The Deeply Thoughtful Discussion On Force (Yada, Yada, Yada)

Ah, that rascally New York Times, trying desperately to make sense out of this crazy world of ours.  In an article entitled “Key Factor in Police Shootings: ‘Reasonable Fear’” they offer a very thoughtful, deeply conscientious explanation of the rules of engagement between the police and the rest of us.

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

You might get the impression that the use of force, the killing of another human being, is subject to strict regulation.  And indeed, that’s the paradigm, but for a few notable details.

The police, the courts and experts say some leeway is necessary in situations where officers under crushing stress must make split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences.

Some leeway?  Of course, because “crushing stress” and “split-second” “life-or-death decisions,” yada, yada, yada.  And then come the explanatory quotes from the credible sources, backed by years of experience on the mean streets, coupled by the attributed cred of a scholarly title.

“It’s a difficult job for coppers out there,” Timothy Maher, a former officer and a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said in an interview. “In the heat of the moment, things are happening so quickly. If they were role-playing, they could say, ‘Time out.’ But in real life, it’s, ‘Wow — in my training, this guy stopped, but here, he didn’t.’ ”

Yes, it is a difficult job for “coppers out there.”  And it’s not too sweet for the guys they kill, either.  But the Times didn’t see any reason to get a quote from them. Maybe because they’re dead. Oops. But hey, it’s all about the “reasonable fear” of the police.  There’s no room for the reasonable expectation of a regular guy to live another day.

There is a tension in America, between the police and their enforcement of the First Rule, and the public, and their desire not to be killed  by a perfectly reasonable, split second, life-or-death, but completely mistaken, decision by a cop.

The Times is doing the unforgiveable: it’s making people stupider.  It reminds me of a plea allocution, where the judge explains in a calm, clear voice, the fabulous plethora of rights afforded him under the Constitution, and asks him if he understands, then waives, those rights.  Every time I hear an allocution, I’m reminded how it sounds as if there is no way in the world anyone could ever get convicted at trial given the amazing wealth of rights.  I always cringe at the lie.

Harping on the rules restricting use of force, particularly deadly force, is another glorious lie.  Yes, the Times is absolutely correct that there are pages of policies (though police policies are not law), and books (physical bound pieces of paper with letters on them that requires shelf space) filled with legal decisions discussing the circumstances under which a police officer can take the life of another.

But they all end up in the same place, falling back on the moldy rhetoric of  “crushing stress” and “split-second” “life-or-death decisions,” yada, yada, yada.  Because the thousand rules which are supposed to constrain police all come with a caveat, “unless you can come up with a story, no matter how far-fetched, about why you were afraid or felt threatened, in which case you can blow the motherfucker’s head off.”

Of course, the Times isn’t allowed to use such words, but they could have included the concept in their article. They didn’t.  This is the closest they came:

“Objectively reasonable” is a standard set by the Supreme Court in 1989 when it said that a police officer’s use of excessive force must be seen in the context of what reasonable officers would do in the same situation, given the danger and stress of police work.

It sounds so sanitary, so reasonable, when you put it that way.  And after all, isn’t it true that the police job involves “crushing stress” and “split-second” “life-or-death decisions,” yada, yada, yada.

On the other hand, knowing that it’s “a difficult job for coppers out there,” one might suspect they are trained to perform that job in a manner that would exact the lowest possible toll in human life, that they are vetted for their ability to think clearly to overcome the “crushing stress” and “split-second” “life-or-death decisions,” yada, yada, yada.  If you do, then you don’t appreciate how hard it is to be a cop.  And really, isn’t that what America is all about?



13 thoughts on “The Deeply Thoughtful Discussion On Force (Yada, Yada, Yada)

  1. RKTlaw

    As you noted in comments to an earlier post, why is it that U.S. cops are so much worse at dealing with the “crushing stress” they face than law-enforcement virtually everywhere else in the civilized world? And since violent crime has dropped precipitously, why, exactly, are they under such “crushing stress”?

  2. John Barleycorn

    The NYT’s is going to give you intestinal problems before your time esteemed one.

    BTW did you catch the New York Post’s opinion piece today, Three Cheers For the NYPD?

    Nothing like seeing the word “Unequivocally” in print.

    P.S. Do you remember back when the cutting edge stuff was only printed in this that or the other here for today gone tomorrow Zine? I miss Zines, there was something about them. Could have just been the smell of the ink but there was something about many of them.

    Too much aggregation in the electronic world. Not enough new ink these days.

  3. David Bloch

    While I don’t have enough Information about the present shooting to make a meaningful comment, I can tell you that, after years of involvement in instances of police misconduct and brutality, that the perpetrators (the police) of one egregious act of brutality after another, are largely protected by their supervisors, no matter how awful their conduct. There were several officers who were serial offenders, and cost the state – taxpayers – millions of dollars over the course of their careers, in settlements of lawsuits for their behavior. Occasionally, when an officer is caught in a situation where their misconduct garners media attention, the most usual serious negative consequence to them is getting fired. In fact, the acts that constitute their misconduct, were it performed by anyone else, would and should spend years in jail. But, in the case of a police officer, they merely get fired. There is the question of why these officers behave as they do. There are many reasons, but the most typical one is that police work attracts many people who have a sense of entitlement, the mentality of a school yard bully, tend to be arrogant, have a sadistic streak, and ENJOY lording it over others and ENJOY being cruel. What’s worse, these feelings and attitudes are encouraged by both peers and supervisors. I’ve seen very few instances where police misconduct occurred under a circumstance that could even remotely be described as stressful, to say nothing of “crushing stress.” Regarding the police claim about how hard and stressful their jobs are, please notice how few quit. Why? They like their jobs.

    1. SHG Post author

      The Post is not the standard by which any rational thought is judged. The editorial that goes with the cover pretty clearly says it all:

      The Rev. Al Sharpton’s march today in Staten Island is meant to slam New York’s Finest. We’ll say it flat out: We support the cops.


      Kill people? So what? They’re our cops and we love ’em, no matter who gets killed or why. That’s the First Amendment for you.

      1. John Barleycorn

        How can the whole world not instantly seem rational when you see the word “bandits” in a newspaper? (NYP piece)

        And how can you not be stoically sobered into the necessity of adding fiber to your diet when reading “very simple” in a sentence describing SOP threat assessment? (NYT piece)

        Rascally simple; rascally, rascally simple it is.

        P.S. How much do you think I could charge for a yearly subscription to a Zine publishing one issue a quarter that aggregated national headlines but in a paralleled inverse universe in long box comic book form if I titled it The Rascally Rational Review?

  4. Nagita Karunaratne

    Once two people are in a physical altercation it is very difficult to identify the aggressor. But what is the procedure for dealing with non-compliance? Is it to physically restrain and at what point does the other person feel they are not being restrained but being attacked and need to defend themselves?

    I suspect that the officer in Ferguson did not take the situation seriously enough and did not have enough resources to fully restrain Brown should he get aggressive. The gun is not there to get you out of a situation that you failed to fully anticipate.

    Maybe the First Law should be amended to ‘make sure everybody get either to home or jail’.

  5. Bill Higgins

    I Googled General Order 410.00 and got zero hits. Can anyone direct me to a copy of General Order 410 ?

    I believe police officers are forbidden by GO 410 from firing “warning shots”. When a “victim” hears the report of a police officer’s firearm he may have already been hit by a bullet (sound travels at 1100 feet/sec; bullets at between 1,000 and 3,000 feet/sec). Bill Higgins

    1. SHG Post author

      You’ve misunderstood. It’s not a “general order” for all police, but their local police policy. Whether there is a copy available online is unknown, though rarely would that be the case as there would be no reason for the police to put it online.

      Every department has policies, to some greater or lesser extent. What they may be differs from department to department.

      1. Bill Higgins

        Refer to the NY Times article of Saturday 8/23/2014 which is where I first heard of General Order 410. It is a 12 page document which all police forces use as a template for their deadly force policies. I understand that GO 410 states that no warning shots are allowed to be fired. All shots by police are to be at “body mass”. No shots to merely wound a suspect are permitted. Bill Higgins

        1. ExCop-LawStudent

          That’s not correct as to General Order 410 being a template for all police. If there is a template, it would be the International Association of Chiefs of Police model policy, but not all departments follow that, either. Personally, I have never heard of G.O. 410.

          In general, it is accurate that warning shots are prohibited. This is a CALEA standard and generally a best practice. I have never heard of a policy that “requires” all shots to be a body mass, although that is commonly used in training as the initial point of aim. If body mass shots fail, you have to go elsewhere. This is commonly called a failure drill, and you either go for a head shot to stop them, or a hit to the pelvic girdle. The second will immobilize them if hit. I’ve also never heard of a policy that prohibits “shot to wound.” It is taught in training not to shoot at arms or legs, not because of the “wound” issue, but because they are hard to hit and don’t stop the subject.

          *CALEA is the law enforcement accreditation group.

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