“Sorry, Too Damn Late”

Bill Lewinksi, the forensic fraudster whose phony “science” is embraced by police because it excuses their needlessly killing people to make sure they live no matter what, ultimately relies on the phrase, “Sorry, too damn late,” as a justification to shoot and kill before a cop knows whether an actual threat exists.

Matt Apuzzo recounts his use of an analogy to sell this “science” to people who don’t appear to have a well-tuned grasp of how analogies work:

“A batter can’t wait for a ball to cross home plate before deciding whether that’s something to swing at,” he told the Los Angeles deputy sheriffs. “Make sense? Officers have to make a prediction based on cues.”

Why no, a batter can’t. But then, he knows that a pitcher is throwing a ball for the purpose of getting it over the plate without him striking it with his bat. He knows that the pitch will either cross the plate or not. And he knows that if he fails to swing, it will be one strike. He will get more. And if he swings, he will either strike the ball or not. Either way, he won’t die because of it. Neither will the pitcher.

In other words, there is absolutely nothing about the analogy that holds true to the pre-emptive killing of human beings, and anyone selling with this analogy is a fraud, and anyone buying this analogy is a moron.

Matt takes a softer approach to the analogy:

Of course, it follows that batters will sometimes swing at bad pitches, and that officers will sometimes shoot unarmed people.

The back half is an allusion, likely unintentional, to Blackstone’s Ratio, “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”  Yet, when it comes to the life of a cop, better that ten innocents be killed than one cop suffer. Unsurprisingly, cops agree, and hence follow the First Rule of Policing before all else.  Frauds like Lewinski give them cover, an excuse, to justify their putting the value of their life over everyone else.

And the truth be told, they truly believe that their lives are more valuable than yours. All cops. Good, bad and indifferent. It’s not that they don’t care about your life. It’s that they care about theirs more.  They are happy to save your life provided it poses no risk to theirs.

They are not necessarily happy to take your life, but if the alternative is to place theirs at risk, any risk whether real or perceived, even if the potential for threat is still multiple steps away, they will do what they have to do to assure that they make it home for dinner.  They are sorry for what they had to do afterward. Sometimes. But they never doubt that it was necessary, as they are alive, and that is the foremost goal of every police shift.

And to the extent they have a nagging doubt in the back of their head that maybe, just maybe, they should hesitate, not kill until they are certain, maybe even not kill at all because they really don’t want to kill people, along comes a guy like Bill Lewinski who, to the mind of a cop, is a scientist because he got a degree for drawing a picture on the back of a matchbook, and tells the cop in his most official scientist voice that it is scientifically proven that he is right to kill, and to kill in advance of seeing the glint of steel, no less the muzzle flash.  Why?

If he waits, “Sorry, it’s too damn late.”

After publishing this article about Lewinksi, the New York Times received some letters to the editor. Many were thoughtful, but one struck a particular chord.

Most people I know believe that officers should be certain of the threat before responding with deadly force. Stated simply, we honor and respect police officers because we think they are willing to take a bullet rather than kill an innocent person (like us). Police officers who think differently should get into another, safer line of work.

The emphasis added is mine, as this notion is what compels us to keep cops around. We want to, no, need to, believe that most cops would put themselves at risk for us. To protect and serve is a slogan, not a job requirement, but it brings us comfort.

If they put a decal on the side of cruisers that said, “don’t make any movements that might scare us into thinking you’re a threat, or we’ll shoot you dead,” we might be forced to rethink our position on the efficacy of police.

There are other myths, like the one about cops being crackerjack investigators. Or that cops have a sixth sense about when people are lying.  But the question remains how good they are at their job, assuming we move beyond their skill at filling in the factual gaps in testimony with what they perceive as “little white lies” fully justified by the fact that they’re certain the defendant is guilty, and the legal system is a sham promoted by naïve judges and clueless jurors. Nobody but a cop understands what has to be done to save society from the criminals.

And then there’s the myth that police lives matter more than anyone else’s.

But they complain, bitterly, that the public fails to show them the “honor and respect” they so desperately desire. The truism, of course, is that respect isn’t demanded, but earned.  When you strap on body armor and carry heavy weapons, you aren’t asking for respect but fear.  Nobody respects the bully, whose tool is might instead of right.

The public wants to respect its police.  The public wants to believe that the hype is true, that you really are there to protect us.  That’s what makes this profile of Bill Lewinski so valuable, as it reveals that we’ve been wrong about you, that you deserve no respect at all because you are frightened children with guns, trained to kill well before there is any actual basis to defend yourself.

Because if you gave a damn about any life other than your own, it would be “sorry, but it’s too damn late.”  We would respect you if you would take a bullet rather than kill an innocent person.  But you wouldn’t. And we don’t. And it’s frauds like Bill Lewinski who sell this lie to cops.

Before you lay it all on  Lewinski, however, consider one final thought: no one makes you, officer, pull a trigger to make sure you live even if the threat was only your cowardly fear. Lewinksi isn’t on the road with you. You don’t have to buy what he’s selling, and you have the ability to earn respect regardless of Lewinski’s apologies for your cowardice.

Yes, it’s possible you could be harmed, even killed. That’s the job you chose. If you don’t have the guts for it, find another job that doesn’t involve guns.

9 thoughts on ““Sorry, Too Damn Late”

  1. Tim

    I am glad somebody finally made this point. Police work can be dangerous, and law enforcement has a legitimate expectation that the dangers of the job that can be managed will be. But no amount of protective measures – short of allowing the “shoot first” approach Lewinski and others support – is going to zero the risk out (even then, probably not). Policing, like firefighting, military service and other such jobs, is a public service and necessarily involves putting yourself in harm’s way on a regular basis. For that, you (theoretically) receive society’s gratitude and respect, not to mention a solid salary and a fairly decent set of benefits. The “shoot first” crowd seems to want the goodies that come with public service but (often) shirks the inherent risk involved in the occupation. I can understand that – nobody wants to get shot while doing their job. Even so, the risk is part of the deal. As the NYT blurb said, if you don’t like that deal, do something else.

    1. Michael

      Very well stated, Tim.

      Of course, a horde of people will be angry and disagree, saying you have no idea what danger is present and how public servants have to live to protect us another day.

      I understand that to some degree but this minimal-to-no accountability for shooting and killing is something much of society is disgusted. Yes, we prefer perps go before us yet you have to make sure those people are truly deadly in the moment . You can kill and say “we think they were going to kill.”

  2. John Moyles

    “That means knowing that personal safety can’t always come first. That is why it’s service. That’s why it’s sacrifice.” – Alex Horton.

    [Ed. Note: Balance deleted as off topic.]

    1. John Moyles

      Ahh, but deleted with kindness. Surprised, especially on a Monday, not to get both barrels at once.

      1. SHG Post author

        Your reference to Horton’s case wasn’t a bad thing, just not the topic of this post. There are plenty of examples, and his is a fine example (even though I didn’t choose to write about it), but it’s not the topic of this post.

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