Counting Bullets

One would think, given the wealth of bad news that tends to appear here, on the telly, in the newspaper, that criminals never take a holiday.  Police, therefore, are constantly on guard to protect and serve, or at least have their guns at the ready to shoot the violent perps.  The truth is otherwise.  Via NY1 :

The New York City Police Department says 2009 saw the lowest number of police-involved shootings and shots fired since record keeping began in 1971.

There were 105 shootings and 296 shots fired last year, with only 68 of the nearly 35,000-member force intentionally discharging their weapon.

New York City is a big place, which is why it has more cops than some small cities elsewhere.  Yet fewer than 300 shots fired by fewer than 70 officers.  Quick, honey, sell the Smith & Wesson stock.  But it’s not just shots first by cops, but shots fired at cops.

Officers are also safer on the street, as 2009 was the first time an officer was not shot by a suspect.

The first rule of policing, as I’ve explained many times, is get home for dinner.  What?  Did you think it would something heroic and inspirational?  Well, it is, just not to you.  Foremost in a police officer’s mind as he straps on his gun is to make it through his shift unharmed.  Be reasonable.  It’s a job, not something to die for.  He’s got a wife and kids.  She’s got a husband and kids.  Not even a pension and gold shield will make up for leaving your children parentless.  Get home for dinner is a very good rule.

And it appears they are, indeed, getting home for dinner, provided they don’t crash the cruiser into a wall or shoot themselves.  Accidental discharges aren’t covered.  It’s unclear whether drunken, sex-crazed attacks are included, and with a 35,000 person force of both men and women, that sort of thing can happen.

But the concern is that a simple car stop will result in a driver pulling a gun and discharging it into the chest of an unsuspecting officer, whose hands are busy with a summons book and whose mind isn’t focused on the potential that any person, every person, could be the last she potentially sees.

What are the implications of this bullet dearth?

The NYPD says analysis has altered the way officers assess the need to fire weapons, with restraint becoming more of the norm.

If I had to guess at the meaning of this sentence, it would be that irrational or knee-jerk fear has abated, making cops less inclined to feel threatened.  But that’s not quite the message it sends.  Rather, it tells me that in the past, police were fear driven when assessing the propriety of shooting people. 

With the first rule of policing firmly in mind, they were more inclined to shoot first and think later.  It would take some quick thinking and a facile tongue to make sense of it later when questioned for public consumption, but the actions of police officer were swift and clear:  Shoot first and come up with excuses later.

And it’s not just cops.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the murder rate in New York City for 2009 was 471,   In contrast, the murder rate in 1990 was 2,245.  Those were heady days for criminal defense lawyers, by the way, as that number reflected a healthy, vibrant drug trade, which was great for business.  While the murder rate is up this year, currently at 464 with the holiday season ahead of us, always good for some familial disputes, it will still reflect a remarkably low historical rate.

While the lack of shots fired should bring comfort, its implications are less clear.  A kinder, gentler police force would certainly go a long way toward normalizing relations between police and citizens, perhaps easing the tensions that give rise to authoritarian impulses by those with guns and shield. 

On the other hand, it may also serve to bolster their sense of authority, reducing their fear that the person they challenge, question, even occasionally shove off a bicycle, will have the wherewithal to respond with force.  There being little evidence that police have become more finely attuned to civil rights, the lack of a sense of threat from the public may serve to embolden them to do as they will with us.

No one wants to see anyone hurt, police officers included.  But a little bit of fear, just a little, might help to remind cops that disrespectful behavior could have negative consequences.  Fearlessness could produce a cadre of armed men and women who believe they are empowered to do anything they want.  And they still want us to obey their authority.

2 thoughts on “Counting Bullets

  1. Jeff

    I would wonder if rate of Taser usage has gone up. Shooting a suspect is messy and I would imagine it results in a lot of paperwork. It’s a lot easier for Officer Friendly to justify giving a jolt to a suspect who didn’t respect his authoritah than it is to explain away a dead body.

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