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?


Anonymous said...

The general public lives in a fantasy world, the frame of reference of which is constructed mainly from television and film. People can't grasp a simple concept: if a crazed, unpredictable suspect is armed with a gun, and the police are dispatched to deal with such a suspect, someone may get seriously injured or die.

TonyF said...

I know it's true it woz in the papers......

FFS, he should have been shot with bullets not Tazer. If you take up a weapon against the general public, you have removed you rights to be protected by them.

As for Moat's 'family' some of them should be shot too....

Blue Eyes said...

You raise a very important point Hogs. Why are the police so reluctant to defend their actions in public? Why is there always this "ooh, we'll have a review and change our policy" reaction which smacks of "oh shit, we screwed up again" even when they didn't.

I suspect that the media would struggle to find many officers who wanted to deliberately go and shoot Moat just for the rush of it.

Hogday said...

Sparkcheck: True dat. There are an awful lot of crazed, unpredictable suspects over here, as human nature travels quite well. Thankfully, the availability of firearms over here, although of increasingly great concern, is nowhere near that of the US. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

TonyF: `Sub-lethal` gizmo's have their place but I believe that, tactically, they can actually create more problems for the poor buggers having to make the crucial decisions.

Blue: The senior officer who stands up and speaks out in support of their own policies and of the `Bronze`s` in situations like this, is a rare breed indeed. In my experience, those that do, usually end up with a loyal following who would do most anything for them.

JuliaM said...

A good post. But sadly, the only correct outcome in the Moat debacle will now forever be overshadowed by the insane decision of the CPS to fudge the Tomlinson case.

Maybe that answers Blue Eye's question - maybe they don't bother when they are in the right because they know that pretty soon, someone's going to come along and undo all the good and set you back to square minus one...

Blue Eyes said...

Julia, the problem with the Tomlinson case seems to me that whatever anyone does, the cry will always be "whitewash! cover up!".

Imagine if the CPS had charged the officer with murder. The case would have fallen apart within about twenty-five minutes and then people would be shouting "why was he not charged with GBH!?".

Imagine if the CPS had charged the officer with GBH. The case might have fallen apart within about forty-five minutes and people would have been shouting "the CPS deliberately presented a weak case!".

It's a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose situation.

JuliaM said...

BE, there will always be a few on either side who have made up their minds and will never be moved one iota, no matter what evidence is presented.

A trial would not be for them but for the majority of the public who are keen to see that their justice system works and would - in most cases - accept a system that appears to be open and transparent and non-perverse.

And what do they get? What do they get, at a time when the public's trust in the legal system and the police is at an all time low?

They get this. Words fail me....

Blue Eyes said...

But Julia, this is **exactly** the treatment that **every** victim of an alleged crime gets. If anyone feels "wronged" by something the CPS has or has not done then they should direct their energies to getting the system overhauled.

Do you know what proportion of charged offences get to court? Nor do I but I expect it is tiny. They don't charge unless it is a slam-dunker.

That shouldn't be news to you.

PS Hogs, have you seen this?

Hogday said...

Blue: How spookey! I never knew about that site, nor have I ever had my arm up a cows rear entrance - knowingly. I have had my particular moniker for a long while. I wonder why Blogger didn't pick that up?

JuliaM said...

"They don't charge unless it is a slam-dunker."

What about cases where a single punch has resulted in death by head injury? There have certainly been a few of those proceeding to charge!

All things being equal, this stinks. Sorry, but it just does.

I agreed with the decision on Sgt Smellie. He was faced with no choice when the woman refused to withdraw.

This man was WALKING AWAY when he was assaulted. That's unforgivable. That crossed the line.

Hogday said...

As for the punch that kills, I have had personal experience of that type of case eg where a fit adult male semi-pro boxer, gives a soppy but annoying drunk a light right jab to the chin, resulting in a fall backwards, sickening base-of-skull contact with asphalt, neuro injury and death within 12 hours. Take away the fall and you'd have nothing more than a common assault, except that the blow was delivered by a highly trained pugilist, that doubtless weighed heavily in the circumstantial evidence and deliberations of the jury (one would hope so anyway, but I don’t rate juries that highly). The result was a conviction for manslaughter, no doubt reached because, from the outset, the use of force was unequivocally unlawful and with the skill of the assailant came a responsibility.

Not dissimilar to the Tomlinson case in some respects ie an outcome totally disproportionate to the force applied.
But there were differences in the detail, particularly involving the appropriateness of that force, not least of which may well have had justification had we been privy to the wider perspective that a mobile phone video recording does not capture. This was a case where the DPP really did have to justify his position and earn his corn. I wonder if we will ever know his consultation processes?

Anonymous said...

I'm broadly in agreement with JuliaM on this one. I agree with Hoggie on Moat - I'd even welcome a change towards a quicker despatch. I have never recovered from facing down violent idiots (successfully) armed only with my gob and rugby league playing.
I'd have shot Moat at the first opportunity, preferably with a rifle when he went to McAlister's house. I'd also have put my arm round Ian Tomlinson and ushered him out of the way. I don't see his killing as murder, but do see it as a severe breach of discipline by the 'killing officer' and those around him who did nothing. This now extends to all those involved in the dud autopsy and investigation. All should be sacked and the onus put on them to defend themselves.
We don't even know in English Law whether we can shoot a terrorist running away because he poses a future threat. We jailed Clegg because he shot at a joyriders' car in NI - he was innocent and later we found we couldn't even prove it was his bullet. The legal system is dismal and mad.
The questions on Tomlinson are not about murder, GBH and the rest. This was rotten, bullying behaviour and utterly unnecessary. Compare this officer and his cowardly 'mates' and 'supervision' with Clegg. One lot under no threat, the other under mega NI stress facing criminals in a terrorist situation. Clegg goes to jail on dizzy ballistics, the others get off. We don't want cops who act as this lot or dud prosecutors. Sackings are appropriate to 'encourage the others'. The behind closed doors aspects need addressing.

Hogday said...

ACO: I too believe the Tomlinson case would have been better served had the judgement been made in a court of law. I have to say I was amazed when I read that this course was not followed.

It was not murder, for obvious reasons. I have used lawful force on countless people over the years and if just one of them fell badly or had an unknown congenital defect of the heart, then `there but for the grace of God....` but I always declared that it was I who struck a blow and I would declare this to the charge room Sgt. as I wheeled in my prisoner, give my reasons and stand ready to have my decisions to use force objectively scrutinised - just like I was taught to do as a trainee at Hendon and what I taught others to do when I was an instructor.

I'll say no more, because you have already said it.

Anonymous said...

I think your point about being mooned by the News of the Screws is pertinent Hog. Our fourth estate is at a very low ebb.

Anonymous said...

A number of cops keep saying the public needs them. I doubt this is now true. What we need is a few honest Joes and Gillians keeping the peace. I am not sure the two are the same thing. I would rather place my fate in the hands of your old charge office sergeant (or mine)than this current system of bureauquats (surely they ain't human).
On Moat, I'd have had my sniper get a side position and try to shoot his hands. I'd have then rushed him with one colleague, expecting the kill shot if he recovered at all, or if the first one didn't work and the gun was not dislodged.I believe officers should be protected from my 'heroics', or desire to get home to watch Match of the Day.

Hogday said...

Arch`, you remind me of an inspector we used to have for football duty at a certain Home Counties town. At one match some suicidal skipper chalked "In Case of Trouble, Hide This man" on the back of his Mac` He'd done 3 laps of the ground before he discovered it.

Our final job together was when he was a Super` at a firearms jobby and I was his Tac Adviser, one rank below his. I ended up going in with the raid team, minus body armour or personal weapon, just to get away from him. My ex wife was furious when I told her what I'd done. I feel another nostalgia post coming on :-/

Anonymous said...

My chimney man was always a reluctant soul Hoggie, but always followed orders when I pointed to the 'L' plate on my back and asked him where his big red sack was, mentioned the sniper cover was drunk and thought his wife was having an affair with one of his colleagues and we just might be safer in the house with the enemy. My incompetence was legendary, to the extent my people were forced to learn to take executive decisions without me. It was a hard rick to pull off, but I was never short of volunteers to spend two weeks in a hole beneath a hedge or in convincing them they'd end up in one permanently if they broke the survival rules. The first of these was a simple instruction on what to do with joke orders from John Wayne pretenders!