The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Deadly Force and Hindsight

... This news article is not a new story, but I only found out about it when a friend shared this update to it a few weeks ago... or I could mention this blog post as well.

My purpose in talking about this police shooting actually doesn't have much to do with any judgment-related problems. Rather, there's one detail here that jumped out at me: the update talks about one of the police officers involved being fired for not shooting at the suspect.

It turns out the first police officer to confront the suspect decided that the threat didn't yet merit the use of deadly force, and elected to try and de-escalate the situation. When the suspect turned away from him and started walking towards the other two police officers present, one of them killed the suspect. The police officer who didn't fire was terminated, on the grounds that he put his fellow officers in danger.

It turns out he was probably right in that initial judgment call. The guy in question was attempting to manipulate his wife by threatening suicide... then said he was going to get the cops to do it... and his gun was unloaded.

The slightly weird thing is that it still adds up to a justifiable shooting. There's no way for any of the police officers to know his gun was unloaded, and I can readily understand that someone further away might not have seen the same things that the closer officer saw, and therefore believe himself justified in opening fire. Also, frankly, if the police department wants to say that the termination had nothing to do with this specific incident and more to do with past incidents... fine, I don't care enough to debate that point.

But where the police department's termination letter (at the very bottom of this story) talks about his failure to react and shoot this particular person? It is quite badly wrong. Not employing deadly force should not be mistaken for a failure to judge the situation and decide. That decision is the responsibility we assign to those who have the right to use deadly force - and our society cannot handicap those people by telling them that one decision is always wrong. We can demand they hold themselves to a high standard, we can demand they be trained to the best standards possible, we can ask what they were thinking when we don't understand what happened, and we can track the situation on a larger scale to ensure that there aren't more general problems with training or judgment - but if all those factors are in place, then imagining that we know better than the experts we've had trained in this field is just as wrong as it would be for any other.

This is already the situation the military finds itself in - public trust in that organization is consistently high (although not universally so, of course, and I wouldn't argue that the military has never had any problems of this type). We're not quite there with the police yet (whether that's because the public doesn't realize those factors are in place or because they aren't actually in place is a topic for multiple other blog posts), but trying to play games with specific problems isn't going to get us there.

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