Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shoot First

There's an Associated Press article in the Seattle Times that deals with some of the many police shootings over the past decade or so, when officers thought that someone had a weapon, and it turned out they were unarmed. A recent incident "[... H]as revived debate over the use of force, perceptions of threats and police training."

I recall reading an interesting analysis of the Amadou Diallo shooting that came to a very interesting conclusion - when the officers opened fire on Diallo, they were acting in accordance with their training, because if he'd drawn a gun on them, they'd have been screwed. But, it went on to say, if the police had followed their training from the outset of the encounter, they wouldn't have been in so vulnerable a position in the first place, and therefore would have had the time to verify whether or not he had a weapon before needing to decide whether or not to fire.

According to the article: "NYPD instructors say recruits are repeatedly cautioned to be aware of their surroundings and to try to take cover and assess a situation before opening fire." The officers in the Diallo incident didn't follow this rule - even though cover was available, they confronted Diallo in the open. Inquests seem to have a very narrow focus - limited to the exact moment when the officer needs to make the snap decision. One wonders if more questions about why so many snap decisions have to be made would lead to changes.

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