The Randomness: On David French’s Quest to De-Risk Crime

 

As a fellow Iraq war vet, I deeply respect the service and perspective of National Review columnist David French. He volunteered out of a sense of obligation to serve in a war he had endorsed. The man put his rear end where his mouth had put others. That he was “inside the wire” as a legal advisor should be beside the point. He risked much more than any pundit. Oh, but that he would do the same with his punditry on policing. On this Mr. French is consistently, dangerously wrong.

I have spent much of three decades observing, reporting on, and training in police work. That study is further informed by my tours as an infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the lessons I’ve learned are clear: Mr. French’s ideas will get good people killed by shifting the risk of criminality off of the lawless. Sadly, his effort to de-risk criminality hit a nadir with his column on the death of Stephon Clark.

The facts, per bodycam and helicopter video, are roughly thus: A 911 caller reported to the Sacramento Police Department “a guy going down the street breaking windows of cars” who went in the backyard of a house. A circling helicopter crew reported a man, later identified as Clark, breaking into a second house, climbing a backyard fence to a third home then walking down the driveway. Officers confronted him, ordering him to “show your hands” and “stop,” as he bolted to the backyard. Clark turned toward the pursuing officers who took cover behind the house before shooting as one cried “gun, gun, gun” and Clark continued to advance.

From the first shout to the last shot, the confrontation lasted 19 seconds. Only later did they discover that Clark merely had a cell phone and was in the yard of his grandmother’s home, where he stayed.

Mr. French believes the officers should have assumed they weren’t really at risk. His back-of-the-envelope probabilities analysis features the ultimate in armchair quarterbacking.

French ponders: “If it’s dark, police are sprinting, and flashlights are shaking, what are the chances that the cops’ first assessment that the suspect had a gun are wrong?” Not much. According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database (among the most reliable compilations of such information), only 7 percent of people killed by police in 2017 were unarmed (which doesn’t mean they were not a threat). And does he really mean that the more ambiguously dangerous the situation (suspect fleeing to an unlit area) the more benefit of the doubt the suspect should get?

What was the reasonable risk of backing off and continuing to give strong, verbal commands? If an armed suspect (as French concedes the officers genuinely believed him to be) ignores commands then turns and advances on two armed officers, what additional command will be effective? Moreover, would Mr. French bet his own life on those commands? And how many would he give before shooting? The officers gave at least four.

What are the possibilities he hadn’t heard the commands? Inasmuch as Clark reacted to the commands, just distinctly the opposite of what he was told, it seems obvious that the chance is zero.

In perhaps the most ghoulish thing I’ve seen written about officer safety in a quarter century covering this topic, Mr. French asserts that because no Sacramento PD officer has been murdered in 19 years, they should have assumed there was less risk. He doesn’t ponder the probability that SPD officers who have been shot saved themselves by using the same lethal force he seeks to restrict. And, as Jack Dunphy points out, Mr. French ignores the murders of other Sacramento-area officers in recent years. Might the officers’ perceptions have been shaded by the conviction the week before of a double-cop-killer? Mr. French is silent on these, the hard details that are the reality out on the street.

Cop-hating libertarians and leftists are fond of statistics that show more commercial fisherman, loggers or cab driver are killed than cops per capita. That’s true as far as it goes. We’ve gone from over 100 officers murdered by gunfire in the 1970s to 64 in 2016 and 46 last year. This year is running 50 percent over last.

But police work stands alone with critics (like Mr. French) seeking to make it more dangerous. And purely for the benefit of people who almost always hold their own fates in their own hands. Yes, there are tragic exceptions of people who did nothing wrong, such as John Crawford, Justine Damond, Tyler Finch, and (most likely) Philando Castile. But, those are complex, literally one-in-a-thousand, awful events. And, notably, the Damond case appears criminal, which is definitively unreasonable.

But Mr. French’s worst transgression is to imply there’s predictability in the truly random nature of the risk of policing. Take, for instance, the 21-officer police department of Clinton, MO. The only two officers killed in its 150-year history were slain in the last nine months in separate incidents. Rookie Gary Michael was shot during an August traffic stop. Bizarrely, his replacement, Ofc. Chris Morton was recently slain after being sent to the wrong house on a 911 call, where he was ambushed by a drug dealer.

I have studied this issue for years. I call it “The Randomness,” and there is little predictable or probable about it. I learned this as a kid. In my hometown of West Covina, CA, the only two officers murdered on the job in the city’s history both died within five years. Ken Wrede was shot dead by a naked man. How’s that for unarmed?

Cops are murdered on the first day on the job and in the last weeks of a four-decade career. They are murdered stopping for coffee. They are murdered while handling the most minor of car accidents, by kids stealing beer before Christmas, and by people who call the cops on themselves. And they are killed in foot pursuit of suspects of minor crimes.

For those who don’t click, the latter incident, the murder of rookie Pomona Police Department Officer Gregg Casillas at the hands of a reckless driver, happened just days before the Clark shooting. Given that Mr. French wrote nothing of Casillas’ murder, we must conclude the probability is that his outrage at senseless killings has a finicky predictability.

Bizarrely, Mr. French argues it is problematic that police officers are shown videos of other cops’ deaths. It seems he prefers cops who are unaware that they can be shot dead by a man they’ve been talking to for 10 minutes, or shot in the face by a man who, like Clark, ignored commands to stop. Or even shot by handcuffed suspects.

Imagine declaring it’s dangerous to show videos of industrial accidents to fishermen and loggers.

The fact of the matter is, American police officers rarely use force of any kind, especially deadly force. There were 1.2 million violent crimes in the US in 2016, about 17,000 of them murders. Police officers made 50 million contacts with citizens, resulting in about 57,000 assaults on officers in this country with hundreds of millions of guns. That just 967 fatal shootings resulted is remarkable.

To be sure, policing in a democracy (and common decency) requires that police use lethal force only under the direst of conditions. Cops cannot and should not treat every person they meet as immediate threats. But some certainly are, and being prepared for those threats is why 597 people with guns were killed by cops in 2017, and only 51 cops were killed by criminals. It is fair though to ask: exactly how many of those 597 would Mr. French shift to the dead-cops column in order to ensure Stephon Clark can resist arrest without fear of harm? 5? 50? 500?

Of course, Mr. French will claim he simply wants to save the Stephon Clarks of the world and wishes no harm on cops. But that is not the reality. The more police procedure is shaped to give suspects the benefit of the doubt, the more that doubt will be leveraged by would-be cop-killers to lethal ends.

Of course, there are methods by which Mr. Clark may have been arrested under less dangerous circumstances. That would have involved sending numerous additional units to lock down the neighborhood and employ a variety of force options.

But if you want to do that for the Clark call, then you have to do the same for literally every domestic dispute, beer run, reckless driving, and vandalism call. Practically all 911 calls would generate a massive, costly deployment of resources that will severely impact response times.

That is the nature of The Randomness. A small but omnipresent possibility that the worst moments of one’s life have already begun without you knowing. The only remedies are the instinct and tools to quickly identify and neutralize fast-evolving threats, or flood every situation with extensive, redundant resources.

All to ensure suspects can refuse to comply without worry.

It is very sad that someday someone will have to explain to Stephon Clark’s young children why their daddy died. The fact that he made a series of bad decisions that created danger for all involved under particularly volatile circumstances will provide them little comfort. But, the responsibility for the consequences of his numerous reckless and criminal actions lies with no one but himself.

I wonder if Mr. French would rather explain to Gregg Casillas’ kids why he is more worried about Stephon Clark’s right to resist arrest than the life of their father and every other cop who lives with The Randomness.

There are 83 comments.

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  1. David Bryan Member
    David Bryan
    @DavidBryan

    Superb post. All police officers should read this.

    • #1
  2. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Robert C. J. Parry: According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database (among the most reliable compilations of such information), only 7 percent of people killed by police in 2017 were unarmed (which doesn’t mean they were not a threat).

    Is 7 percent a lot or a little?  I can think of plenty of contexts in which a 7 percent false positive rate, resulting in fatalities, would be completely unacceptable.

    Robert C. J. Parry: What was the reasonable risk of backing off and continuing to give strong, verbal commands? If an armed suspect (as French concedes the officers genuinely believed him to be) ignores commands then turns and advances on two armed officers, what additional command will be effective?

    I think this misses David’s point.  It was not that it would be more effective to back off, but that it would be less risky of a bad shooting.  He recommends a change in strategy for officers’ use of force in the face of uncertainty.  Such a change in tactics reduces the officers’ perception of immediate danger by taking cover, thereby reducing the risk they will mistakenly decide to shoot an unarmed perp.  The tradeoff is that it’s probably more likely a perp could escape arrest.  Do you think that’s a good trade?

    • #2
  3. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Robert C. J. Parry: What was the reasonable risk of backing off and continuing to give strong, verbal commands? If an armed suspect (as French concedes the officers genuinely believed him to be) ignores commands then turns and advances on two armed officers, what additional command will be effective?

    I think this misses David’s point. It was not that it would be more effective to back off, but that it would be less risky of a bad shooting. He recommends a change in strategy for officers’ use of force in the face of uncertainty. Such a change in tactics reduces the officers’ perception of immediate danger by taking cover, thereby reducing the risk they will mistakenly decide to shoot an unarmed perp. The tradeoff is that it’s probably more likely a perp could escape arrest. Do you think that’s a good trade?

    If Robert’s numbers are correct for 2016, there were 967 fatal shootings out of 50 million contacts with citizens. That alone seems like an astounding success. Then consider: how many of those 967 fatal shootings were bad (unjustified or accidental) shootings? Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist by inviting a much bigger problem of not apprehending as many suspects.

    • #3
  4. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Robert C. J. Parry: According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database (among the most reliable compilations of such information), only 7 percent of people killed by police in 2017 were unarmed (which doesn’t mean they were not a threat).

    Is 7 percent a lot or a little? I can think of plenty of contexts in which a 7 percent false positive rate, resulting in fatalities, would be completely unacceptable.

    Robert C. J. Parry: What was the reasonable risk of backing off and continuing to give strong, verbal commands? If an armed suspect (as French concedes the officers genuinely believed him to be) ignores commands then turns and advances on two armed officers, what additional command will be effective?

    I think this misses David’s point. It was not that it would be more effective to back off, but that it would be less risky of a bad shooting. He recommends a change in strategy for officers’ use of force in the face of uncertainty. Such a change in tactics reduces the officers’ perception of immediate danger by taking cover, thereby reducing the risk they will mistakenly decide to shoot an unarmed perp. The tradeoff is that it’s probably more likely a perp could escape arrest. Do you think that’s a good trade?

    You miss the flip side of that decision tree – the armed perp could escape arrest, one willing to face down police officers with guns.

    So, no, I don’t think it misses the point.  Introducing additional uncertainty into an already uncertain situation creates the same complex set of “what ifs” that would not occur should the perp simply comply with commands.

    This isn’t hard.  I know there are rare exceptions to this rule, but if you comply with police commands, you reduce the probabilities of bad outcomes.  Figure the rest out later, afterwards.  Be angry or upset – afterwards.  But comply, now, or you, the individual, increases the likelihood of a bad outcome.

    The bad guys know this, which is why they don’t comply.

    • #4
  5. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    • #5
  6. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think the OP is missing David French’s larger point. Stephon Clark was unarmed. Americans do not want this to happen–unarmed people to be shot and killed by police officers. French is asking some good questions in comparing the use of deadly force in armed-conflict war situations against civilian law-enforcement situations.

    • #6
  7. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    California is looking at legislation to alter the use of deadly force by law enforcement. No one here would likely agree with what comes out of the process, but at least that’s the right manner for addressing such things.

    • #7
  8. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    Unjustly? How many of the 597 would you convert to dead cops so Stephon Clark can resist arrest unscathed?

    • #8
  9. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    California is looking at legislation to alter the use of deadly force by law enforcement. No one here would likely agree with what comes out of the process, but at least that’s the right manner for addressing such things.

    If you like long response times and cops who avoid confrontation, that’s the way to go

    • #9
  10. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist by inviting a much bigger problem of not apprehending as many suspects.

    You actually don’t know how many armed perps would escape if the police were slightly more conservative in their tactics in the uncertain situations.  And I don’t agree with your characterization of the relative sizes of the problems of unnecessary killing of suspects versus more difficulty apprehending suspects.

    • #10
  11. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    This isn’t hard. I know there are rare exceptions to this rule, but if you comply with police commands, you reduce the probabilities of bad outcomes. Figure the rest out later, afterwards. Be angry or upset – afterwards. But comply, now, or you, the individual, increases the likelihood of a bad outcome.

    This is all true, but again misses French’s point by conflating two separate questions that French explicitly tried to separate.

    1. Did the police do anything illegal or unjustifable?  Probably not.
    2. Did the tactics the police were trained to use make it more likely they would find themselves in a situation to needlessly kill an unarmed perp who behaved in a non-compliant way?  Yes.

    We can try to address 2 without putting the police in more danger — French’s suggested tactic was for them to take cover — while making it more likely by an unknown amount that some perps will escape.

    It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” — Blackstone

    • #11
  12. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    Unjustly? How many of the 597 would you convert to dead cops so Stephon Clark can resist arrest unscathed?

    This is simply not a fair question.  Let’s try this logic with other questions:

    1. How many innocents must die of murder so you can have your right to bear arms?
    2. How many murderers must go free to kill again so you can have your precious due process?
    3. How many children must die in drunk driving wrecks so you can have your beer after work?

    It’s not a useful way to frame public policy questions.

    • #12
  13. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    David Bryan (View Comment):

    Superb post. All police officers should read this.

    Thank you.

    • #13
  14. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    Unjustly? How many of the 597 would you convert to dead cops so Stephon Clark can resist arrest unscathed?

    This is simply not a fair question. Let’s try this logic with other questions:

    1. How many innocents must die of murder so you can have your right to bear arms?
    2. How many murderers must go free to kill again so you can have your precious due process?
    3. How many children must die in drunk driving wrecks so you can have your beer after work?

    It’s not a useful way to frame public policy questions.

    That’s one heck of a dodge. Why not answer the question. You want the benefit of the doubt in ambiguous situations to go to the non-compliant suspect. So how many Gregg Casillases are you willing to kill to save Stephon Clark from the risk of his own actions?

    • #14
  15. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry
    @RobertCJParry

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    This isn’t hard. I know there are rare exceptions to this rule, but if you comply with police commands, you reduce the probabilities of bad outcomes. Figure the rest out later, afterwards. Be angry or upset – afterwards. But comply, now, or you, the individual, increases the likelihood of a bad outcome.

    This is all true, but again misses French’s point by conflating two separate questions that French explicitly tried to separate.

    1. Did the police do anything illegal or unjustifable? Probably not.
    2. Did the tactics the police were trained to use make it more likely they would find themselves in a situation to needlessly kill an unarmed perp who behaved in a non-compliant way? Yes.

    We can try to address 2 without putting the police in more danger — French’s suggested tactic was for them to take cover — while making it more likely by an unknown amount that some perps will escape.

    It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” — Blackstone

    So you don’t see any risk to a police officer confronting an armed suspect by forcing him to not fire?  When would it be OK to fire? Remember, French believes the officers fully believed Clark was armed. So he is saying they shouldn’t shoot suspects they believe to be armed.

    • #15
  16. AltarGirl Member
    AltarGirl
    @CM

    MarciN (View Comment):

    I think the OP is missing David French’s larger point. Stephon Clark was unarmed. Americans do not want this to happen–unarmed people to be shot and killed by police officers. French is asking some good questions in comparing the use of deadly force in armed-conflict war situations against civilian law-enforcement situations.

    I don’t want legally armed men getting shot, either!

    I don’t want concealed carry permit holders to be treated like dangerous criminals simply because they are carrying.

    By the standard being employed in these “reasonable fear” cases, our 2nd amendment rights are being challenged through law enforcement, not law.

    • #16
  17. AltarGirl Member
    AltarGirl
    @CM

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):
    So you don’t see any risk to a police officer confronting an armed suspect by forcing him to not fire?

    So isn’t that the risk they signed up for? Why they get my arm and leg in pension funding?

    Not coming here without skin in the game – my family are cops. They definitely signed up for this.

    Innocent men did not sign up for it. But you are ok treating innocent men (and children and elderly) as suspects and lose their life so that someone who voluntarily signed up for this job should not face the risk of harm?

    While I don’t want to see cops die, innocent civilians dying is worse to me.

    • #17
  18. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    Unjustly? How many of the 597 would you convert to dead cops so Stephon Clark can resist arrest unscathed?

    Between an agent of the state and a citizen, I’ll take the citizen every time. This is for the unjust killings, not the justified ones. There’s an impossible balancing act between safety and liberty in this. We’ll never get it 100% right, but that’s no excuse to quit trying.

    • #18
  19. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    California is looking at legislation to alter the use of deadly force by law enforcement. No one here would likely agree with what comes out of the process, but at least that’s the right manner for addressing such things.

    If you like long response times and cops who avoid confrontation, that’s the way to go

    I made no claim for or against the legislation, only a cheer for using the legislative process to change law, you know, how the system is designed to work. If California wanted to go (even farther) bat guano crazy and disarm their police it would be their right to do so, provided it was done through the appropriate means.

    • #19
  20. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    Of course. Though it’s not exactly “the state” as if it’s systematic or premeditated. If it is, then we have bigger problems than police making bad decisions. My point was more that there simply will be some amount of tragedy; the current level, while tragic, isn’t a systemic injustice; asking police to let people go in order to chase some chimeric ideal of perfection which wil never be reached creates dangers and risks of its own – likely a bigger problem than the one they’re attempting to solve.

    • #20
  21. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Robert C. J. Parry: To be sure, policing in a democracy (and common decency) requires that police use lethal force only under the direst of conditions.

    On this we agree completely. It seems to be the definition of “direst of conditions” which is discordant. You probably also understand the military threshold of “when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed.” It’s a line which is always bright and clear in hindsight, yet murky and dim in the heat of the moment with endorphins flowing, the heart beating itself almost apart, and the mind overwhelmed with stimulus from without and within. And yet, seeing that line clearly regardless of the situation is exactly what we ask of those to whom we have granted authority to make life and death decisions.

    • #21
  22. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    Of course. Though it’s not exactly “the state” as if it’s systematic or premeditated. If it is, then we have bigger problems than police making bad decisions. My point was more that there simply will be some amount of tragedy; the current level, while tragic, isn’t a systemic injustice; asking police to let people go in order to chase some chimeric ideal of perfection which wil never be reached creates dangers and risks of its own – likely a bigger problem than the one they’re attempting to solve.

    I don’t think it’s systemic. I agree that it’s tragic. What I really hope we do is express the appropriate level of outrage or grief when these tragedies happen (it’s hard to know which is the right one until all the facts are in.) My biggest complaint is the systemic rush from the right to always acquit the officers before we know much of anything. Allow that it may be more than tragedy, that it could actually be misuse of the power we, the free citizens of this nation, have granted them. The left wants to condemn; the right wants to excuse. Neither is always right.

    • #22
  23. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist by inviting a much bigger problem of not apprehending as many suspects.

    You actually don’t know how many armed perps would escape if the police were slightly more conservative in their tactics in the uncertain situations. And I don’t agree with your characterization of the relative sizes of the problems of unnecessary killing of suspects versus more difficulty apprehending suspects.

    You’re right, I don’t know how many more people would escape under the proposal. I’m guessing. Though, I didn’t say anything about armed perps. People don’t need to be armed to be fatal in the instant or in the future. Otherwise I don’t agree with how you frame the proposal: “slightly more conservative in their tactics in the uncertain situations”. First, I think as the OP said, all situations are uncertain. Second, I think police are conservative in their approach – they don’t initiate all citizen contacts with guns drawn and likely have a long checklist before they would draw guns. Third, the risk of letting people get away is not some piddling risk in comparison to a vanishingly small percentage of citizen contacts which result in accidental unjustified shootings.

    Regarding my characterization of the relative risks involved, let’s consider the saying of Blackstone: “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer“. Sounds reasonable. But doesn’t it depend on what the ten are guilty of? What of the innocents who will suffer at the hands of those ten guilty who are free in order to protect the one? Why does the one matter more than the victims of the ten?

    • #23
  24. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    Mark Wilson (View Comment):

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    Unjustly? How many of the 597 would you convert to dead cops so Stephon Clark can resist arrest unscathed?

    This is simply not a fair question. Let’s try this logic with other questions:

    1. How many innocents must die of murder so you can have your right to bear arms?
    2. How many murderers must go free to kill again so you can have your precious due process?
    3. How many children must die in drunk driving wrecks so you can have your beer after work?

    It’s not a useful way to frame public policy questions.

    That’s one heck of a dodge. Why not answer the question. You want the benefit of the doubt in ambiguous situations to go to the non-compliant suspect. So how many Gregg Casillases are you willing to kill to save Stephon Clark from the risk of his own actions?

    It’s not a dodge at all — I don’t even buy into the premise of such a grotesque question, and I don’t think a meaningful, sensible, moral answer can be given.

    But if you do, then you should be able to provide an answer, right?  Taking the opposite tack, how many officers’ lives would you save in exchange for killing an innocent man?  I’m interested to see if this is a genuine question or just a rhetorical tactic, so please prove it one way or the other.

    • #24
  25. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):

    So you don’t see any risk to a police officer confronting an armed suspect by forcing him to not fire? When would it be OK to fire? Remember, French believes the officers fully believed Clark was armed. So he is saying they shouldn’t shoot suspects they believe to be armed.

    I have no experience with this type of situation myself, but I’m trying to faithfully represent French’s argument, because I believe it has been misrepresented in this thread.  The officers incorrectly believed him to be armed.  It was a situation where the level of uncertainty should have merited a conservative approach, not a direct confrontation.  French is saying they should use tactics where incorrectly believing him to be armed is less likely to occur, a correct assessment is more likely to occur, and the confrontation is less likely to end in an unnecessary shooting.

    • #25
  26. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    AltarGirl (View Comment):

    Robert C. J. Parry (View Comment):
    So you don’t see any risk to a police officer confronting an armed suspect by forcing him to not fire?

    So isn’t that the risk they signed up for?

    Are you sure you read Robert’s comment correctly? Who would sign up for a dangerous job like that if they were barred from adequately protecting themselves or the public?

    • #26
  27. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Why does the one matter more than the victims of the ten?

    Because they aren’t victims yet. You assume the guilty will go on to commit more crimes (statistically, sure, but philosophically that’s a big no.) We can’t predict the future. We’re just as capable of preventing the act of grace that turns the sinner into a saint.

    • #27
  28. Ed G. Member
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Sounds like French is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t much exist

    Any time the state unjustly takes the life of a citizen it is an extant problem.

    Of course. Though it’s not exactly “the state” as if it’s systematic or premeditated. If it is, then we have bigger problems than police making bad decisions. My point was more that there simply will be some amount of tragedy; the current level, while tragic, isn’t a systemic injustice; asking police to let people go in order to chase some chimeric ideal of perfection which wil never be reached creates dangers and risks of its own – likely a bigger problem than the one they’re attempting to solve.

    I don’t think it’s systemic. I agree that it’s tragic. What I really hope we do is express the appropriate level of outrage or grief when these tragedies happen (it’s hard to know which is the right one until all the facts are in.) My biggest complaint is the systemic rush from the right to always acquit the officers before we know much of anything. Allow that it may be more than tragedy, that it could actually be misuse of the power we, the free citizens of this nation, have granted them. The left wants to condemn; the right wants to excuse. Neither is always right.

    No one is rushing to acquit anyone here. My experience on Ricochet tells me the problem is the opposite anyway: most people rushing to condemn before we really know anything.

    • #28
  29. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Otherwise I don’t agree with how you frame the proposal: “slightly more conservative in their tactics in the uncertain situations”. First, I think as the OP said, all situations are uncertain. Second, I think police are conservative in their approach – they don’t initiate all citizen contacts with guns drawn and likely have a long checklist before they would draw guns.

    I didn’t mean it to be a blanket statement about all police confrontations.  They are certainly conservative in general; here we are only talking about the marginal cases where misjudgments by the police result in the shooting of unarmed civilians.  Judgement errors by police about whether suspects are armed will never be eradicated.  But if tactics can be modified to reduce the likelihood and/or consequences of these judgement errors, it would be an improvement in public safety and in the honorable service of the police.  That seems to be French’s core argument.

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    Third, the risk of letting people get away is not some piddling risk in comparison to a vanishingly small percentage of citizen contacts which result in accidental unjustified shootings. …

    When the state acts incorrectly to kill an innocent person, it is violating their sacred right to life; it is a moral duty to avoid doing so.  On the other hand, the state exercising due caution that hinders its ability to apprehend suspects, it is not violating anyone’s rights.  While the state has the power and authority to search out criminals, try them, and imprison them to remove them from society, it is not fundamentally the state’s job to protect you, the individual citizen, from criminals, neither in the general moral sense nor the specific legal sense.  It is your own responsibility to protect yourself from criminals.  But you don’t even have the practical right to protect yourself from the state.

    Therefore, I think it is much more important for agents of the state to avoid unnecessarily killing innocent people than it is to catch more suspects.

    • #29
  30. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson
    @MarkWilson

    Ed G. (View Comment):
    My experience on Ricochet tells me the problem is the opposite anyway: most people rushing to condemn before we really know anything.

    I certainly don’t wish to condemn the police, and neither does David French — he went out of his way to say so.  We are talking about changing tactics to make these misjudgments less likely and less deadly.

    • #30

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