Cops have a problem. Sure, they get their fair share — OK, maybe a little more than that — of criticism around here for a lot of conspicuously bad marksmanship. But bitching about it on the ‘net’s biggest gun blog is one thing. As you’d expect TTAG’s frequented by a higher than average number of people who know what they’re doing around firearms. So you’d expect piss poor state-sanctioned shooting to be called out here when it rears its ugly head. But now, it’s not just The People of the Gun who have noticed the stray rounds, questionable decision-making and innocent victims. Conor Friedersdorf at atlantic.com has himself in a lather over it, too . . .
Here’s a recent example that caught his eye:
On a Sunday afternoon, Douglas Zerby, 35, left a Long Beach bar feeling too drunk to drive home, walked to a nearby house, and sat on the stoop. While waiting for his friend to come home, he played with the nozzle from a nearby garden hose. A neighbor, mistaking it for a gun, called police. The officers who arrived on the scene did not announce their presence, identify themselves, or tell the seated man to drop what they believed to be a gun. They did shoot and kill him, later claiming that he pointed the hose nozzle at them. The Long Beach Police Department says they acted reasonably. The district attorney cleared them of criminal wrongdoing. And on Thursday, a federal jury awarded the dead man’s family $6.5 million in a civil suit, concluding after brief deliberations that the officers acted negligently and violated Zerby’s civil rights.
It’s not just that Long Beach shooting that his him worked up. Friedersdorf also notes the free-fire zone that was Los Angeles during the Christopher Dorner manhunt.
So what’s his solution? Kinda like the Thunderdome rules (bust a deal, face the wheel), it’s very straightforward. Shoot an innocent, lose your gun.
Here’s the rule I’d like to see adopted: if you shoot at someone who turns out to be unarmed and innocent of any crime, you never get to work as an armed officer patrolling the streets again.
I understand that even good officers can make mistakes. But the best evidence we have of someone’s skill in these impossible-to-simulate situations is how they perform in the rare instances when they happen; it’s important to disincentivized these sorts of errors more given their frequency; and police can’t be trusted to adjudicate them on a case by case basis anyway.
Is that harsh? Proportional? Just desserts? Should cops have their ticket pulled if they plug an unarmed citizen?