New York City Police Officer Brian Moore, 25, was shot in the face and killed. His alleged killer, Demetrius Blackwell, has been arrested and will be charged with First Degree Murder, as well he should be.
At a time of low crime in the city and a national debate over deadly police actions, officials said Officer Moore’s death was as a reminder of the dangers inherent in everyday situations officers encounter. The shooting erupted in an instant as the officers tried to question a man they deemed suspicious.
Officer Moore was the third New York police officer killed since last December, the first this year.
“Policing is never easy,” Mr. Bratton said at the news conference. “At this time in America, it’s even more difficult.”
Police Commissioner Bratton refers to what he described as “anti-police sentiment,” saying “these are strange times.”
Gilbert Drogheo was killed by 69-year-old William Groomes, a former corrections officer, after Groomes followed Drogheo from the train to the subway entrance, where he shot and killed him. Groomes will not be prosecuted.
“Based on interviews of multiple eyewitnesses to the events leading up to the shooting, our review of videotapes of the shooting itself and other evidence,” Mr. Thompson said in a statement, “I have decided not to put this case into the grand jury and will not bring criminal charges against Mr. Groomes. While the death of this young man was indeed tragic, we cannot prove any charge of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.”
There was controversy following Groomes’ shooting of Drogheo. Not whether it was murder, as there was little doubt of that, but that the police did not arrest Groomes at the time. Now that Thompson has decided not to present the case to the grand jury, that decision might appear less controversial. But the timing of the announcement of the decision, coming immediately after the murder of Moore, means that few will notice.
It is, of course, a tragedy that Police Officer Moore was killed. That so few police officers are killed enables his murder to stand out, but that doesn’t prevent it from being milked for ulterior purposes. See how police officers put their lives on the line for us every day? That’s why we owe them our appreciation, our respect, our compliance. That’s why we must give them the benefit of the doubt.
That’s why we should not harbor “anti-police sentiment” following the killing of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice (his killing remaining under investigation and his body not yet buried), Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott, Freddie Brown. And others. Every one tragic, because they didn’t need to die. But then, they were just regular people. Regular people’s lives are not as special as police officer’s lives. At least not to police officers.
If there is “anti-police sentiment,” as Bratton bemoans, the question must be asked whether they earned it. The argument that they did not is grounded in the belief that the myth of policing, its risk, its difficulty, its burdens, are unappreciated by the public, which holds the police accountable for an impossible expectation that they can both keep them safe from crime while making no mistake, avoiding needless harm. Regular people don’t get it, police explain. You couldn’t do it, they accuse.
When Dennis Tueller devised his 21-foot rule, it was to aid police in appreciating the potential danger they face rather than a justification for needless killing. That it was reduced to an excuse wasn’t his purpose. But it’s become the way of American policing.
Like the 21-foot rule, many current police practices were adopted when officers faced violent street gangs. Crime rates soared, as did the number of officers killed. Today, crime is at historic lows and most cities are safer than they have been in generations, for residents and officers alike. This should be a moment of high confidence in the police, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy group. Instead, he said, policing is in crisis.
“People aren’t buying our brand. If it was a product, we’d take it out of the marketplace and re-engineer it,” Mr. Wexler said. “We’ve lost the confidence of the American people.”
He doesn’t complain of anti-police sentiment, but of loss of faith.
The Dallas police chief, David O. Brown, said at a policing conference in February: “Sometimes it seems like our young officers want to get into an athletic event with people they want to arrest. They have a ‘don’t retreat’ mentality. They feel like they’re warriors and they can’t back down when someone is running from them, no matter how minor the underlying crime is.”
Avoiding, rather than seeking out, death won’t work. It will put cops’ lives at risk, and we can’t have another Moore, a cop’s murder, even if it means we have to suffer many other deaths. Or maybe they’re just doing it wrong.
Teaching officers to hesitate, Mr. Tueller said, could put them in danger.
It could. Teaching police officers to shoot without thinking could put everyone else in danger.
That focus on officer safety has underpinned many police policies, but Mr. Wexler argues that it is a false choice. Officers in Britain, most of whom do not carry guns and typically face fewer suspects with firearms than some American police officers do, regularly confront suspects carrying knives, as do their counterparts here. British officers follow what is known as the National Decision Model, which emphasizes talking, remaining patient and using no more force than necessary.
No police officer in England has died from a weapon attack during the past two years, according to the most recent published data, and none have been involved in fatal shootings during that period. (Officers with guns back up those who do not carry them.)
It does not diminish the tragedy of the murder of Brian Moore to remember the tragedy of the murders of others who did not wear a shield, but whose killers did. It cannot be said with assurance that under different circumstances, none would have died, but it can be said that some might have been saved. Each of these lives was worthy of saving.