The Warning Shot Heard Round the World. (But Not Here.)
Thanks for another week of lively letters, especially those related to climate mullah Michael E Mann and his lawsuit against me. We're currently contacting witnesses and assembling other evidence against Mann, which is a costly business in both time and money, and I'm more grateful than ever for the support you've given through the Steyn store. I must say I enjoyed this headline from John Hinderaker - "Michael Mann Is A Liar And A Cheat. Here's Why." - but do rather resent the shameless attempt to get Mann to sue him, too. It might be quicker to list the people who don't think he's a liar and a cheat.
Our most controversial item this week was Tuesday's SteynPosts on US police shootings. It attracted a lot of criticism from law enforcement officers, so I thought we'd devote a bit of space to it. First up, Neal Castagnoli:
How many times have I read this or that leftist article about how Sally, or Johnny, or whoever, would be better off if only the government embarked on some new expensive program to help them out (with us taxpayers footing the bill, naturally). Or even for non-citizens "hiding in the shadows."
Anecdotes. They make me sick.
Your article "Gun Control" in my impression used the same techniques. There are no statistics, only a handful of horrifying examples of some who slipped through the safeguards and became cops, and in my impression, committed criminal acts. Lots of people commit criminal acts, and some cops will also commit criminal acts. Anymore than you can make the perfectly safe car, or ensure everyone will live as long as they could, is it practical to make sure there are no bad cops.
In my view, your article, while poignant, is meaningless as it stands, except as to cause people to be angry. Your note on the courts, completely different matter. Those rulings become the law of the land. Anecdotes there are fine: they do paint the big picture. For cops? You need statistics to back it up, in my view, to have a meaningful article.
Well, first of all, the column was about the Supreme Court decision, and one man's half-decade battle to get justice for having his life wrecked by being shot up by an incompetent policeman for no reason. Even if he were the only person wrongfully shot, his uniqueness wouldn't make it less wrongful, and his statistical insignificance in a potential shooting pool of 300 million would not mitigate his injuries. As a postscript, I added the latest incompetent police shooting - the death of 19-year-old pre-school teacher Samantha Ramsey. She's also statistically insignificant within the population at large. But, in her own particular statistical sample of her life, it's a 100 per cent kill rate. So, from her point of view, she's not an "anecdote"; she's just a smaller sampling pool.
But, before I talk about what you'd call statistics, let's put it in a broader context. "The police" is a phenomenon of the modern world. It would be wholly alien, for example, to America's Founders. In the sense we use the term today, it dates back no further than Sir Robert Peel's founding of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. Because Londoners associated the concept with French-style political policing and state control, they were very resistant to the idea of a domestic soldiery keeping them in line. So Peel dressed his policemen in blue instead of infantry red, and instead of guns they had wooden truncheons. When America took up the idea, they mimicked Sir Robert's model, with British-style helmets and billy clubs. In the Twenties, with the rise of organized crime that followed Prohibition, American policing began to diverge from its British roots.
How far has it diverged?
Mr Castagnoli would like a statistic, but the one he needs - law-abiding persons shot by police - does not exist. Okay, how about a broader category of total persons shot by police? Oddly enough, that's not kept, either:
So the biggest government in the free world chooses not to keep statistics on how many people get shot by law enforcement. So be it. It does keep figures on "justifiable homicide", which it defines as "the killing of a felon by a law enforcement official in the line of duty". When is a police homicide not "justifiable"? Ah, well. At any rate, for 2012, the corpse count was 410.
By comparison, for the years 2012 and 2013 in England and Wales:
In the Netherlands:
Fifteen injured per year in the entire nation? Pikers! Over here, the police can rack up almost that many in innocent bystanders at a single incident outside the Empire State Building:
So the problem here, to put it in Mr Castagnoli's terms, is that what are any other developed nation's annual statistics add up to one mere "anecdote" in the United States. In Germany, a nation of 80 million people, police in 2011 fatally shot six persons. In Denmark, police shot 11 people in 11 years, and this was felt to be so disturbing that the National Police Commissioner held an inquiry into why his cops had gotten so trigger-happy. In Australia, 41 people were shot by police in eight years, and the then Justice Minister Amanda Vanstone (whose friend thinks I'm "eminently shaggable", but I digress) thought that that was too high. In Iceland, police have fatally shot just one suspect. That's one guy in the entire history of the country. He was killed by police last December:
So, whether you're talking about gun-controlled England or heat-packing Iceland, comparisons between American "justifiable homicides" and police shooting rates of other western nations are hardly worth bothering with. Indeed, the US police "justifiable homicide" figure looks more like the total murder count for most other developed societies. In Oz, the total number of murders per year is about 270, so a nation of 23 million would have to increase by 50 per cent to commit as many homicides as American law enforcement. In Canada, whose urban police departments have absorbed certain American practices, a dozen or so people get shot dead by cops each year, which is again somewhat short of the US rate. Indeed, that 2012 "justifiable homicide" figure of 410 compares to a total Canadian homicide count for 2011 of 598. In other words, in America 120,000 or so full-time law enforcement officers rack up the same number of homicides as about 24 million Canadians.
This strikes me as on the high side, no matter what "cultural factors" are considered - high rates of gun ownership, millions of illegal aliens, violent drug gangs, etc.
Police officer John Thomas disagrees:
You're an idiot on so many levals on the Texas teen shooting one scarcely knows where to start. Unfortunately officers are human, and transposing numbers in a registration plate dies happen. When confronted with two people getting out of a vehicle believed to be stolen, standard procedure is to have another officer respond. It is also not unheard of for someone to drive a stolen car around for a while before ditching it. Nor is it unheard of for a parent to insist their kid us pure as new fallen snow.
If you think this would be handled differently in some other country, say Germany, you're delusional. The suspect would have been smacked upside his head with a baton, as many an American GI can attest. German, indeed most if Europe, doesn't recognize the concept of excessive force. Go tell the Polizei to fuck off and see what it gets you.
Up to this point I have no issues with what happened. Since the facts of what happened after the Sgt. arrived are in dispute, a jury and court are the best place to resolve it. The Sgt., arriving later, should have been able to sort things out, but that assumes he and the parents were acting rationally. Judging from outcomes, both sides were probably not. Having said that, I would be hard pressed to give much leeway to the officers. It would be extremely difficult to justify someone whom at a minimum the officers should have known was not armed by this time.
But the difference between you and I is I've had 11 years experience as a police officer and deputy sheriff. I've worked in both a major metropolitan city and rual area. I analyzed the incident logically and objectively. I didn't have an obviously biased agenda.
I'm afraid "you're an idiot on so many levals" - but I'll stick just to your German example. You say, "Go tell the Polizei to f*** off and see what it gets you." In none of the examples I've cited has anyone told you or your colleagues to "f*** off". In the Supreme Court case, a law-abiding citizen was lawfully parking his lawfully-acquired and lawfully-registered vehicle outside his parents' lawful home when the police showed up and shot him.
How often do the Polizei do that?
Well, in 2011 the German police fired 85 bullets. That's all of them. The entire police force. The whole country. Eighty-five bullets in one year. That's seven bullets per month. One bullet for every million German citizens. The same year - 2011 - the Miami Police Department blew through the German Polizei's annual bullet allowance on just one traffic incident:
The good news for those three bystanders is that, as John Thomas can assure you, that's "standard procedure". And he's right. Which was the point of my original post: the "standard procedure" is the problem. It needs to change.
This police officer writes from an Oklahoma town where one of my best friends happens to live and which I know very well:
I have been a full-time law enforcement officer for the past fourteen years, the first five of which were as a uniformed patrolman in a medium-sized municipality. I made thousands of traffic stops, responded to thousands of 9-1-1 calls, and found myself in more than a few high-stress confrontations with people of both genders, all races, and nearly probably every age person between twelve and eighty-two. My primary plea would be to ask you not make the same mistake the left makes on their end of the gun control debate: using bizarre outlying circumstances to control the the public perception of the norm.
Every year, police officers across all fifty states, use justifiable deadly force about four-hundred times per year (according to FBI statistics). I will have to beg you to take my word when I say my personal experience is that for every suspect shot there are dozens of (usually unreported) instances in which officers place themselves in higher personal danger than anyone could expect of them in an effort to make deadly force a true last resort. I once dealt with a suicidal and drunk young man who went back and forth holding a knife to his neck and waving it toward me (roughly 20 feet away) as he, through his tears and yells, threatened to "gut" me. On the two occasions he made indecisive lunges and strides toward me, I could have easily discharged my weapon and ended the threat to me. Not shooting the young man, and relying instead on my communication skills, certainly increased the risk that he would be more decisive in his next lunge toward me. I am still thankful that I, and the group of officers who were there with me, was able to both exercise restraint on the use of deadly force and were able to eventually talk the young man into dropping his knife.
I am even more thankful that I have never had to employ deadly force, although I have two very close friends in law enforcement who have. I think it is important for you to consider the norm in justifiable police homicides is the shooting officer sobbing on his knees telling anyone who will listen that he had no other choice but to shoot. It is not the cold-blooded, arrogant dictator who shoots in response to the slightest verbal defiance. No matter if you are a soldier at war, a citizen defending his house from an intruder, or a policeman on the side of a dark highway; you must keep in mind man is programmed by our creator with a deep resistance to taking the life of another man.
With the most extreme examples of excessive police force you, and other Libertarian-leaning commentators, cite, you are promoting (very influentially I must add) the dangerous notion that the police officers all around us are consumed with megalomania and bloodlust. The left tries to paint the armed citizen in this same manner. They use the mass school shooting or the toddler's self-inflicted gunshot wound to rally public contempt against lawful gun-owners who responsibly use and store their firearms millions of times per year. Whether you intend to or not, when you paint local officers, deputies, and troopers with such a broad brush of evil intentions, you are accelerating one of mankind's most volatile internal tendencies: the desire to violently resist those God places in authority over them.
I think I probably am, as you have jokingly self-described, a 19th century monarchist well past his sell-by date. I am a rightist in the proper historical sense of the word; I fear Robespierre far more than I fear the court at Versailles. Within the framework of our current polity, I am a fierce federalist and defender of the 10th amendment. I tell you all this to caution you that far from being an existential threat to liberty, the local Sheriff or policeman is likely the greatest guarantor of our liberties we have marching through the impending darkest days of the republic. If a policeman stops you in Lyons or Marseilles, he is accountable directly to a commandant in Paris who is part of the national executive government. Most of the world works this way. It is part of the enduring genius of our English forefathers, i.e. our 12th century forefathers, that the American policeman who stops you is accountable to your city council or county commissioner and no higher. As totalitarian Washington advances, we must remind ourselves 200-year old brown strips of parchment don't leap from their glass cases to fight a central tyranny, local warriors do.
You would benefit immensely, learn, and thoroughly enjoy yourself to reserve an evening in a larger city, such as Manchester, to "ride-along" with a police officer on a full 8-hour shift. I took nearly all my friends and family on one while I was still in uniform, and they all counted it as a very enjoyable and eye-opening experience.
[Name withheld], Oklahoma
Actually, I've ridden along with police officers in New Hampshire, and enjoyed it. I'm on perfectly good terms with my local constabulary. At grade school, my son's only other classmate from the eastern half of the township was the chief's son, and we got along just fine. His predecessor was a benign, relaxed one-man department with a wonderfully light touch who presided over the world's dullest police blotter. I enjoyed his company enormously, as I do the company of sheriff's deputies and troopers.
And yet, and yet, I am aware that, despite what you say about federalism, there is a national policing culture, and it is a disturbing one. Let me quote from the "nine principles" written by the first commissioners of the Metropolitan Police 185 years ago and afterwards issued to every member of the force:
There is little evidence of "persuasion, advice and warning" in the police's interaction with Mr Tolan or Miss Ramsey, and yet John Thomas assures us that these officers are simply following "standard procedure". Other policing cultures still operate to those nine principles. To go back to those 85 German bullets per annum, even more interesting was the breakdown:
That's to say, of those 85 bullets, 49 were warning shots. What happened to the "warning shot" in America? Come to that, what happened to "the shot"? With the 36 non-warning bullets fired by German police that year, they killed six people and wounded fifteen. That's to say, whether shooting to kill or to disable, they're trying to do it with a single shot. American policing takes a third of Germany's annual bullet allowance just to off a dog:
Are American civilians so different from Europeans or Aussies or Kiwis or Canadians that they have to be policed as if they're cornered rebels in an ongoing civil war?
Actually, even that's not true: I had the pleasure, if that's the word, of knowing several members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during the worst of the violence in Northern Ireland. They were never the most popular coppers on the planet: one third of the community regarded them as illegitimate, and any Catholic minded to join up was soon persuaded otherwise by his neighborhood enforcers. Yet they killed 55 people in the course of the "Troubles" - which is to say about two a year. Even then, after dispatching a couple of terrorists at a police roadblock and at an IRA arms cache, the RUC was accused of operating a "shoot-to-kill" policy. The European Court of Human Rights eventually ruled that these terrorists had had their human rights violated - because the RUC had supposedly made insufficient attempt to take them alive. That's to say, you can't treat an IRA terrorist the way you would a 19-year-old American pre-school teacher or a bridegroom in Queens.
Even in a low-grade civil war, the RUC were expected to maintain First World policing standards. As I said, are Americans so different that they have to be exempted? I take your point that an officer never knows whether this will be the umpteenth routine traffic stop of the day or the one where in a matter of seconds it's life or death. But then again Americans get pulled over more than anybody else - in part because this country has the lowest speed limits in the world and a continuous double yellow line stretching from Maine to California. So the threshold at which an ordinary citizen breaks the law is a lot lower: Some years ago, I was pulled over and ticketed on a dirt road in the middle of the woods in Hebron, New Hampshire, for doing 32 in a 25mph zone. With that in mind, read this commentary in Police Magazine, the magazine for the law enforcement community, written by a 25-year veteran on how to handle traffic stops:
This guy would sound faintly nutty outside America, and his superiors would probably recommend psychological evaluation. The principle of Sir Robert Peel's first bobbies - "The police are the public and the public are the police" - is as dead as can be in this analysis. The assumption is that every citizen is a threat you may be called on to "take down". Whereas the reality is that a tiny percentage of the citizenry is a threat, and the rest are moms on the school run doing 47 in a 35 zone because Junior couldn't find his soccer boots at the back of the closet. When you train people to think like this, and to respond instantly not with a "warning shot" or "the shot" but with overwhelming lethal force, you wind up with policing that is far worse than those wary Londoners' worst nightmares 200 years ago.
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© 2014 Mark Steyn Enterprises (US) Inc. All rights reserved.