Friday, April 25, 2008

Ready, Fire, Aim

Three New York police officers were acquitted by a judge on all counts in the death of Sean Bell, who was killed after leaving his bachelor party at a strip club. This was a predictable outcome, mainly because such trials tend to focus on the narrow question of: "Did the officers have reason to believe that their lives were in danger?" Disproving that sort of assertion would require either a confession or some REALLY incriminating video.

After the Amadou Diallo shooting, nearly ten years ago, I was reading a paper that pointed out something that doesn't normally come up in these situations. While the police officers reacted in accordance with their training, when Diallo reached for his wallet (since it could have been a gun), if they'd followed their training up to that point, they wouldn't have been in such a vulnerable situation in the first place - that is, they would have been able to take the time to discern whether or not Diallo was armed without being sitting ducks if he had been.

I'm willing to bet that a similar situation unfolded with Bell. If officers were trailing him, because they thought that he or his friends might be armed, why didn't they take better care to not be in a position where he'd have the drop on them if he drew? Their sloppiness put them in a position where deadly force could have been the only thing keeping them alive. But that's not a criminal offense - but the fact that it seems to happen every couple of years should prompt us to look more closely at this, less sexy aspect of these shootings.

Another failure of training (or perhaps of standards) in this case is verifying the target. One of the officers shot a high-capacity semi-automatic dry, reloaded, and nearly emptied the magazine again (a total of 30 rounds), once another officer started firing, never realizing that no one was actually shooting at him. American soldiers in Iraq have complained that Iraqi soldiers tend to fire indiscriminately, not knowing what they're supposed to be shooting it. Sadr City is crawling with insurgents - New York isn't. If there is an expectation that barely trained men in the midst of what is arguably a civil war exercise basic fire discipline, why don't we expect the same of professional police officers when civilians are present?

1 comment:

ben said...

I'll admit - I don't follow these types of cases but, what was Bell doing that was SO important that the cops felt it necessary to harass him anyway? If cops did their job (to serve and protect) and didn't spend 90% of their careers harassing the general public maybe they wouldn't get into these situations all time.

Seems like this kind of thing is a good argument for disarming police (just give them tasers). Unless you're an exceptional shot - they've got about the same take down power from the same distance.