I’m a Georgia Police officer with more than a few years of service under my belt. Unlike most of my colleagues, I’ve had riot training. But not much and not recently. Equally, my department doesn’t keep or maintain riot gear: shields, tear gas, etc. The responsibility for quelling civil disturbances – like the one in Ferguson, Missouri – lies entirely with the Georgia State Patrol. We call them, they handle it. Done. That’s not how it went down in Ferguson, before Governor Nixon called in the Highway Patrol. And from what I’ve seen of the situation since then, it looks like the Show Me State Police are making some major miscalculations . . .
The recent events in Ferguson have called into question police response to riots, generally. As they should. With live TV coverage of events, Americans have their first comprehensive, minute-by-minute look at police strategy and tactics for crowd control. What they’re seeing is disorganized deployment with knee-jerk reactions from the police agencies involved.
For one thing, I’m not a fan of police using large armored vehicles for crowd control. The vehicles send all the wrong messages, creating an “us vs. them” mentality. Instead of concentrating on the faces of human beings (police) the crowd sees a mechanized army, ready, willing and able to roll right over them. Literally.
But since the Ferguson police had armored vehicles, they should have used them strategically. They should have parked the rigs to block access to at-risk areas. The vehicles could help contain the crowd in a relatively safe place, protecting businesses and preventing the crowd from outflanking the officers. They shouldn’t be using them to patrol the streets.
When it came time to face the crowd, the police didn’t form a proper line. Some had riot shields, some didn’t. This left gaps. It’s a potentially dangerous situation for the police and a psychological signal to the crowd that the police are not well-organized and therefore unprepared to maintain discipline and create order out of chaos.
The police seemed listless, moving without obvious intentions or coordination, indicating a lack of proper command and control. They should have had a clear strategy: isolate the smaller number of people who were rioting, directing (respectfully but forcefully guiding) the peaceful protestors elsewhere. Away from the scene.
A sniper on an MRAP? Really? It looks cool, but it’s not very smart. It confronts the crowd with the possibility of lethal force, raising the stakes for all concerned, instead of deescalating the situation.
As for police wearing protective gear and carrying rifles, sure. Why not? Who wouldn’t in that situation? That is not militarization, that’s just common sense. (By the way, most of that gear is made for police agencies by private companies like 511 Tactical.) Those who think police shouldn’t have rifles have never done the job.
Most of the rifles I saw at Ferguson were standard AR-15 platform weapons. The same weapons gun owners have been saying are NOT military weapons for years. The same ones the anti gun folks have been going after for years. If we say the police don’t need them, then why would anyone else? It’s ammo we don’t want to give to the anti’s.
I question the OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) itself. Contrary to common opinion, cops are far harder on other cops than the general public. In principle, any time the police shoot an unarmed person it is a per se bad shoot until it is justified. Common justifications are a fight over a weapon or the officers life being placed in grave danger. Did this shooting meet that justification? Did the officers actions cause the situation?
These are the questions that will have to be answered. Here’s what we know and what we need to know:
– The suspect attacked the officer in or near the car and there was a struggle for the officers’ gun. A shot was fired that didn’t hit anyone.
– The suspect disengaged at this point and the officer exited his vehicle.
– The officer had his gun drawn and the suspect charged him.
– The officer fired several shots, killing the suspect.
My questions are these:
– Why did the officer have his gun out in the car?
– Why did the officer continue to hold his gun after the suspect disengaged?
– If the officer had re-holstered, could he have used less lethal force?
– Did the officer fear for his life from the much larger suspect?
– Did the officer’s actions lead to a situation where lethal force was the only option?
– Did the suspect take action that justified the officer’s use of force?
When a trained police officer takes an action and that action escalates a situation to a point where lethal force is used, the officer is judged based on what an average police officer would do given the same situation. In a deadly force use, an officer is judged by the same standard as everyone else. Did he fear for his life?
Time will tell. Sharpton, Jackson and Holder aside, the facts will come out. And that’s when we’ll know what kind of shoot triggered the civil unrest. Meanwhile, the Missouri state police would do well to talk to the National Guard about their crowd control strategies and techniques, before something even worse happens.