Wednesday 30 march 2016
Bill and Beth are retired law enforcement officers, originally from California, who came to Idaho and were confronted with casual firearm carriers. We got to talking one night at a bar. “I soon came across a truck with 4 rifles and guns. In California I would approach this vehicle, pointing my gun at the driver. But I needed to adjust my attitude to local customs.
“It’s all about the hands. Hands do the damage, so if they are in sight, it’s all that matters.”
Confusions of a relocated cop.
One major benefit of being an immigrant is being able to play you have no opining and ask tactical questions. I tried to make them feel safe to say what they really feel. We cut into a hot topic that has caused a polarized population in the US — I asked what makes an officer determine the use of lethal force. Never did I know what a complex answer I would get.
“You have to fight fire with fire” Bill says confidently when asked how a cop chooses his tactic. A firearm or ‘edged object’ is not fought with a taser, but with lethal force. A taser gives you one chance to hit the target and its range is limited to 20 feet. Bill was involved in setting the regulations for authorized lethal force by testing the distance that could be covered by someone holding a knife, in the time a cop needs to get his gun, aim and shoot. “We did this test a thousand times.” I decided not to bring up the other options like batons and pepper spray, because I wanted to keep the conversation going.
Bill himself was involved in a shooting and investigated. He was in a threatening situation and shot a man in the head. He then administered first aid and saved the subjects’ life. I was considering how it must be psychologically most challenging to deal with this. You don’t want to ever have to pull weapon and shoot another person. But you’ll also do anything you need to disable the threat.
I said Dutch police is trained to shoot at limbs whenever possible to ‘disable the threat’ and that the idea we have of American police is they shoot to kill. This is when they both shook their heads and I realized I was on thin ice and needed to play this very delicately. These people have been ‘out there’ longer than I have been alive, and they will not accept any opinion I have. “American law enforcement is trained to shoot at the body mass — the vitals — because it is most likely to stop the threat.” He then told of one suspect’s car that was hailed with 100+ bullets of which only 6 had hit the suspect. Bill felt the cops had not aimed well enough and should have worked more efficiently.
These were nice people, seemingly gentle-spirited and passionate about justice. It was easy to empathize with them. But then they also felt Sandpoint was the ideal terrorist target because “no-one is paying attention”.
In 2014 a shooting occurred in Sandpoint that made nationwide news. Jeanetta Riley had a history of mental illness and drug abuse and was dropped off pregnant and confused by her husband at the Bonner General Hospital emergency room, brandishing a knife. The staff would not let her inside. She defied the officers that quickly approached her with their weapons drawn, and 12 seconds after their arrival she was shot dead.
There’s actually a modern term for defying US police and ending up dead: ‘Suicide by cop’.
Bill was in the local police force at this time. Edged object validate use lethal force at 21 feet or less, he emphasized. I noted the officers at the scene were very young. He said they lacked training. “It’s a small town, so they lacked the experience to handle it better, but these kids went by book.” It all comes down to an officer’s personal assessment. If a cop feels the need to use force, they are usually considered just in their actions. He thought the police did the best with the knowledge and training they had — all else is easily said in hindsight. He had not seen the (shocking) video footage of the shooting, but “I think I really should.”
So justice is built from a combination of mathematics and freedom of interpretation.
I say I do feel offended by people who say “good riddance” and she agreed that’s not a very nice thing to say about a young pregnant woman who lost her life. Well, we agree on one thing!
I considered the position of law enforcement having to deal with a population that is free to carry firearms (just last month Sandpoint passed a bill allowing concealed carry without any type of license or training). Does this make them support the restriction of civilian firearm possession? “No. I am a firm supporter of the second amendment. The problem is not being obligated to register these firearms” I considered aloud he might be tracking a vehicle, run a check on plates and want to know if they have registered firearms and what kind. “Yes, it’s hard not to know. In Idaho anyone can own any weapon without registration.” This makes it a lot harder for a cop to assess a situation, and deadly force may be used and justified based on just that — one (wo)man’s assessment
Small town cops don’t get the hands-on experience of a city cop. I suggested organized exchanges; the kind we had in high school. He thought that a brilliant idea and looked at Beth as if he’d just won the lottery. And I’m the one who comes up with this? But he soon dismissed this idea as well by saying the small town cops have very limited budget.
Remember — the only way to learn something is by listening to someone speak. And most times you’ll find things you agree on: police training needs improvement. All guns owned must be registered and acquired only after training.