Monday, 2 April 2018

Shoot to Kill

In the UK, population 66.64 million,there have been 13 fatal police shootings in the last 5 years,  6 of which have occurred in the 12 months ending March this year.  One of these was a ‘terror related’ incident. 

Over the past 5 years in NZ, population 4.69m, the police have fatally shot 11 people. 

The ratio of people shot by the NZ police who die of their injuries is increasing. In the 5 years to May 2017, of 18 people shot by police, 10  died. Between 2007 and 2012, 20 people were shot and 6 of them died. 

The latest shooting was of 29 year old man who was shot dead in the early hours of the morning after being stopped by police and allegedly advancing on them with a machete in a manner which made the officer/s fear for their lives or public safety.  Given the timing of the event one it can be assumed the latter was not an immediate concern. 

While there’s now no Greg O’Connor to immediately rush to judgement about the righteousness of the shooting, Garth McVicar stepped up to the law and order plate and made the stunningly inappropriate and insensitive comment that the killing meant there was one less person to ‘clog up’ the prisons.  The callousness of the remark aside, it assumed the killing was justified.

We, the public, can safely assume that, even if the IPCA inquiry finds that officers behaved inappropriately and escalated the situation (as they did for example in the David Carven killing) they are very unlikely to face either disciplinary or legal action. The reason that's a pretty safe assumption is that no NZ police officer has ever faced a murder or manslaughter charge other than one instance of a private prosecution.  Even where police conduct was  farcical in its level of ineptitude, the police service, coroner and IPCA have always come down on the side of a justified shooting.

It is good therefore that valid questions are being asked about this shooting.  Why did the police have to stop this man in that way?  Why did they not follow and observe his behaviour? Once his car had been stopped, why did the officers not hold back and wait to see if the man could be talked down?  If they had positioned themselves so they could easily retreat to their cars they would not have been in danger of their lives from a man with a machete and the timing of the shooting means the public were not at immediate risk.  Why not fire a warning shot? Or aim for his legs?  Or taser him? 

The most important question is why are the NZ police following the US model of shooting for the torso where the likelihood of death is massively increased?  

In the USA, population 325.7million, police shot and killed 987 people in 2017 according to the Washington Post's data base. (The Post and The Guardian maintain data bases of US police shootings because official data bases grossly under-count them.) 

There is no point in trying to pretend that NZ police have a 'shoot to stop' policy not a 'shoot to kill' policy if your officers are trained to aim at the part of the body that contains most of a person 's vital organs.  

If a person is clearly threatening public safety, has a gun and shows every intention of using it - then lethal force may be justified. However, if a clearly agitated person is waving a golf club, or a machete, or a hammer, surely a well trained officer - i.e. someone who is able to make clear headed, rational decisions under extreme duress, and who is very accurate in the use of their weapon - should be able to shoot such a person in the leg or arm? 

If our police officers are such poor shots that they can only be certain of hitting a person if they aim for the largest part of the body, should they be handling guns at all?

It's worth noting that European and Scandinavian police policy is not to shoot to kill but to disable.  Why aren't we following their model instead of that of the least trusted and most lethal police force in the world? 

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