December 01, 2005

The Thin Blue Chasm

Hell In A Handbasket discusses a news story about police departments re-thinking letting off duty cops carry. This is due to a small number of off-duty cops getting treated like you or I would getting killed by on duty cops who see a gun & think the gun wielder is a criminal. James concentrates on the lawsuits that are motivating the contemplation of a new policy for off duty cops as well as the rather low numbers of cops killed by friendly fire.

Of course I have a slightly different take on things.

One side of me is vehemently opposed to allowing cops any options that you or I don't have. For example a Colorado cop should be able to carry openly off duty (except in Denver) & have to get a permit for concealed carry. In NYC? Fughet about it. Ditto Chicago or D.C. But I'm not so hypocritical to really get behind that 100%, as the same constitution that makes laws preventing carry or possession null for you & I makes those off duty cops exempt as well (I know; courts don't look at things that way. To hell with them.)

But the deeper issue is not one of cops being awarded special privileges then crying about it when they're rescinded. Think about the reasons these actions are being discussed.

What is happening (albeit in very very limited circumstances) is that off duty cops are being mistaken for civilians with firearms. Now I'll be the very first to admit that if I saw someone with a drawn gun I'd be looking for cover & thinking about the best shot I could take. But I'd also hold off because there'd be the chance that the guy with the gun is the good guy. But some police departments are worrying that shooting an armed person may turn out to be shooting a cop.

The problem isn't that a better way to identify off duty cops needs to be worked out - the problem is cops assume anyone not wearing a badge &/or a uniform is a bad guy.

No; I'm not trying to armchair quarterback here. When a cop arrives it might not be a good idea to sit back & get written statements from everyone who has a gun drawn. & occasionally through some unfortunate set of circumstances a cop might shoot a good guy but be justified in doing so. But cops, as agents of the state, need to be held to a higher standard. In some cases they are, but in quite a few they're not.

For example when's the last time you heard of a non cop getting acquitted after he fired 18 rounds into a fleeing car that tried to run him down? Or not getting charged when he shot someone he walked up to on the street after the deceased reached for a wallet or soda can a little too quick?

Now if someone jerks around very quickly with a gun in their hand I can really understand shooting them. I'm not saying that's anything more than a tragic situation caused by the victim's error in judgment. But there is no protocol for dealing with an armed non cop who's a good guy. Well, I take that back; the protocol is to disarm him.

Why disarm any & every one who doesn't have a badge? Because the cops (& hence government) does not trust you. It is possible that you could turn out to be a violent criminal bent on death & mayhem but it is equally possible that you could just be a citizen doing his duty.

The Smallest Minority has discussed Sir Robert Peel's principles of policing before (though I'm too rushed to dig up his link) . Number 7 is of particular interest:

"Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence."

You & I have an obligation to stop crime if we are capable of doing so. This doesn't mean jumping into the middle of an armed robbery if all you have on you is a pocket knife. But some things are worth risk, & I'd think that making your community safer would be one of those things.

For a very long time people have been engrained with the idea that the cops have the sole responsibility for keeping society safe. No doubt this view was originated with the cops themselves. Hell, it's job security. So it's not surprising after decades of this neglect of duty by non-cops that the cops would eventually regard every non-cop with a gun as the enemy.

"In 2001, two uniformed officers shot and killed an undercover detective when he trained his gun on a suspected car thief in Oakland, Calif."

No details appear in the story that could be helpful in figuring out just what occurred, but it doesn't seem like the deceased was endangering anyone but the thief. Granted, protection of third parties is also an obligation but there was no protocol in place (from what I assume at least) to cover such a situation.

This policy decision brings to light a serious issue - a rift between gun owners & police. The MSM didn't pick up on it. I doubt most non-gun nuts will. But it's one worthy of much discussion, especially by cops; why is it an unheard of thing to think that the gun might be held by a good guy & not a career criminal? Or more to the point, why is it okay to always act on the assumption that's he's a bad guy?

I know; "officer's safety" will come up. I'm not sympathetic, especially after i see things like this:

"I don't want to be driving through the ghetto without a gun,' he said. 'What if some knucklehead I arrested spots me?"

That was David Klinger, a former LAPD cop. In LA you cannot carry a gun for self defense unless you have one of the ultra-rare California CCW permits. To show why that quote is just wrong, let me change a few words around:

"I don't want to be driving through the ghetto without a gun,' he said. 'What if some knucklehead who's looking for easy prey spots me?"

That'd be a valid reason for carrying if you were a non-cop. But Klinger had to throw in the "What if some knucklehead I arrested..." line, implying that cops are in more danger than you or I. I'm certain the occasional cop will be hurt or killed by someone who he/she has arrested before. But I doubt very seriously it approaches the numbers of folks like you & me who are hurt or killed simply because we were thought of as prey.

So no; it doesn't bother me if cops can't carry off duty. It bothers me if any person in the u.S. cannot carry the means for defense. I don't respect station or occupation when it comes to such matters, & those who do should be ashamed of it.

But some general advice: if you have a gun drawn & a cop orders you to drop it, don't move. Don't turn your head or especially your hand toward him/her. In NYC it's reported that the proper response for an off duty cop is to say "I'm on the job" when confronted in such a manner. If I were in NYC I'd do that & worry about sorting things out later. If your local PD has a similar challenge/response system for identifying off duty cops learn it & use it. Why? Because I assume that if you felt the need to draw your gun that the person is a threat. That will not change because cops are on the scene. Nor can you count on them to protect you even if they're right there. This will create some legal problems for you as an asshatted DA would claim you were impersonating a cop, but if it were me I'd not disarm until I was sure the threat was neutralized. That doesn't man the bad guy dead - it just means incapable of causing you harm.

Course take my advice with as much salt as you like & if you feel compelled to drop your gun on command despite the presence of someone who is presumed to be dangerous I won't stop you. It's a tricky spot to be in. If cops didn't view any non-cop with a gun as an enemy then perhaps it'd be less tricky, but I wouldn't count on that sort of attitude when you'd hope for it.

What would be ideal is for cops to work out a protocol for dealing with good guy with guns. & most importantly include the good guys (i.e. you & I) on it. I'm not saying for a cop to holster his weapon when he thinks a good guy is armed, but definitely a little more caution should be exercised before shooting someone. After all, it might be an off duty cop with a gun. But even more important from a PR perspective - it just might be a good guy who isn't a cop. When the cops start justifying mistaken shooting of us ordinary folks, it really doesn’t do much for their image. After Katrina & a few other things here & there law enforcement in general really needs to do all the repair work it can in the eyes of politically aware gun owners. Saying that off duty cops can't carry because they might be mistaken for non-cops & subsequently shot is not gong to mend the rift that exists between us.

Posted by Publicola at December 1, 2005 02:24 AM | TrackBack

You're an idiot.

Posted by: nick at December 18, 2005 04:04 AM
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