August 20, 2005

The shoot-to-kill policy.

The London police are keeping their shoot-to-kill policy, with "one or two small changes."
"The methods that were used appeared to be the least worst option (for tackling suicide bombers) ... we still have the procedure in use," [London police chief Ian Blair] told the Daily Mail....

Operation Kratos outlines what level of force officers can use to thwart what police call a "deadly and determined attack".

Public awareness of the policy only emerged after police shot Jean Charles de Menezes eight times at point blank range as he boarded an underground train on July 22, the day after four bombs failed to explode on the London's transport system....

At the time of the incident Blair said de Menezes was under surveillance as part of a manhunt to catch the four fleeing bombers and had not respond to police challenges. The next day Police admitted they had shot the wrong man and apologised.

I'd like to hear more about the surveillance that led them to focus on Menezes. Surely, it's not enough to go ahead and make mistakes and just apologize afterwards. Presumably, the "one or two small changes" are designed to avoid further mistakes, but it seems to me that they should say a little more to inspire confidence that they are doing the right thing. But terrorists need to get the message that this one mistake isn't going to make life easier for them.


Jack said...

CNN International has been showing reports from IDT News (I think that's what the source is) on the shooting, and to say that what is now being described as the situation that led to the shooting is far from what was first reported is an understatement.

Something is not adding up. No, I'm not trying to say there is some kind of conspiracy, but I keep on getting 2+2=5 here.

I'll try to find a link to the stories. The questions raised are unsettling.

dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Too Many Jims said...

Innocent folks need to "get the message" that these changes will lead to a lower likelihood that they will be killed by the authorities.

To Dave:

You are a sad and sick person. You feel the state has acted in a wrong (immoral) manner. (Not to speak for her, but Ann believes that as well.) But you think that wrong can, in some way, be vindicated by the state acting in a similarly wrong (immoral) manner again just because you disagree with what she said.

kc said...

But terrorists need to get the message that this one mistake isn't going to make life easier for them.

Agreed. The cops need to shoot someone else, ASAP.

ploopusgirl said...

Oh, Dave. Didn't anyone tell you? I'm Althouse's resident troll. Bugger off, would you? I don't quite see the connection between desiring a more comforting (to the people of London) description of their shoot-to-kill policy (you know, better than: "well, we made two or three small changes, so we hope this mistake doesn't happen again!") and being bloodthirsty. She has repeatedly stated that the incident was a tragedy, but she is trying to pull a positive out of the negative. What good can come from this awful bad? That is the type of thinking that rational people use. Dwelling on the negative event does no one any good.

A similar situation would be 9/11. Would we ever wish for something like 9/11 to occur? Obviously not. However, if we look at what has happened since then: Saddam Hussein is no longer ruling Iraq, the taliban is no longer ruling in Afghanistan, and we're more careful about and aware of our threats than we ever were before, we can see that positive things can come from extremely negative ones. That's not bloodthirst, it's optimism.

SJP said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Larry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
boringmadedull said...

Well, generally speaking, it's ok to make mistakes, and then apologize and tinker with proceedures --

As long as no one winds up dead or injured because of your 'mistake'.

Then, some stronger remedy might be called for.

Larry said...

boringmedull: ... As long as no one winds up dead or injured because of your 'mistake'.

Then, some stronger remedy might be called for.

Okay, so consider the following hypothetical case: you're one of those suspicious "authorities" and you see someone you know is a suicide bomber making a sudden move toward a crowded venue; you have no other way of stopping him but to shoot to kill, but you don't do that and as a result dozens of innocent people end up dead. What do you suppose should be the "stronger remedy" for that kind of mistake? Here's another one: same as the first except that this time you're not 100% certain the person is a suicide bomber (as you never are in reality) but only, say, 95% -- do you shoot to kill, taking the 1 chance in 20 that you're making a mistake and killing an innocent man, or do hold off, and accept the 19 chances in 20 that you're making another kind of mistake and dozens of innocent people are killed? What should be the "remedy" for the first kind of mistake? What about the second? (Do you think that the first kind of mistake is somehow a characteristic of the "right wing"? Then would that make the second kind characteristically "left wing"?)

And notice that these are not just arcane questions in a philosophy class -- they're what actual people actually had, and may have again, to decide in the real world in very short order.

Simon Kenton said...

Police officers shoot to neutralize or stop. You don't shoot a person unless you have an overwhelming need to make them stop doing what they are doing, or are about to do. This means a need so urgent, so supervenient, that you are willing to accept their death as a byproduct of shooting them. But though it may result, their death is not your intention. In most cases, given the subject's mobility, the imminence of the threat, the difficulty of shooting a pistol accurately at even a stationary target, and the inadequate terminal ballistics of most controllable handguns, this means you must aim at the torso, and rely for incapacitation on blood loss.

But the loss of blood is not a reliably quick stopper. There are occasions when an officer must try for the relatively quicker incapacitation that comes from disrupting a nerve plexus. The most urgent of these are when the subject's finger, so to speak, is on the trigger. For instance, a subject holding a hostage with a pistol against her head. Another instance, of course, is a potential suicidal terrorist. In such cases, the subject has to be neutralized within less time than it takes a reflex neuronal pulse to travel from the brain out to twitch a finger. No shot in the torso, and most shots in the head and neck, cannot disrupt nerve function fast enough to short-circuit that dying reflex, which in turn may entrain the death of many others. The plexi where this can happen are small; and require a high velocity, relatively non-frangible bullet fired with great accuracy to hit them; require great precision in bullet placement; require a near-surgical knowledge of anatomy. Generally speaking, this kind of shooting is required of police, as opposed to military, snipers. A military sniper generally shoots with at least equal precision, but against targets so far away that the results of their dying reflexes are not of concern. It is the police sniper, shooting to save life, who has to master these skills - or else had better retain the bullets in his gun.

Politicians talk of shooting to kill or wound. To anyone who knows firearms, this is prima facie evidence that the person saying it is a dolt. The only people who actually shoot to kill are hunters. Just as a practical exercise, have a friend awaken you unexpectedly by screaming in the night. Have another friend flash a quartz-halogen flashlight in your face and drop a firecrracker nearby. Then, within 3 seconds, click a laser pointer on for 1/100th second at a third friend in the dark, and let the red dot illuminate only their right bicep. If the beam touches any part of their face or torso, lose your career. "Shoot to kill" or "shoot to wound" are so profoundly impractical that no police officer can live by them - though they can die by trying to follow such dicta.

Clearly the London officers - any officers dealing with subjects who could turn instantly into murderers or even mass murderers - have to operate by producing near-instant stops. The stories do seem to agree that this was the data the officers were operating on. But such situations require, as mentioned above, a very specialized form of shooting, and not one a regular officer is likely to master. The people who can do this have generally grown up with guns and maintain a level of professional practice about equal in time and intensity to what we expect of surgeons and pilots. It is a virtual impossibility that we would have enough of them and their equipment around at all the times and places a regular policeman can be found. A part of what develops through all that practice is judgment: when and at what to shoot, when to keep the powder unburned. Given the gun climate in England, it is very improbable these officers had, or ever could have, the life-style experience and long training to have handled the situation well. Some of the stories now indicate that the subject was 'restrained.' If we posit a real terrorist, with the determination and trans-human strength of madness, who only needs to move a finger some part of an inch to set off his bomb, 'restraint' is an arguable term. Until we know what was meant by that, it's probably reasonable to think that an officer might not trust 'restraint,' whatever that may have meant at the time. With the expectation that if a subject touches two wires together or throws a switch, you and many innocents will be red mist; and if you are not by major-league standards very good at the gun part of your job; it would be easy to panic.

The crux of the London situation is the number of shots fired. Professionally that's what stinks. If the officer was not blown up after the first shot, there was no need for the rest. There are a lot of terms for this - buck fever, kill-crazed, hysteria, panic, possibly even a form of meat-drunkenness - but none of these are excusable in a professional.

They aren't excusable, but it's worth noting a harsh dilemma. For all their toughness, policemen are easily discouraged, and theirs is one of the jobs where failure to act is not easily provable. In the United States there are several departments - Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Washington DC come to mind - where there is no longer any positive to being a vigorous cop. The department won't back you, the 'community activists' will savage you, the federal civil rights investigators will tie you up for years before exonerating you. So all day, every day, it's blue flu for serious offenses. But the time will come when the subject is not an innocent Brazilian, and we will need our officers to shoot unhesitatingly and accurately. At that point they will fall back physically on the training they have had, and emotionally on the level of support we've given them.

Wieland said...

I'm a liberal, and Ann is far from being a "brownshirt." What a nasty thing to say. Anyway, I put up a long post a couple days ago critiquing her view of the "further good" caused by the London shooting. In fairness, I have now responded by praising this post which is thoughtful and conscious of the real threat of terrorsim.

Daryl Herbert said...

Why quibble over the number of shots fired?

One shot to the head has the same effect as seven or eight.

What does it matter whether it was one shot or eight?

Forget this, and focus on the important issues: why they targeted him for surveillance in the first place, and why/when they decided to kill him.

Counting bullets is just a cheap way to demonize the police.

The other dave said...

Competent bombers whack a minimum of a dozen or so folks with an attack. Therefore, if the cops are right only 10% of the time about who they kill, net lives are saved. This is an ugly thought, but the math works.

gravy said...

I think one of the changes to the Shoot to kill policy that Londoners would like to see is more evidence of a "determined and deadly attack" than simply standing up when confronted by a group of men rushing onto a tube train shouting at you in one of the less savoury parts of town.

Can I point out to Simon Kenton that these were not ‘regular officer’s but members of the SO19 specialist firearms unit, ( so while they might not have the ‘lifestyle experience’, they are highly trained to deal with situations like this and should be expected not to just fly off the handle and go in blasting first chance they get.

Simon Kenton said...

Mr. Gravy -

Strongly agree - it appears they were given bad data. Not their fault. It appears at least one of them behaved with a more-or-less complete lack of professionalism doing the actual shooting. Their fault. There is no excuse for this kind of armed freak-out.

cylon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.