Friday, 13 February 2009

Shoot on sight, as long as he's the bad guy

WPc Bloggs has posted an interesting piece on the latest press release in the tragic case of Mr de Menezes. Here is my ten pence worth, from the perspective of a former specialist firearms officer. Picture the scene if you will. A lovely English country town with a low crime rate, no troublesome overspill estates, minimal social problem families, traditional policing with well known beat officers. On a busy day you might have one on town centre foot patrol and one in a car to cover urgent calls. If anything more than that is required you'd be calling in Traffic Division to back you up or a unit from the next nearest town which may be half an hour's drive away. 

It's a warm summers day. Lets use a little magic and give you the gift of foresight. You now know something that no one else knows. You know that a psychotic man is about to kill 16 people and maim dozens more. He is armed with miltary self-loading rifles, one of which is a Kalashnikov AK47 which although modified to single-action (automatic weapons are prohibited in the UK) when fired, projects a full metal jacket bullet at 2,300 feet per second (there are 5,280 feet in a mile, if this helps you get your head around the destructive power). The bullets would still have enough kinetic energy to kill a human at a range in excess of 2 miles so, in effect, if this man can see someone he can kill them instantly, certainly possible for a good shot to achieve at a range of up to 300 metres. It will fire just as quickly as he can pull the trigger. 

You know that the man will be totally random in the selection of his victims. Some he will simply stare at then ignore, others, regardless of sex or age, he will shoot and kill. If he sees someone driving by in a car, he might shoot at them, in fact he does just that on several occasions. His rifle bullets will enter a car's bodywork like a knife through butter. He is therefore totally unpredictable. I reiterate, he will kill 16 people and injure dozens more in under an hour. The police are getting information and are responding, but they don't know what you know, because they have not been given the gift of foresight. The first police officer this man sees will be unarmed and just appear in his marked police car in response to the calls for assistance. The gunman will see him from a distance and fire over 20 rounds at the car and kill the officer, but by then, unbeknown to the poor deceased policeman, he will already have killed seven and injured many others. 

As well as your fore knowledge of this tragedy you also have a gun with you, just a handgun, a revolver holding 6 bullets, but this will not be sufficient firepower to stop him at anything other than close range, 20-30 metres tops, closer to be sure of hitting him because, unlike him, you will be scared. Remember, he can kill you if he sees you at 300 yards and his AK47 has a 50 round magazine and he has plenty of spare bullets. Did I mention he also has another rifle, with similar capabilities, and a military pistol that holds 13 rounds? He knows no fear because his psychosis has numbed all emotion. He's like the great white shark in `Jaws`, with blank, staring, emotionless eyes that give nothing away as to what he is thinking or what he will do next. OK, now's your chance to be a hero and stop the carnage - in fact you are the only person who can because of your gift of foresight. 

You are now concealed behind a wall near a street corner when, to your amazement, the killer walks past your position but doesn't see you. He is walking away from you and you have 5 seconds before he will turn a corner and be lost from view. You know it's him because you have been gifted with foresight, plus you can see he is holding the AK47 down by his side, pointed at the ground. If you challenge him, he will turn and see you and will have the firepower of a modern infantry soldier. His bullets will blast through the brick wall you are hiding behind and still have the power to kill you. If you let him go, you know he will go on to kill more people as randomly as his psychotic whims take him. You cannot see anyone else in immediate danger but there he goes, 5 more paces and your chance to save all those lives will be gone. You can hit him right between the shoulder blades, or in the back of the head at this range (better for stopping him instantly, after all, adrenaline can do amazing things to keep you going even after you are shot) but you will only save the people if you take aim and fire now. What will you do? What's the right thing to do? 

OK, I'll allow you a little more time, but remember, real armed police would have already made their decision because they haven't had all the thinking time I'm giving you. Perhaps I ought to throw in some police-type rules of engagement to think about: You may only fire your weapon as a last resort, if there is an immediate threat to life (including your own) and there is no other way to detain the suspect. You should give a verbal warning to him, if practicable. (Of course the moment you make a sound, he'll turn, see you and bring up his devastating weapon to point straight at you, but then the person who wrote those rules of engagement isn't facing this situation, YOU are. I called him `the suspect`, because he hasn't been convicted of anything in a court of law. Of course, with your gift, you know he has already murdered and will increase his score of victims if not stopped - yet another advantage you have over real police. They only know what they are being told over their radios, which today are overloaded to the point they are crashing from excess radio traffic, panic calls and broken bits of information, although they do, by now, have his description - he's the man in combat gear, with rifles, walking round the town killing people at random. 

So, made your mind up? In the time you took to read the last 3 short paragraphs the killer covered another 50 yards, strolled up a driveway to the front door of a house and killed an 80 year old man in his kitchen. But we'll make an allowance for you, we'll re-wind the action and return you to when you were watching him walk away from you, just 3 paragraphs back. Enjoying this artificial pressure from the comfort of your chair in front of the computer? 

 OK, I'll take over from here. Ending 1. You couldn't make your mind up and didn't shoot him but felt it was too dangerous to shout a challenge, so waited for back up to even the odds against you getting killed. He went on to kill another 9 people, the armed response team eventually arrived and managed to locate him in his old school, where they contained him and tried to talk him into surrender. He turns one of his guns on himself and ends his life. Of course if you had shot him, you would have altered the course of history and saved the lives of 9 innocent men women and children who would never have known this. But that sort of magic only happens in the movies. 

Ending 2. You shouted, `Armed police, drop the weapon`. He did and was arrested, charged and tried for just 7 murders and numerous attempted murders and assaults. He was acquitted of murder but was never the less convicted of manslaughter because a psychiatrist proved he was mad. He's locked away in a secure psychiatric unit for the rest of his life. You followed the procedures and it worked, so well done you. As Dirty Harry said, "Sometimes you gotta ask yourself `do I feel lucky`"? Well, today you were. 

Ending 3. You level your revolver at the back of his head at a range of 3 metres, fire a single shot and he's history. There are 9 people alive today who will never know that you saved their lives. You face a full enquiry and interrogation and have to explain again and again why you felt it was necessary to shoot him in the head, from behind and without giving a warning. The dead killer's lawyers make great play of this at the hearing in the Coroner's Court, how you shot him in the back of the head as he walked away, making it sound like something John Wayne would say, with contempt, about a low-life gunslinger who killed his friend. 

Fortunately, with all the facts taken into account, the Coroner's jury returns their verdict of justifiable homicide and you are freed from blame, although some of the murderer's family and friends will always view you as a stone cold killer who didn't give their guy a chance to surrender. 

Ending 4. You shout `Armed police, drop the weapon`. He turns and opens up on you, rapidly firing 10 rounds in your direction, the bullets passing through the brick wall and hitting you several times. You managed to get off two shots before his bullet number 9 bursts through your chest and exits out of your back, bursting your heart and killing you. Your 2 shots were wide of the mark - one of them may even have gone through someone's lounge window - sorry, I forgot to tell you that you must always try to take account of the background before discharging a police firearm, as you may be putting innocent people at risk. He goes on to kill the 9 people he was always going to kill, before taking his own life (see Ending 1). You are hailed a hero and are awarded the George Medal - posthumously, of course.  

The above story, apart from you, the fantasy policeman who knew what was going to happen, is true. Read Ending 1 again but ignore the first sentence, because you weren't really there. That's what happened. Phew! OK ready for the next task? You are a specialist firearms officer but have no magic foresight, only the one fitted to the barrel of your firearm. Your senior officers and anti-terrorist commanders and spooky, shady people working in the security services are the only ones who have a sort of foresight on this one. They have the imprecise foresight that is sometimes called `intelligence` which is information gathered from secretive sources, some electronic, some from informants and some from who knows where - well I did say it was spooky and secretive, it has to be, I mean we are dealing with fanatical stone cold killers who think they will go to somewhere called `heaven` if they die a martyrs death. 

The intelligence suggests that there is going to be another mass murder, just like the one a few days ago, where 52 innocent people were blown up and killed by suicide bombers. Today you are at the very sharpest tip of the cutting edge of that team. It will be the `foresight` of these people that will direct your actions. The secret, intelligence people have given the description of the persons they suspect are going to detonate yet another bomb. One of them was part of the group that had already killed those 52 people and had got away but was suspected of getting ready to detonate a second bomb. His home is under observation. You and your team have never ever seen this man in person. 

Today was the day. So dangerous did the commanders think it was, that no one was being allowed out of Parliament or Scotland Yard, such was the fear of this particular bombing. Of course you had been told how very, very dangerous this suspect was and you knew that a bomb detonation, of the size and type the `intelligence` suggested, would be more lethal to you and the public than any firearm or even a hand grenade could be. After all, you'd seen the pictures at closer hand than was released to the news media. OK, look, I've had enough. I'm not going to go on about this one anymore. You can look up the transcripts and reports yourself and you all know which case I'm talking about. 

Think back to my first Hungerford scenario and go back to being the person with the foresight I sent out to save those 9 lives, but then substitute your own 100% accurate foresight and knowledge for the flawed knowledge passed to the firearms arrest team on that fateful day at Stockwell Station. The rifles that Ryan openly carried and used to deadly effect in Hungerford are now a concealed bomb in either a rucksack or a bomb strapped around the suspects body under his clothing. He can detonate it with the press of a button. A shot to the body may either detonate it or allow him to press the button. You have been told this and that the immobilisation of his central nervous system must be the prime objective if you are to have a chance of preventing another slaughter of the innocent, by bomb. 

But, unlike in my Hungerford example, you do not know for sure if this is the one. Someone else tells you he is and furthermore a surveillance officer indicates him to you. Unbeknown to you, all this informatiuon is fatally flawed. But you are the instrument of the command team, the dangerous pawn who can use deadly force. You are following orders, including rules of engagement. You are trying to stop a bomb from going off. Even a bomb disposal expert wouldn't approach one of these if it was still connected to a fanatic who might still be alive. As for not giving a warning? If I were the imaginary man in the Hungerford story, in possession of all that information about his prior killings and the random, psychotic nature of Ryan, I would not have given a bloody warning. 

The arrest team at Stockwell knew of the psychotic nature of these people. They just didn't know they were working with flawed information, but either believed it to be true or when questioning it, received orders from a much higher authority to act as they ultimately did. In accepting those orders, they succumbed to those who were supposed to know better. Those who only had to study the photographs and intelligence reports and logs, rather than having to stare into the eyes of the human being on the tube train. How can anyone possibly hold them individually responsible for the death of that poor innocent man? That said, how can culpability elsewhere be ignored?


Blue Eyes said...

How can anyone possibly hold them individually responsible

Does anyone with half a brain? The whole thing was utterly tragic, but given the "information" the officers in the station actually had, they did the right thing. It all went wrong much higher up the chain.

Hogday said...

Blue Eyes, quite right! You were so quick there, as I was still doing a final edit to the final para, but I'll leave your comment up. Teach me to hit `post` rather than `review`.

Annette said...

Absolute brilliant piece of writing.

Hogday said...

Thanks Annette. I knew a little more about the first and the same as everyone else about the second. To say I feel the pain of the principle officers is an understatement. I should probably try and sue the Met for post traumatic stress caused, after all, everyone else seems to ;)

Dark Side said...

What a wonderfully written post, thanks for sharing your insight..

Constable said...

Outstanding. Allow the critics an aspect that they will never face and see how they make decisions. No doubtit will end up with the subject being incapacitated by CS or Taser. No-one dead and a happy ending all round.

I have faced combat before in a previous existence and not wanting to sound dramatic but decisions are instant and based on intelligence, the situation and training. They have to be instant or you or someone else will die or be seriously injured.

Let the critics pursue an occupation where they are put in that situation and let's see how their theories go from there.

Once again, top post.

Area Trace No Search said...

As above, I agree with you all the way.
I'm going to return to this when I actually have a computer, but the best way I can put it is this: We need more officers like those involved, not less.

I've heard the term "cold-blooded" used, and I have to admit that I completely accept that.

I think it was Neville Chamberlain who was once interviewed about bravery, as a former WW1 soldier.
He said there were two types of bravery - the first is 'hot' bravery, such as in times of battle.
He said that with 'hot' bravery, almost anyone can achieve it in the right circumstances. Adrenalin, peer pressure, no time to think... this is no less impressive, but achievable by many.

'Cold' bravery on the other hand, refers to people such as bomb defusal experts. People that KNOW the risk, that assess it, and still put themselves in harm's way.

These are the people that went after Menezes, and did their job to the best of their ability, depending on the intel weenies to get it right - just as we (as members of public) depend on the firearms officers to get it right and stop our friends and families getting killed.

To have the bravery to not only chase someone they believed to be a terrorist with a bomb, but to bring themselves to close quarters to the person, to lie on them and stay with them despite the threat of a large scale bomb... I hope that given the opportunity I would be that brave, but I have no doubt not all of us could.

Sorry if this is almost a post by itself.

Hogday, I will reply to your email soon!

Anonymous said...

I will take scenario #3................ And OF COURSE i announced my office.........Don't we all?????? It only takes the amount of time to aim, sight and shoot in the same amount of time annoucning our office... case closed... OFFENDER SHOT AND KILLED......... Officer's and civilians go home in one piece.

Hogday said...

Const. Confused: Roger that. When the adrenaline kicks in, we run on drills, s.o.p's and training. What we do (or did) may have taken seconds, yet the lawyers, et al, can pour over the scenario, stretch it all out, X-ray it, play with it, think about all the options including the abstract and fanciful,study the manual of guidance (if they could get their mitts on it), debate it with their highly intelligent peers etc etc and all in the comfort of their office/Inns of Court/wine bars - without being shot at or having their lives threatened. 6 months or more later and 3 seconds of madness is re-enacted in court, but drawn out into hours of scrutiny.

CPDCop: Spoken by someone who's been there, trained for it and knows the score.

ASNT: I could say so much more, but I'm keeping the powder dry until I check ut the O.S. Act ;) CT jobs can be so complicated. Nice take on bravery. Suggest a Read: `Special Forces Heroes` by Michael Ashcroft. Thanks for reading my post

Bitches In Blue said...

Unbelievable !!

Vetnurse said...

I agree with Blue Eyes. If you act on all the info available to you then it is not your fault/problem that it went wrong due to those up the pole.
It is great to be wise after the event.

If he had been the bomber the sad/stupid/sick/insane thing is that the police would STILL have been in trouble because they killed him.

Hogday said...

Thanks Vetnurse and B's in B for taking the trouble to comment.

Buck said...

VERY well done, Hogday. Thanks for linking this at The Lexicans.