Excessive Force or Just Enforcing the Law?

It’s been in the news and on social media a lot lately; excessive use of force by the police departments in several cities. I know enough to know that every person who looks at these incidents will view them through their own biases. We all have them. There’s no way around it. You view the world based upon what your life has shown you to be true. It may or may not be true, but it’s your perception. Your perception is the truth to you.

That being said, here’s my truth. I was taught from a young age that cops are an authority figure. Your parents, your teachers, your boss are all authority figures. You treat them with respect and common curtesy. When you’re asked a question, you answer it. If you’re asked to sit down and be quiet, you do it. When you’re asked, you comply. It’s that simple. When I started driving, I was told that if an officer pulls me over, I am to stay in the car, keep my hands where the officer can see them, and to follow his instructions. Why? When an officer walks up to your car, he has no idea who you are or what you might do. You could be a convicted felon, escaped from prison, armed and dangerous who is willing to do whatever it takes, including killing someone else, to keep from going back to prison. Or, you could be the exact opposite. I don’t know about you, but if I’m the officer, I’m going to err on the side of caution, since my life could be at stake, and assume that you’re the former. I’m going to be leery of any sudden movement. How am I supposed to know you’re not going to pull a gun out from under your seat?

If you’re not breaking the law in the first place the cops aren’t going to be involved. Cops don’t just randomly show up and start shooting people. Someone called them because someone was doing something that they shouldn’t have been. Now that the cops are there, show them a little respect. There’s no need for yelling or for belligerence. Again, the officer doesn’t know you or what you may be capable of.

I’ve seen enough videos where things can get really ugly in a matter of seconds. An officer doesn’t have the time to stop and assess the situation to decide if the person is reaching for a cell phone, a knife, or a gun. He doesn’t have the time to think that since it’s only a knife and he’s ten feet away, that he could try the Taser first.

I read an article[1] about proposed changes to the Chicago police department. These changes would include officers carrying and knowing how to use Tasers. I’m all for using less lethal force. Use the least amount of force necessary to secure the situation. Here’s my problem with that. And this is my thinking; an officer would know this better than I would. When you’re in a situation where you don’t have time to think and you’re trying to assess the situation you’re going to do what you’ve been trained to do. If you feel threatened, or you feel that others could be at risk, without even thinking, you’re going to reach for your firearm. It’s muscle memory. Just like when you’re driving a car. If you’re driving in a residential area and you see something run out in from of your car, before your brain has even had time to register what it was, you’ve hit your brakes. It could’ve been a kid, a dog, or a trash can. Granted, you didn’t need to slam on your brakes if it was just a trash can. No one was going to get hurt. But you didn’t have time to think about that. About what it was and should you just slow down or swerve or stop. You’re first instinct is to stop.

If an officer is trained to reach for a Taser first and he’s conditioned to do so, that’s going to be his first instinct. Great! He’s going to use less lethal force. But, what happens when he reaches for his Taser and the other person has a gun? The officer doesn’t go home to his family. That’s not acceptable. I know; if the cop had pulled his firearm, then the other person could be headed to the morgue. He chose to engage in whatever behavior put him in that situation. People need to realize that actions have consequences. When you’re engaging in illegal activity, whether you’re armed or not, there’s the possibility of a run in with a cop. When that happens, there’s a good chance that you could be arrested, zapped with a Taser, or shot.  That’s the risk you take.

I’ve also heard of instances where someone’s been zapped with a Taser and died from it. And when I heard this, there were people saying that Tasers shouldn’t be used; that even that was using too much force.

So, officers aren’t supposed to use their firearms or their Tasers. What’s left? Politely asking the criminal to behave and stop engaging in illegal activity? Yeah, because that’s gonna work. Hand to hand combat? That might work. If the officer and the criminal are about the same size and the officer is better trained. What happens when he can overpower the cop? What happens when he takes the gun from the officer?

We don’t go into war asking the opposing side to stop the behavior that we don’t like. We don’t send in the military to talk or to use less lethal force. We send them in with tanks and rocket launchers. As far as I’m concerned there’s no difference when it’s an officer.

One more thought. I’m convinced that the people who are adamantly opposed to officers using force, whether it is a firearm or a Taser, are people who are afraid that someone they know and love may be on the receiving end.

[1] Changes to be announced in Chicago police training, Tasers
Source: Associated Press
Publication date: 2015-12-30

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