Police safety and self defense

No doubt police officers must be able to defend themselves when they are attacked.  From Andrew Sullivan:

Shackford reflects on the revelation that last year was an all-time low for killings of police and a 20-year high for killings by police:

It’s an important reminder when Cleveland police kill a 12-year-old boy carrying a toy gun. It’s an important reminder when we see stories that police have killed more people in Utah over the past five years than any other form of violence outside of domestic conflict. Police have killed more people in Utah since 2010 than gangs or drug dealers. Obviously, it’s a positive that fewer officers are being killed in the line of duty, just as it’s a positive that crime trends are heading down. We should be worried, though, if police internalize the idea that this increase in their own shootings is what is keeping them safe in the field and not the general drop in crime.

Nick Wing adds that “Bureau of Labor Statistics list of the 10 most-dangerous professions doesn’t include law enforcement officer”:

The BLS said law enforcement accounted for 2 percent of total U.S. fatal on-the-job injuries in 2013, with 31 percent of those injuries caused by homicide.Other studies on the deaths of officers in the line of duty also showed police were far less likely to be killed in 2013 than they had been in decades. According to a count by the Officer Down Memorial Page, which collects data on line-of-duty incidents, there were far fewer deaths last year than in more than 40 years.

A 2013 tally by the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund showed 100 officers died in the line of duty last year, the fewest since 1944. Traffic-related fatalities were the leading cause of officer deaths in 2013. The report found that “firearms-related fatalities reached a 126-year low … with 31 officers shot and killed, the lowest since 1887 when 27 officers were shot and killed.”

Ingraham points out that the true number of individuals killed by police is unknown:

It’s particularly worth noting that the FBI data on justifiable homicides is widely understood to be substantially undercounted — some states don’t participate in the FBI’s data-gathering programs at all, and others don’t tally justifiable homicides separately. So while the figures above are useful for generating a trend, the actual national numbers are considerably higher.

Ellen Nakashima provides more details on the subject:

Federal officials allow the nation’s more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies to self-report officer shootings. That figure, [Wes] Lowery reported, hovers around 400 “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement each year. Several independent trackers, primarily journalists and academics who study criminal justice, insist the accurate number of people shot and killed by police officers each year is consistently upwards of 1,000 each year, Lowery reported.

This needs to be rethought from the beginning.  What is the purpose of police?  What is the purpose of physical arrest of a person?  When is it required to immediately limit someone’s freedom?  There are some obvious answers to this, like someone in the commission of a crime.  Or someone who requires an immediate physical test for evidence, like a DUI.  But some answers are not so obvious.  If someone has committed a non violent crime, like a drug crime, do they need to be chased down and arrested on the spot?  Lots of drug arrests happen as the result of an investigation, with mass arrests happening all at once (generally with no shots fired), so it seems that no, that is not necessary.  One way to reduce danger to police and the public is to limit the emotion involved in situations.  If you can take any of the heat of the moment out of law enforcement, it will improve safety for everyone.

Then when police encounter people, there is a lot they can do to escalate or deescalate a situation.  People are mirrors, especially people who are reacting, not thinking, and these are the people who are most likely to commit crimes.  So the police bear a huge responsibility for how the situation unfolds.  Things are not just “happening to” them.  It is not safe to try to establish dominance when the person you are facing is also trying to establish dominance (no matter how wrong and foolish that may be).  And is it necessary?  The militarization is a real problem here.   Cops don’t need to establish mental or physical dominance.  They don’t need to be the big man.  They have the law on their side, and everyone knows what happens if you fight the law.

Lastly, the top killer of cops on duty is car accidents.  Why do we need police car chases?  I think only in the event of danger to a person in the car, like a kidnapping or carjacking, or if it is known that the person is in the commission of a crime, or if it is an unknown person who has committed a violent crime.  Even so, most big cities are all militarized and have helicopters.  Why would they ever need to chase by car?  Maybe for 5 minutes, tops.  Lots of innocent people die in cop car chases, too.

I must say, policing as described above would be boring.  Mostly writing up paperwork and waking up people at 10AM to go in, get fingerprinted and see the DJ.



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