Monday, December 10, 2007

How to stop a bullet and a mad dog

This has been a terrible year to be a member of the constabulary. Or a wonderful one, depending on your point of view.

There has been a litany of Keystone Cop events, possibly the most enduring of which was the failure of a platoon of heavily armed police to gun down a supposedly dangerous dog using the latest in their semiautomatic weapons armoury. The scene seemed to reflect a lack of training, discipline or skill (or a combination of all three).

Only a matter of days before police had gunned Stephen Bellingham, one would have to argue, like a dog in the street. He was advancing on several police with a hammer.

The interesting thing about the Bellingham case (which is currently being investigated as a homicide) is that it fuels the debate about the use of tasers - which it seems will inevitably be widely introduced following a trial by the NZ Police. Police argue that the streets are filled with P-Crazed violent offenders and the use of tasers will prevent the need to shoot them in order to arrest their antisocial acitivites.

This is plainly faulty logic of the highest and most insidious order. It fails to explore any, more obvious and sane, alternative.

For example: train police to disarm or restrain a violent offender using a reasonable amount of force. There are a number of martial arts that use an opponents own strength to disable the threat. Perhaps it would require too much commitment to ongoing training. A quick fix solution has obvious attractions. Cheaper to hand a corpse to a family than investigate an alleged crime and certainly cheaper than maintaining high standards of skill and self discipline.

In the even that a gun must be used - and, surely, such an event must be rare - then shooting to halt or disable must be better practice than the use of a lethal shot.

Reports of the Bellingham shooting suggest the shot was taken from a metre away. Point blank. That begs the question why wait until the target was so close if the policemen (there was several) before taking decisive action. The implication is the shot was taken out of fear or panic. A more considered action would have been to shoot to wound at a point when the officer had more control over the situation.

Which takes us full circle to the case of the Rottweiler armed police failed to halt in a hail of bullets:

The young officers at the scene then began shooting at the dog as it ran around the property, he said.

When asked why police fired so many shots at the dog, Mr Spence said shooting at moving things in real life was different to shooting at targets at the range.

"It was a small, fast moving target. I am satisfied no members of the public were put at risk [by the shooting]," he said.NZ Herald

"Shooting at moving things in real life was different to shooting at targets at the range". I thought that was worth repeating for its obvious comic-tragic effect.

The dog survived unharmed and was able to be pacified while the man who had set him on the police was apprehended inspite of throwing wood, a baseball bat and, get this, a tomahawk at them. Hmm,…hammer…tomahawk…I think you get the point.

The use of tasers is under doubt around the world. The United Nations has said they represent a violation of international conventions because their use is a form of torture and it is 'cruel and unusual punishment'.

Police have been quick to whip up a climate of fear to justify their behaviour…apparently out streets are not only filled with violent loonies but also, it saddens me to say it, 'terrorists'.

The government has stepped back from all of this, the minister claiming it is all proceedural. Is law and order - or more importantly - justice is something that is simply a matter for furrowed brows and the rhetoric of election campaigns.

It is a post 9/11 syndrome that is infecting the world.

James Wolcott of Vanity Fair blogs about it:

Tased and Confused

John Cole at Balloon Juice has been keeping diligent tabs on zap-happy law enforcement, the most recent incident being the Tasing of a hearing-impaired gentleman named Donnell Williams who had just emerged daisy-fresh from the bathtub, clad only in a towel. Finding guns pointed at him by police responding to a call of what later proved to be a false claim of shots being fired, Williams improvised as best he could under the frightening circumstances:

“I kept going to my ear yelling that I was scared. I can’t hear! I can’t hear!”

Officers were worried about their own safety because at the time it appeared Williams was refusing to obey their commands to show his hands. That’s when they shot him with a Taser.

The War on Terror has given increased license to a militarized supermacho SWAT team mentality intended to excuse all sorts of bullyboy tactics. Fortunately, Williams survived, unlike scores of other "tag, you're it" Tase victims.

And, then there is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police demonstrating how they 'always get their man'.

Next time you nip down to the supermarket to buy some nappies and are pulled over by a cop for speeding just hope he or she isn't packing heat of any kind and having an off day.

Oh and one other thing, can we end the vile coverage of Clint Rickards, it's creepy to continue to give him column inches and airtime to slander Louise Nicholas and make himself out as a victim.

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