Sunday, 27 December 2015

Shoot to Kill?

There's currently a vogue for news articles about armed police in Britain:

(1) Why do they keep shooting people?
(2) We need more of them to fight the terrorists, don't we?

I'd like to dispel one recent piece of misinformation.

The Guardian: Corbyn against 'Shoot to kill' policy.

At the G20 Summit on 16th November a 'Whitehall source' said that British security chiefs will adopt a strategy of taking swift action “to neutralise terrorists, rather than cordon and negotiate.”

This word 'neutralise' was ill-chosen and ensnared Jeremy Corbyn in a misleading debate. To me it's unclear whether 'security chiefs' means police or army, but anyhow, the Guardian then mentioned that both British special forces and the police have a 'shoot-to-kill policy'. Mr Corbyn allegedly said that in his view such a 'shoot-to-kill policy' should not be pursued. Who said what, isn't really important to my point here.

I can't comment upon the army, who probably use different rules, but British armed police has a very specific firearms methodology rooted firmly in the common law of self-defence, which allows police (and everybody else) to use reasonable force to protect themselves or others.

Let me emphasize: police use of firearms isn't governed by policy, by by common law. So how can there be a shoot-to-kill 'policy'?

There can't. It doesn't exist.

The newspapers of course, instead of making the effort to check and correct Mr Corbyn's mistake, eagerly seized upon the opportunity to fill column inches.

I don't know where Mr Corbyn gained the idea that such a thing as a 'shoot-to-kill policy' exists here in the UK, but it's an easy mistake to make, especially if politicians talk about 'neutralizing.'

The thought process that British firearms officers use is very strict, and quite complicated. The circumstances under which they can and cannot squeeze the trigger are drummed into them during weeks and months of intense training.

A British police officer can't even put his finger on the trigger unless there is an imminent threat to life.

For example, a person is brandishing a gun or knife, or has a gun close at hand and is likely to use it. If the officer can feasibly stop the threat by other means, such as a baton, Taser, incapacitant spray or police dog, then those have to be tried.

Put bluntly, if there isn't an imminent threat to life, cops can't shoot.

Above I wrote 'stop' the threat, but the police terminology is 'neutralise', and it seems to be around this word that the problem has arisen. Mr Corbyn has assumed, as a reasonable person well might, that 'neutralise' is synonymous with 'kill'.

Actually, 'neutralise' is a specific part of the firearms lexicon – it is used because it does not mean 'to kill'. An armed officer's objective is not to kill, but to neutralise. i.e. to stop a threat.

The Commissioner did quite a good job explaining this recently:

Guardian: Shoot to kill. What is the UK's police?

However, he could perhaps have pointed out that 'policy' doesn't come into it. It isn't possible to have a policy around this, because what police officers can and can't do is spelled out by the law, as I've stated above.

There's no wriggle room, where policy might apply.

Recapping: it isn't about killing a person, but about stopping them from murdering innocent people. If the violent thug happens to be killed because he stops a police bullet, then that's that – if you live by the sword, you must expect to die by the sword.

However, the point isn't to kill, but to stop. To neutralise. Cops aren't terminators sent from the future.

If there indeed exists a UK police firearms policy, it's 'shoot-to-stop'.

The writers of the Guardian article, Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, obviously didn't research this, probably because they wanted to hammer the piece out in under five minutes.

Police officers have a duty to protect life, which is why armed cops put their own bodies between the terrorists, and other violent people, and the public. This brings us to another point about this supposed 'shoot-to-kill policy'.

That duty to protect and preserve life extends to everybody, including the terrorist. So the moment the bad guy has been stopped, the cop will drop to his knees and start administering First Aid. If an ambulance isn't already waiting nearby, he will call for one.

Interestingly, it's because an armed cop might shoot somebody that they are all taught a much higher level of First Aid than normal street cops.

It's regrettable that the debate that enmeshed Mr Corbyn could have been avoided if the word 'neutralised' either hadn't been used, or hadn't been seized upon by the media and by Mr Corbyn.

Also disappointing is that the Metropolitan Police did not bother sending a spokesperson to clarify this error. Any officer from an armed unit could have explained this erroneous conflation of police and army methodology.

Even now, two weeks later, why hasn't a correction been written? It seems to me rather pathetic that the Met Police senior managers welcome the creation of TV documentaries about themselves, yet won't allow ordinary cops to speak their minds, leaving it to bloggers to state the facts.

Also, just because a person in the public domain uses the expression 'shoot-to-kill policy' while talking about the British police, why do the media and everybody else simply assume that such a thing must be real?

Our armed police are paid the same as any other copper – they volunteer for the responsibility or bearing arms. The role carries great responsibility, and an awareness that there might only be a split second for a decision that will dramatically change lives. The training, which many do not pass, is gruelling, and involves stress and extreme pressure.

Perhaps in 2016, British people and politicians might stop thinking that policing here is like an American TV show.

This is the reality: the moment a British cop does her duty by putting a bullet in someone, she is then under arrest and investigated for murder. Additionally she will be tried by the court of public opinion...

She has done her job, for which she is paid not a penny more than the bobby on the beat, and yet officers still apply for this role and put themselves through this!

Well, I would like to thank all armed cops for doing the role. Thank you guys and girls!

Happy New Year everybody.