There is no question, none, that there is a critical problem with police shooting when there is no imminent threat to life. We’ve reached the point where the First Rule of Policing is used to justify firing at the mere anticipatory excuse of a potential threat. The difference is huge. It’s the difference between the guy reaching for his waistband because his butt itches and the guy reaching for a gun. One is not a good reason to kill.
But then, why not come up with a solution so mind-numbingly simplistic and wrong that it’s bound to help no one?
Responding to calls for reform after a fatal police shooting, the San Francisco Police Department on Wednesday unveiled new training methods that require officers to shoot only two rounds at a time.
The changes came more than two months after five officers shot 26-year-old Mario Woods 21 times on Dec. 2 last year. Woods’ death led to a federal review of the city’s police department.
New pistol training guidelines require police recruits to hear the command “threat” before they fire at targets, to shoot only two rounds at a time, and to stop and reassess threats after every two shots.
“They need to be accountable for every shot they fire,” Police Capt. Greg Yee, who heads the city’s police academy, told the city Police Commission during a meeting Wednesday.
Aw, come on. It starts with the cries of the clueless, the 21 shots fired. The number of shots always seems to make people crazy, as if it would have somehow been better, different, if the cops only fired, what, 12 shots? Maybe 14?
It’s possible that the target of a police shooting was alive, maybe capable of surviving, the first 20 bullets, but it was that 21st bullet that killed him. Or maybe the third bullet was the one that went between his eyes. So the argument might go, if they hadn’t fired that killer bullet, the guy would be alive. Alive!!!
Except it could also be the first bullet that kills. Or the second. Or the 22nd.
Maybe the officer firing the bullet is qualified, goes to the range regularly, and is an excellent marksman. Or maybe the last time he touched the trigger was right before he left the academy, and couldn’t hit a target if his life depended on it. And if his life depended on it, then he damn well better keep shooting until his target is incapacitated. Otherwise, he’s dead.
The point here is that it’s the first bullet, not the second or the third, that requires justification. If the officer has justification for shooting that first bullet, then he has justification for taking the guy out, regardless of how many bullets it takes.
I know, it makes you sad. So many bullets. It just feels so very wrong. Couldn’t they just shoot less? Couldn’t they just shoot him in the leg, or shoot the gun out of his hand. You know, like they do in the movies?
Why no. No they can’t. What they do in the movies is not real life. They can’t aim that well, and if they miss, they’re dead. Provided they have cause to shoot in the first place.
But what’s wrong with stopping after two shots and “reassessing”? Reassessing seems like such a nice word, so warm, fuzzy and reasonable. And indeed, it is, provided the guy you’re shooting at isn’t still capable of taking advantage of the two bullet hiatus to plug the cop between the eyes. After all, the cop can’t reassess if he’s dead.
“But the perp was standing there, gun aimed at your head. Why did you stop shooting?”
“I fired my two bullets and stopped to reaccess,” said the dead cop.
Does this strike you as a good idea? If so, raise your hand. And if your hand is raised in response to a question posed on a blawg, you should seriously consider whether it’s wise to have children.
Then there’s the “don’t shoot until someone yells ‘threat'” part of the new rule. You see a guy with a Glock aimed at your partner, and do . . . nothing.
“But nobody yelled, ‘threat.'”
That San Francisco police want to train their officers to de-escalate situations so that force won’t be used is terrific, though the question of whether this is a teachable thing remains open. A scaredy-cat cop is still going to jump the gun. Fear pushes a person to act, and as the maxim says, “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.” As for the venal cop, the one who isn’t afraid but just decides to shoot because he can, there isn’t any rule that’s going to prevent him from lying about it.
And these rules aren’t law, but employment policy. The cop who violates them won’t be held accountable as a murderer, but rather be chastised, maybe with a note in his permanent file and a week-long paid vacation. That’ll teach ’em.
Regardless, addressing the very real, very deadly, problem of police killing people needlessly is critical. But doing so with ridiculous rules like this two shot rule is absurd. Not only will it put police needlessly at risk, but it misses the fundamental problem: it’s that first shot that must be stopped if it’s not justified, not the third.