In the wake of the Waco biker shooting, where authorities refuse to release the video footage and the full autopsy reports on the bikers shot to death by police at Twin Peaks restaurant (post to follow), the question arises again: are cops trigger happy? Do they have a tendency to shoot fellow civilians without good cause and/or legal justification? Over at efficient.gov, law enforcement officers and criminal justice academics addressed the question. Their answers (republished with permission) after the jump. What’s your take? Are a small minority/some/many/most cops too quick on the draw, or not?
Tim Dees, Retired cop and criminal justice professor:
No. Most cops–better than 90%–go their whole careers and never fire their sidearms anywhere but on the pistol range. Most cops will go to considerable lengths to avoid pulling the trigger. Cops are regularly confronted with circumstances where they would be technically permitted to use deadly force, but they find some alternative way to resolve the situation. If you point a gun at a cop, there is an excellent chance he or she is going to shoot you. That’s about the only clear “green light.” However, there are many other situations where deadly force might be permissible. It’s rare for a cop to shoot in those situations . . .
There will always be some bad calls. The cop sees, or thinks he sees, a gun, and shoots in defense. Much of the time, the officer’s training and mindset (often shaped by recent events unique to the officer and his situation) weigh heavily on this decision.
All I can say is that every officer knows that they will be put under a microscope by the news media, citizenry, the police dept itself, plus the Mayor’s office for any shooting that results in a death. They know they will be stripped of their gun, clothing and tested by blood draw for any medicines or alcohol. They will also be checked for gunpowder on their hands and clothes, all while being separated from anyone else, usually alone in a room, other than a Union rep.
They usually aren’t allowed to speak to anyone immediately after the shooting other than that rep and/or union attorney or the Internal Affair investigators and their family will be advised of the situation.It’s somewhat akin to being arrested for a crime and treated as such.They won’t be allowed to speak to the media about what actually occurred and the news media will then talk to anyone who may have heard, much less witnessed the shooting just to get a story to air.
They will talk to the person’s (who was shot) family who will say there was no reason for the police to have used deadly force, despite the fact that most likely they were not even there.If the officer is found to have used excessive force resulting in death, he/she could most likely be looking at a prison sentence, a lost job and at the very least….their lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse knowing they had to take a human life….justifiably or not. This doesn’t sound like what happens in the television and in movies, does it? But having been a part of a shooting I am speaking from experience.
Overall, no. Trying to compare US to German police is hopeless for the same reason that other comparisons fail… The US isn’t Germany. Different culture, different issues, different laws.There are about 800,000 police officers in the United states. If 1% of them are trigger happy, that’s about 22 times PER DAY that things will go off the rails. That’s 8000 per year.
The reality? 587 people killed by police in 2012. In a nation with over 300 million people, 587 getting killed by cops hardly seems to be an issue of significance. It should also be noted that most of them are armed… A situation less likely to happen in Germany or the UK.Certainly, there are people who are wrongly killed by the police. And unfortunately, police don’t seem to really learn from these cases, probably because they are so statistically rare. But they do happen, and here’s why:
1. Poorly trained SWAT teams. A bunch of big guys with rifles does not make a SWAT team. Good SWAT teams train, A LOT, to AVOID the use of force. The idea of employing SWAT is to use methodology to minimize the need for the sort of brutish force that kills people. Note that GOOD swat teams almost never get implicated in “Bad Shoots”. It’s small town, poorly trained ones that do.
2. Training that creates a mentality that everyone police encounter is a just escaped convicted serial cop murderer from death row. Yes, some people will kill a cop at the drop of a hat. The VAST majority of people won’t. You can’t train for the .000001 % of the time at the exclusion of the 99.999999% of the time. Some departments do, and it creates cops that are on a hair trigger.
3. A lack of training, especially firearms training. Cops who aren’t comfortable using their tools (including weapons) tend to use them wrong.
Lee The, BA Sociology UCLA:
One of the saddest statistics I’ve read about is the very rare cases of cops out of uniform (off-duty or undercover or detectives) being shot by other cops. Of the last 14 such incidents, 10 were of black cops in the process of arresting white perps when other cops arrived on the scene, assumed the black cop was the perp and the white perp his victim, and promptly shot the black cop.
This was born out by a 2007 study of Denver cops and civilians playing a videogame in which they had to make split-second shoot-don’t shoot-decisions based on glimpsing white and black men, some armed, others with a wallet or a cellphone in their hand.
The cops were better at spotting the dangerous images and shooting them than the civilians were, but it took measurably longer for them to deal with images of armed white men and unarmed black men than with armed black men and unarmed white men. Cops think blacks are more dangerous–even cops who are not overtly racist–and they behave accordingly.
For another example, “Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.
“The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.”
No wonder blacks’ feelings about police forces being trigger-happy aren’t the same as whites’ feelings, in general. So are American police trigger happy? More so with blacks than with whites. More so in the South than most other parts of the country. More so with small town police departments in general. And more so if you have the misfortune of running into that “one crazy cop” in your precinct.