager knew they could hook up with friends and share their time with like-minded others. One person looking for a little friendship that evening was 20-year-old Tyler Peterson, a graduate of the local high school and now a full-time deputy sheriff. He was sworn in, and given his badge, uniform and gun just eight months before.  Not only was now he a deputy sheriff, but he had also been hired by the small town’s police department as a part-time police officer. He also still found time, according to friends, to take courses at a local college.

These same friends have indicated that he recently completed a law enforcement SWAT-like course, and was a member of the local law enforcement tactical team, evidenced by the AR-15 assault rifle issued to him by the sheriff’s department, a weapon, along with his semi-automatic pistol, that he proudly showed to others.  It would be these weapons that would account for the death of he and 6 of his friends in the proceeding 24 hours. Now a stunned community plans the requisite funerals asks why.

What we do know about that fateful evening is that Peterson eventually wound up at the home of his longtime, but former girlfriend, herself a recent high school graduate.  Evidently a number of local students and friends, ages 14-20, went to Jordanne Murray’s home for pizza and a movie, a slow night by some standards, but something the local teens saw as a fun night together. It was fun until Murray’s ex-boy friend showed up. Some are suggesting he was trying to get back together with Jordanne. 

Reconciliation, however, was not to be that night. Peterson argued with Murray and it got ugly. Some teens called Peterson “a worthless pig.”  Whether they meant “pig,” as in his actions were crude, or “pig” as a negative term used over the years against police officers, the words apparently cut him deep. According to some in the small town, Peterson was picked on in high school-- and he graduated only two years ago.  Whether his being picked on included name calling, we don’t know. What we do know is that he left the small party only to return with his newly-issued assault rifle. Now, perhaps, it was payback time and he was in charge.

Normally I’m quick to affix blame and responsibility on the shooter in any homicide, especially a mass murder where only the shooter had a gun.  In this case, however, grieving parents and town residents will need to consider what actually set Peterson off, and why, at his age, he was under so much pressure.

Profiling Peterson
He was working two gun-carrying jobs while still attending college. Another burning question is how, at his age, he became a law enforcement officer in the first place. I’ve discussed this last aspect on MSNBC TV, and I’ve already received a slew of e-mails from current and former police officers indicating they had joined their respective forces at age 18 or 19, and were never mass murderers. They were, in fact, very good officers.

This I do not debate, but when it becomes universally known that he was never required to undergo a battery of psychological tests to determining his suitability and maturity for police work, this before ever searing him in and giving him multiple guns, I’m forced to question the liability of any department conveying this level of responsibility on one so young without any measure of his emotional capability to carry out the job.  Had a background investigation and a psychological exam determined that he had been picked on while in high school, one logical question (“Why do you want to be a law enforcement officer?”) might have helped to explore his motive to have authority over others.

I remember administering psychological exams to FBI Agents who wanted to be members of our tactical (SWAT) teams.  There was an interesting curve there, one of strong-minded risk takers that had to be looked at carefully to insure that such applicants didn’t want to join SWAT for the wrong reasons.  Why someone as young as Peterson would have already completed a police tactical school is another one of many questions that need answering.

A higher standard for law enforcement officers?
Today, most larger law enforcement agencies require their applicants to be college graduates, something that not only says they have the academic skills needed to be a police officer, but add an additional few years to develop the needed maturity for the job. 

There are those, however, who slip through the cracks; who become police officers because they want to have power over others.  As an FBI Agent for 25 years, I arrested many individuals who told me they could have been a good cop; in fact they had considered it.  I also remember a former big city police chief who said “the only problem with recruiting police officers was that we had to take them from the human race.” 

Sponsored links

Resource guide