Monday, 26 July 2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The choice of life or death

I watched the puke inducing video recording on Sky News, of the ex gf of the Northumbrian murderer. She was weeping and wailing all over her hospital bedsheets.  Not that I'm unsympathetic to anyone who has been shot by a nutter, but this case, with its tawdry backdrop, was a bit too much for me. I noticed the `News of the World Exclusive` logo in the corner of the screen, so I guess the ex gf had no choice but to play along for the cash she'd negotiated with this Sunday `news` paper. I wish the bulletin had been preceded by a warning of its sources so that I could have switched channels, but it was too late, I'd already been `mooned`.

I then read the news stories about the use of the Taser by the police on the surrounded killer and how it hadn't yet been approved by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (although there was no mention of their backlog of things awaiting their analysis and approval - that would be an interesting study all of its own). Coupled with this were the questions about whether or not the Tasers deployed, caused him to shoot himself or not.

I searched for any comments from the official side about the use of lethal vs sub-lethal force and offering points for the news-starved public to ponder. Couldn't find any. It seems that either the official side (police, Home Office, ACPO) couldn't find anyone to state a case of options or they were hiding behind the sub judice rules and their own secret policy on the police use of firearms. Either way, the same old problem remained, a stony silence in the face of not unreasonable questions that leads the great unwashed to draw its own inexorable conclusions of `cover-up`, `conspiracies of silence` and acquiescence of the authorities by that very silence.

Nothing did I find that attempted to explain a little of the possible processes that were being played out in the final hours, from the perspective of those police officers whose duty it was to bring the situation to as peaceful a conclusion as practicable, based on the over riding principle that they were there to do three things, in this order;
1. Protect the public;
2. Protect themselves;
3. Without compromising 1&2, protect the suspect.

From my perspective, points 1&2 were always perfectly clear, although I occasionally found myself in situations where they actually changed places, almost imperceptibly but on one occasion, quite positively. Either way for me, points 1&2 were always, at best, neck and neck. So I'll cut out  any philosophical and hypothetical arguments and try to stick with the simple, aforementioned 3 point principle.

The killer with the shotgun and the psych problem was finally contained by officers from the tactical firearms unit and their support services. These people were the inner cordon, through which no one would pass, in either direction, without their say so. He was under constant observation by armed officers by way of direct eye contact, through rifle scopes and supporting spotters with night vision capability, by cctv with night vision. They were close enough to hit him with either lethal or sub-lethal munitions. Point 1 covered.

They had body armour, ballistic shields and helmets, close support from the Dog Section, technical services, negotiators and snipers, latterly referred to by the arguably less emotive term `riflemen`, although the `men` seems now to have been removed so as not to clash with the diktats of the diversity unit - these people are not to be messed with either. Personally, I find `sniper` to be a fitting, non-gender specific term that may well have a comeback. The only problem, that in my experience the people at the very tip of the sharp end have great difficulty in working around, is the long screwdriver - interference from the highs of the hierarchy, who want to tinker with tactics from afar. Tactics are real-time entities and demand swift, sound judgement. Strategy is something set from the outset, broad based until it moves closer to the end-game, where it must defer to the judgment, interpretation, leadership and courage of those charged with its doing. To be fair, strategists need courage too, but it's the courage of their own conviction that what they created and signed off, was the best they could come up with. Strategy can be changed, but not at the sharp end when you are staring down the barrel at life and death, either of which could be your own. So, with some qualification, Point 2 covered.

The suspect sits within the inner cordon, gun to his head. Negotiators negotiate, spotters observe and report, firearms teams stand-to, ready to stop an escape and an atrocious crime (another death). They can do many things but they cannot know what the suspect will do, after all they are not mind readers and, obvious though this may sound, the suspect never attends the police briefing so never follows the script. If he points his weapon at them they have a decision to make, is my or my colleagues life in immediate danger? If they know for sure that everyone is behind bullet resistant cover and that their colleagues behind them in the outer cordon have done their jobs, then they can weigh up the decision of whether to shoot, or not, more easily. They may even have the time to decide whether to try using a sub-lethal munition. Of course these are never 100% certainties and so lethal force must still be there, shoulder to shoulder with them. But they do not act alone. They must communicate. There must be co-ordination. Wherever possible, the tactical commander must minimise the number of officers surrounding the suspect to avoid confusion because the decision to fire a weapon in such circumstances is up to individual officers. Why? Because of individual perception. Six people can witness the same incident but will not always perceive the same threat. This is close quarter stuff, not an artillery bombardment to neutralise half an acre.

Time drags on and the suspect's behaviour and mental state is still up and down like a yo-yo. He shouts, screams, waves his gun about, goes silent for long periods, he is highly unpredictable. Here is a man who could well want to provoke a shooting by police so as to cement his own self-image as a legend in his own lunchtime. All the psychologists have already said this, through the media, and I have no doubt that the police have considered this a very real possibility also. Suddenly, he goes into a state that gives officers the concern that he is about to end his life, imminently. So many options, so little time. If they do nothing, he could calm down again. If they do nothing he could blow his own head off. If they do nothing he could fire in their direction (but if they remain behind their ballistic shields they stand a very good chance of remaining uninjured). If he kills himself in front of the worlds TV cameras, how does this sit with Point 3? They have a duty to safeguard  the suspect, after Points 1&2 have been covered. They have Tasers that incapacitate, but there is also a chance he might release the trigger during the muscle spasms that Taser causes. Whatever they do or don't do, this suspect has already put his life at great risk by placing a loaded shotgun to his head. Triggers are very light. He has already been very lucky not to have shot himself accidentally.

He could put the gun down and give up; he could get up and walk towards the police lines carrying his gun, whereby he would be Taser'd and/or shot by lethal force, because he was coming close to encroacing on Point 2 of the officers' duty; or he could simply behave in such a manner that gave officers real fears that he was imminently about to take his own life and so their only chance of trying to stop him was to use Taser and  hope that it would cause him to drop the weapon. Point 3 covered.

So where was the ACPO spokesperson to step up to the plate, stand by their own policy document and, without giving away tactical doctrine, just answer a few simple questions?

Monday, 12 July 2010

Media Take on Northumbrian Fugitive Aftermath

Based on some of the horseshit I've read in the papers, following the end of  the Northumbrian manhunt and the priceless, pointless follow-up `human interest angles` that our finest journo's have been chasing at the behest of their subs`, I suggest you save yourselves the bother and just watch the below. Pretty much sums it all up for me...

Monday, 5 July 2010

Going Dutch on arming the police

Once again we have a gunman at large, bent on killing, but on this occasion he seems to be much more discriminating as opposed to the still very recent Cumbrian indiscriminate murder spree. And we can call the latter `murder`, only because the killer was never tried and therefore was denied the chance of being found guilty of the lesser charge of `Manslaughter` on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

I was up early this morning, which was odd as I didn't get in bed until 2am having had a slamming evening's work that left me with the `thousand yard stare` and an addled brain. It was that same addled brain that got me up at 6am and I spent the time wisely, drinking tea and reading some of my favourite blogs. As expected, the Polis flavoured variety are all commenting on the Northumbria gunman who, as I tap this out, is still `at large` and putting innocent lives at great risk of being snuffed out in the blink of an eye and the twitch of a finger on a trigger. Once again, I suspect the weapon will be a shotgun, based on the bitty facts as released in the news media. The blog debates are once again buzzing with the subject of arming our police, the ills of our society, its laws, its judicial system, Kenneth Clarke and penal policy. Time for Cleggeron and the team to be wise, again. We await their brief with interest.

When I studied for my degree, I spent time looking at the Dutch criminal justice and prison system. The Dutch have, arguably, one of the most liberal of democracies in Europe. The Dutch invented probation, back in the 1800's. They are a small country, about the size of Wales. They are highly sophisticated in their outlook on life, the universe and everything. Their police force consists of a two-tier system of direct senior officer` entry, where after a spell at the police college in Apeldoorn, a graduate can start their police career at inspector rank. The sharp enders start, like us in the UK, by joining as Pc's and can progress to senior sergeant and can then be selected for promotion through the glass ceiling and join their direct entry, fast track colleagues, albeit with much greater street experience.

They also had an interesting attitude to the use of force. They had these amazing lightweight public order vehicles, made out of a type of plastic, but fire resistant. They called them `Tupperware vans`. I was impressed at how well protected they seemed to be, yet they looked so innocuous. I was on foot patrol with a senior sergeant in a suburb of Amsterdam. We stopped for an ice cream and stood on a street corner eating our cones. He had his hat off in the heat of the day, hooking it onto his very nifty 9mm Walther P6 pistol that sat on his belt, along with his cuffs and CS.  I asked him about his rules of engagement re the use of his pistol. He said it was based on the premise that he was to do all he could to preserve life and that he could use his pistol as a warning. I then showed him an ASP baton that I was hoping to persuade my force to adopt (successfully, as it turned out) and he said, "Hogday, put that away please, its an offensive weapon". We both saw the amusing irony of the moment we were in. Him with his gun, gas and ice cream, worried about me holding an extendable baton and a Mister Softee `99`.

I said that in the UK, we only drew our firearm from its holster if we intended to use it. He asked me what I would do if a man was coming for me or an MoP armed with a big knife or a sword. I said I would draw my weapon, warn the person, if I considered I had the time, and then if he failed to comply I would shoot at him and continue to do so until I perceived he was no longer a threat. He was amazed that I would not try to shoot him in the legs first. I explained that in the UK (at that time - 1991) we took the view that if potential lethal force was required, then potentially lethal it would have to be and that I couldn't guarantee public safety with stray rounds passing through his legs and skipping off the pavement into some passing child in a buggy. I also told him of some of the knife attacks I had been shown in my personal defence and firearms training and that I, for one, would not be pissing about with anyone wielding a knife and especially a sword - a case of `the gun is mightier than the sword, but only if you can get off accurate shots before the bastard closes the gap`. Vive la difference?

Their attitude to crime and the criminal is also very interesting. I was attending a presentation at their police staff college (senior officers) on criminality, its causes and cures. At the end of the session, the lecturer, a Professor, asked us UK guys a very interesting question; "What criminological theory do you base your juvenile cautioning policy on?"  It was then that I really knew I was in a strange land indeed.