Monday, December 29, 2014

Police issues

Question: How do you deal with mentally disturbed persons acting out with or without a weapon if you don't have the police on hand?

There is a chance that today's police will kill the person by gunshot or some 'less lethal' device on their tool belt. Behaviour perceived as violent and the presence of a knife or some other weaponised object indicates 'threat' and the nature of threats are compared against an increasing scale of force the in the situation assessment guidelines.  I suppose that works in a purely technical, quantifiable and thereby legally defensible sense, but people still die who don't have to. The unarmed should not die as a basic given.

Under these conditions, the preservation and protection of life, even the "subject's" life is not prioritised when police weapons become involved. The choice is effectively between lethal, and less-lethal, with death remaining distinct possibility in each case. Indeed, the latter is more like Russian roulette given the high degree of uncertainty regarding the way individuals will respond to Taser-type weapons and random variability with the power of the weapons themselves.

Indeed, I wonder if the presence of police themselves might be perceived by a person as a threat to their life. I think there's an assumption that the intimidation factor will cause the individual to submit. This is wrong. There's a fight or flight instinct, and some people will respond aggressively when they feel threatened. In fact, this perception of threat is what allows the police to use violence themselves.

People who deal with the mentally ill or disturbed in the course of their jobs, including nurses, social workers, and shelter staff often encounter violent incidents that do not result in death. The absence of weapons and the presence of calm voices and established means of assessing the context that does not involve a scaled threat-force matrix, and controlling the situation and prospect of harm to others tends to win the day. There is no available recourse to Tasers, firearms, mace, or anything like that. Life is preserved. 

In the past few weeks in the wake of incidents with police in the US, I've seen a few different internet discussions and posts on social media by police and others who go on about how none of these incidents would happen if people just 'complied' with police direction, inferring that lethal violence is justified in the wake non-compliance. Hello, Judge Dredd.  This isn't a legal argument and it assumes the police are of sound mind and bias-free judgement in the knowledge and application of their powers, so we should all just jump when ordered! 

By their very nature, they are a socially cohesive organisation, police are susceptible to groupthink and therefore unable to be biased, and are publically unable to recognise their own bias. Indeed, they are unable, except in very rare cases, to remove the idiots from their ranks. No organisation can function effectively if it cannot eject or rehabilitate the problem staff. The police effectively work against themselves because public trust them is eroded. If the public trust is eroded, the police will leave themselves exposed to policymakers intent on enacting reforms they really won't like.

In any case, the relationship between police and certain communities is not good and it is changing as police militarise, weaponise, and further insulate themselves from the public. 


lungta said...

i can remember tackling a guy and tying him up in a sleeping bag over night
i refuse to call 911 for anything at this point
if you want instant escalation of a problem to a disaster call 911 for a loaded gun

Anonymous said...

I truly do believe that the presence of firearms means that the police are too quick to use them. If all you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
I worked closely with bobbies in the UK and they have a side-arm baton,taser and pepper spray. They routinely disarm knife wielding assailants using their baton, smarts and physical abilities. They also accept that being hurt is part of the job and train to reduce that to an absolute minimum. They are confident that they can deal with anything, something that seems lacking in N American police forces.
Here's two recent examples of British bobbies using their wits and techniques to ensure the situation is resolved with everyone remaining alive.
Disarming a mentally disturbed ex soldier with a knife and a hostage.
Even student nurses manage to do something that our cops find beyond them

The Mound of Sound said...

Fascinating question you pose, Boris. Given their well publicized readiness to resort to deadly force, has the police presence become something that can be taken as a lethal threat?

In the reality of today I suppose that's true. Dziekanski's execution at Vancouver Airport. Sammy Yatim's nine-round elimination while standing inside a Toronto streetcar is likewise a case of cops simply choosing to annihilate an individual for the apparent hell of it. Then there was that fellow shot to death at Granville and 16th in Vancouver.