Massive Police Shootout in Cleveland Despite Lack of Criminals

This is an amazing story. I urge you to read the whole thing, but here’s the basics:

A November car chase ended in a “full blown-out” firefight, with glass and bullets flying, according to Cleveland police officers who described for investigators the chaotic scene at the end of the deadly 25-minute pursuit.

But when the smoky haze—caused by rapid fire of nearly 140 bullets in less than 30 seconds—dissipated, it soon became clear that more than a dozen officers had been firing at one another across a middle school parking lot in East Cleveland.

At the end of the scene, both unarmed—and presumably innocent—people in the car were dead.

There’s a lot that can be said here, but I don’t feel qualified to say it. There’s a whole body of research on decision making under stress—police, firefighters, soldiers—and how easy it is to get caught up in the heat of the moment. I have read one book on that subject, Sources of Power, but that was years ago.

What interests me right now is how this whole situation was colored by what “society” is talking about and afraid of, which became the preconceptions the officers brought to the event. School shootings are in the news, so as soon as the car drove into a school parking lot, the police assumed the worst. Firefights with dangerous criminals are what we see on TV, so that’s not unexpected, either. When you read the story, it’s clear how many of the elements that the officers believed—police cars being rammed, for example—are right out of television violence. This would have turned out very differently if the officers had assumed that, as is almost always true, the two people in the car were just two people in a car.

I’m also curious as to how much technology contributed to this. Reports on the radio brought more and more officers to the scene, and misinformation was broadcast over the radio.

Again, I’m not really qualified to write about any of this. But it’s what I’ve been thinking about.

Posted on February 12, 2013 at 12:55 PM73 Comments


Jerb February 12, 2013 2:07 PM

LAPD and Cleveland pd must go to the same school of shoot first ask questions later. Cant wait for them to have drone technology. Bomb first then suspension with pay later

J February 12, 2013 2:12 PM

@bode the LAPD shot some surfer guy too who was driving a pickup. he cleared a roadblock then seconds later another cop passing by shot his truck a dozen times

Bryan February 12, 2013 2:15 PM

There is a really strange culture among the police here. I have always been fearful of being stopped by them. Where I come from, the first thing you do when stopped is to get out of the car. I cannot understand why that is such a problem here. One would think it at least would show you are unarmed.

Joshua February 12, 2013 2:28 PM

@Bryan: I was always taught to stay in the car, roll down the window, turn off the car, and put both hands on the steering wheel where they can see them. Last thing, always say exactly what you are doing before doing it, especially if reaching someplace where your hands may not be seen (glovebox, inside coat, back pocket, etc.)

unarmed citizen February 12, 2013 2:29 PM

By what I can glean from the reports, driving a backfiring car is now a death penalty offense. Anybody want a used 57 Chevy?

JohnJ February 12, 2013 2:34 PM

@Bryan – I was told at a somewhat young age that if I were to be stopped by the police, the proper reaction was to place my hands high on the steering wheel – at “10 and 2” or “11 and 1” – until the officer said to do otherwise. Don’t get out of the car. Don’t start digging for your ID or vehicle registration. Those moves can easily be mistaken for hostile action: getting out of the car lets you aim better (especially at a target that’s behind you); moving your hands to the glove box may be interpreted as retrieving a loaded weapon.

Keep your hands high & visible. Once the officer asks you for your license & registration, use slow, steady movement to retrieve the documents.

Ross Thompson February 12, 2013 2:38 PM

This is something I’ve been thinking about since moving to America, and I suspect a big chunk of it involves the accessibility of guns.

In Britain, if someone points a realistic-looking toy gun at an armed police officer (they’re rare, but they do exist) and distinctly and unambiguously threatens to shoot to kill, and the officer responds by shooting first, at the very least they’ll be suspended without pay pending an investigation, and will probably lose their job and face manslaughter charges.

In America, this same scenario would be seen as a clear case of “suicide by cop”, and no-one would think for a moment that they should have reacted in any other way. Because in America, the police actually do have guns pointed at them several times a day, and not treating that as a life-threatening issue is a bad bet to make.

In this instance, a large number of the comments are “well, they should have just pulled over”, and while that’s certainly true, not pulling over is not a capital offence, and it’s not why the police fired. That was because they thought that the suspects had a gun, and had maybe already shot at police officers.

It’s horrific that the police are in a position where they have to jump at shadows like this.

Timma February 12, 2013 2:45 PM

So can we get some of these people sent to jail? Or at least fired? Because they seriously fucked up. And if police are happy to go around shooting up random cars, then maybe we need new police? (Or no police, but I’m an anarchist…)

aaaa February 12, 2013 2:50 PM

@JohnJ Which is kind of crazy if you think about it. I like not being in danger of being shot when the cops stop my car.

Digging for id and vehicle registration are things that stopped people including me usually do without any second through or fear.

dbCooper February 12, 2013 3:08 PM

From the linked article:
“City officials have already expanded the timeline for their investigation after learning that more than 115 officers, a third of the force on the road that night, were involved.”

If the erroneous fears of the officers had indeed been correct, did they really need this amount of counter-force? Very disturbing article.

Chance February 12, 2013 3:32 PM

It says the first officer to open fire had exited his vehicle. A car is considered to be deadly physical force, and can be responded to with deadly physical force, if officers suspect there is an imminent threat of a person being struck with the vehicle.

I don’t know if that played any role in how that cop responded, but it warrants consideration. The article doesn’t seem to say much about the chase that lead up to the shooting either, which seems a little biased.

nick February 12, 2013 4:27 PM

my friend’s cousin was shot and killed by police, while his car was backwards in a ditch because his car was considered a ‘deadly threat to the officers’ – after they had run him off the road in a chase.

He had been illegally street racing out in the countryside.

the police department (i.e. taxpayers) had to pay the family a big fat fine but the officers were cleared of all wrongdoing and are still on the force.

atk February 12, 2013 4:33 PM

@Ross Thompson: at the very least they’ll be suspended without pay pending an investigation

Another citation needed.

I recall learning, a number of years ago, that most departments suspend all officers involved in shootings and perform an investigation, or give them temporary desk-job assignments until the investigation is done and they are cleared (or charged).

Harry Johnston February 12, 2013 4:37 PM

@Ross: there’s an old saying that stupidity is always a capital offense. (Heinlein, perhaps?)

Guns or no guns, fleeing the police (in a vehicle) is a dangerous activity. In recent years here in New Zealand, there’s been a number of car chases that ended with the fleeing car crashing and killing the driver and/or passengers. In at least one case an innocent bystander was killed.

Blame the police if you like (you’d hardly be the first!) but at the end of the day if the couple hadn’t tried to flee they’d still be alive. (From the sounds of it, though, the blame might better placed with the politicians who adamantly refuse to liberalize drug law. If the deceased had only been facing a fine rather than a long jail sentence, they might not have decided to run.)

Justin February 12, 2013 4:41 PM

Bruce, police assumed the worst right away. The massive car chase just happened to end in a middle school parking lot, in the middle of the night and after dozens and dozens of cars joined the chase. The school factor didn’t make the police involved any crazier than they already were.

Regarding the radio communication, what’s interesting is what wasn’t communicated. Evidently some of the precinct supervisors had no idea what was going on…

itgrrl February 12, 2013 4:47 PM

My partner and I visited the US in 2011 (we’re from Australia). We were planning to hire a car while we were in Florida, and actually talked about what to do if we were pulled over by police while driving. Partially in response to the experiences of an acquaintance (yes, anecdote != data, but still), who had his arm broken by an office’s baton for making a sudden move, we agreed that the response should be much like that described above: pull over, switch off engine, wind down window, stay in vehicle, hands visible on the steering wheel, be very compliant, no sudden movements, narrate your actions before taking them (slowly). In Australia, we had never thought of having to prepare in advance for something as trivial as a traffic stop.

At the time I wondered if we were jumping at shadows/responding to ‘movie plot threats’. From the comments above, it seems not. It’s pretty awful (for all involved) that there is a presumption of “likely armed and dangerous” of every person in every car pulled over for even a minor traffic infringement.

mishehu February 12, 2013 4:59 PM

@Harry Johnston

I’ll admit I didn’t read the official gov’t report yet, but according to the article, it seems that there were a couple of big problems with how everything transpired that severely lessens the charge of fleeing an officer.

  1. The unmarked cars remained in the lead position, and this is considered to be a no-no. In other words, the intent is to have those being pursued know that they are indeed being pursued by officers. Hell anybody can put rollers in the back of their car – I had friends who technically and legally used rollers in their own cars as part of a sheriff’s deputy program for roadside assistance and other related programs.
  2. They were driving under the influence, and while that does not excuse poor judgment on their behalf, it does indicate that a completely different approach needed to be taken by the police other than OMG SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT. Shooting first and asking questions later usually leaves the questions unanswered.

According to what you see from mildly-documentary types of shows on TV (I’m not talking about the fiction shows and comedies), it appears that the standard modus operandi in a chase like this is to blow out the tires on the accused’s vehicle, and follow them at the lowest possible speed until they eventually give up. Sounds like a bit of a waste of resources, but at least in that case it’s far less likely to end up with anybody being shot up.

Bear February 12, 2013 5:29 PM

Bruce: “There’s a lot that can be said here, but I don’t feel qualified to say it.”

That’s too bad, because if you — who are held to a higher standard in the use of force than police officers* — aren’t qualified, who is?

I think I’m qualified to comment and criticize: former military, former peace officer, former private security officer, and recipient of a heckuva lot of formal training in firearms handling and proper use of force in many jurisdictions, and lot of self-study. And a whole lot more range time than most LEOs get every year.

These cops were a band of psychopaths on holiday. One of them, who claimed he saw the suspects firing at him, nonetheless reportedly thought it was a good idea to climb on top of a car, stand upright on the roof in the open and loose 49 rounds at the unarmed couple.

“I saw what appeared to be a gun” is THE standard excuse for wasting some punk in a fit of annoyance. Do a little research on cop shootings of unarmed suspects, and you’ll find close variants of those words 99% of the time. The excuse was “unofficially” brought up by instructors at the academy I graduated from (along with ready explanations to give the court when you smashed some guy’s arms and legs with a baton). It used to be that… “undisciplined” officers would carry a cheap throwdown handgun to place near an inconveniently unarmed corpse. Now the magic words are sufficient.

And sadly, the whole “let’s encircle the suspects and shoot at them from all dir– hey, watch where yer shooting, Clyde! –irections” scenario is pretty common, too. I even used it in a chapter in my 2002 novel Net Assets. A few readers complained. Until I explained that the scene was directly based on a real police “shootout” in Macon, GA in the ’90s. So… nothing new there either.

As for suspending any of these guys: Most departments with police unions are contractually obligated to continue paying officers until terminated or convicted. THAT is so common that you may recall an Internet quote from an officer who threatened to kill anyone he caught LAWFULLY open carrying a firearm just for the paid vacation.

Just imagine if you and your friends had shot these folks. Or the two latinas in a pickup truck in Torrance. Or the skinny white guy in another Torrance pickup. Or the nine unarmed, innocent bystanders in NYC a few months ago. Or… Heck, go read Radley Balko’s column.

Think you might be facing consequences more dire than an unscheduled paid vacation?

  • Compare LEO vs. civilian requirements for duty to retreat, exercising deadly force against a fleeing person, or using deadly force in defense of property.

Darwin February 12, 2013 5:43 PM

Harry Johnston • February 12, 2013 4:37 PM
@Ross: there’s an old saying that stupidity is always a capital offense. (Heinlein, perhaps?) Guns or no guns, fleeing the police (in a vehicle) is a dangerous activity.

Uh Harry, read the article. They weren’t trying to flee. Everything the cops said turned out to be a lie.

Grant Gould February 12, 2013 5:51 PM

To quote a police-chief former neighbor of mine, “the charge is contempt of cop and the sentence is I fucking shoot you.”

If it is cops who investigate the cops, there is no such thing as law.

MingoV February 12, 2013 6:10 PM

@Bryan and @Joshua: Most people believe that staying in the car is best, and many police prefer that. However, when I lived in Brooklyn, the police preferred people to get out of the car. That made sense to me because you and your hands are in plain site. I move behind my rear bumber so there’s no worry of getting hit by a car that drifts right.

Bear February 12, 2013 6:10 PM

@ Harry Johnston • February 12, 2013 4:37 PM – As Darwin noted, you seem to have missed a point or two. Allow me to further elucidate.

Some “pursuit”. According the police’ current version, this started with a guy in an unmarked vehicle “investigating” a parked car. And “escalated” when the car fled from the unmarked police vehicle (which seems pretty reasonable to me; some states even used to have laws against traffic pursuits by unmarked vehicles… back in the good old days when some cops still wanted to be the good guys). And it ended — after the “suspects’ ” vehicle was rammed by an unmarked police car (wait… isn’t starting to sound like an attempted carjacking?) — when the “suspects pulled into a parking lot and stopped. And a third of the entire police department decided to abandon their assigned duties and posts to join in the mass shooting of unarmed people who… probably thought they’d been fleeing [freelance] criminals.

mishehu February 12, 2013 6:38 PM


Thanks for that catch, I missed mentioning those points that you listed off. The more I think about this case, the more it sounds like the case of that motorcyclist with the camera on his helmet getting pulled over by an off-duty cop and then later being sued via wiretap laws or something like that, and I don’t believe that in that case the off-duty officer identified himself to the motorcyclist.

Speed February 12, 2013 6:55 PM

Bruce Schneier wrote, ” School shootings are in the news, so as soon as the car drove into a school parking lot, the police assumed the worst.”

This started at 10:26 PM — a time when the school should be empty and locked up tight.

jeri February 12, 2013 7:12 PM

Hmm. Fisherman and loggers have the two most dangerous jobs, but I have never seen bullet-riddled crab legs or bullet-riddled lumber. Are fishermen and loggers that much braver than police?

Matthew February 12, 2013 8:44 PM

I typically do not go in for post-modern thinking but Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” under the “Strategy of the Real” has an interesting idea that is perhaps a relevant lense. To sum it up, if I understand it correctly, the event was so viscious because there was no real threat – and this suggested that law and order itself is nothing but a simulation.

Well that explanation won’t do. If one is interested then check out the book.

Bear February 12, 2013 9:12 PM

Just for comparison…

Utah homeowner who shot at burglar takes plea deal
“Layton police arrested Niederhauser Jan. 31 after he fired two rounds at a suspected burglar and getaway driver leaving his home. No one was hurt, but police said the shots were unlawful because the burglar had dropped a crowbar he was carrying and was fleeing the property. The shots could have endangered somebody’s life, police said.”

Figureitout February 13, 2013 12:29 AM

One of the problems mentioned is that too many cops come home from a warzone (that shouldn’t even happen in the first place) and treat citizens like “subjects” or enemy combatants. They aren’t getting readjusted to civilian life b/c they aren’t looking out for one another enough.

Get away from me, and don’t you dare tell me to put my hands on my steering wheel for a damn speeding ticket so you can tell where my hands are. Stop pointing that gun at me and speaking to me like I’m about to slit your throat. Get out of this country, goddamit; I’m sorry.

averros February 13, 2013 2:14 AM

Wondering how long before decent people start shooting cops on sight. Society should not tolerate heavily armed aggressive idiots with a de-facto license to kill.

Peter A. February 13, 2013 3:31 AM

One more disturbing thing that hasn’t been mentioned in the comments:

From now on it seems like turning over and getting on her knees to retrieve something from the back seat by a front-seat passenger is a death penalty offence for both the passenger and the driver. Just because some butt-head in an unmarked cruiser imagined a gun in the hands of the passenger.

Yeah, surely he could clearly see the gun at night in the unlit interior of the car behind the streetlamps-reflecting rear window – in his sick cowardly mind.

Jeff H February 13, 2013 3:44 AM

115 police officers to stop 2 people in a car? Seriously? The criminal world of Cleveland must have been thrilled to get away with all sorts that day.

115 armed police officers and none of them have the firearms training to know that it helps to not have your fellow police officers in your own line of fire? Some are allegedly war veterans, and still don’t know?

The entire idea of a police officer standing on top of a car to get a better vantage point and emptying 49 rounds (which presumably requires significant reloading time) into what is allegedly a vehicle containing people that might shoot back is absurd.

I’m sorry but something doesn’t compute. This feels totally fabricated i.e. something else happened that day that people don’t want to talk about.

Peter Galbavy February 13, 2013 3:47 AM

The police in most nations appear to exist primarily for the protection of the police. Next come politicians and other VIPs, then the various classes of wealth and power downwards. Then, in this hierarchy and different for each state, there is some sort of understanding of where it is safe to take action with no consequences, where it is questionable and where you have to be careful.

Jeff H February 13, 2013 3:53 AM

Addendum to the above: Perhaps I’d just like to believe it’s fabricated, rather than the alternative and all its implications already mentioned by various other commenters.

Autolykos February 13, 2013 5:32 AM

@Jeff H: I prefer to apply Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

And since most suspects, being only armed in the officer’s imagination, don’t actually shoot back, the cops can survive those crazy stunts for quite a while. Still, I’m surprised the whole “we encircle them and shoot them from all sides” thing wasn’t terminal stupidity for at least some cops.

Bear February 13, 2013 6:39 AM

@ Jeff H: “emptying 49 rounds (which presumably requires significant reloading time)”

Not really. 49 rounds sounds like three 16-round magazines and 1 in the chamber; that’s only two reloads, which can be accomplished in seconds. Funny though, in all my combat handgun classes, I was taught to reevaluate the situation (from cover, before resuming fire.

Autolykos: “Still, I’m surprised the whole “we encircle them and shoot them from all sides” thing wasn’t terminal stupidity for at least some cops.”

That is pretty amazing. Not to mention the innocent bystanders who were dodging police gunfire inside their own homes (check out some of the other more detailed reports of this CF; round hitting roofs, front doors, windows, other parked vehicles, and your little dog, too!). Very often, this stupidity is fatal to the cops (and innocent bystanders- see 9 shot in NYC). Of course, if you only see the last news report of a shooting, you might not realize that it was “friendly fire” since it’s routine in many areas to simply charge the suspect with those incidental killings/woundings, under the same theory that get a robber charged with murder if his partner gets killed in the process.

The Georgia incident I mentioned above, as inspiration for a scene in my first novel, somehow didn’t kill anyone either, although several cops were wounded. Last I heard, they thought one of them might eventually learn to walk again. With crutches.

Snarki, child of Loki February 13, 2013 7:29 AM

@Jeff H.:”I’m sorry but something doesn’t compute. This feels totally fabricated i.e. something else happened that day that people don’t want to talk about.”

Forget it, Jeff. It’s Cleveland.

Anselm Lingnau February 13, 2013 8:02 AM

49 rounds? That would be 1.5 times as many rounds as the entire German police force fired at suspects in 2011.

Alan Kaminsky February 13, 2013 8:39 AM

Add Ohio, along with Texas, Arizona, and most of the South, to the list of states I’m never going to visit again, for fear of getting shot and killed by some gun-toting cop or civilian.

From a recent political cartoon by Monte Wilverton:

Terrorist: “I give up! Americans are doing a far better job of killing themselves off than I ever could!”

Mike B February 13, 2013 8:42 AM

I have always been a fan of strict liability for police officers in shootings. It shouldn’t matter if they have a reasonable belief that some suspect is armed, but that they are correct in whatever assessment they make. Police officers SHOULD hesitate because it is their job to protect the public and an unarmed suspect is the public. Yes some police officers will be killed or injured as a result of not shooting first, but that’s their JOB to put their own lives before the lives of the public. If they don’t like it they can find another job.

DavidB February 13, 2013 9:25 AM


In reading the report, it looks like Officer Brelo was using 13 round magazines and had 3 rounds left over at the end, so that would be reloading 3 different times. One would hope that in taking cover to reload, the officer would re-assess the situation before commencing to fire again. Of course this is the officer that saw the need to jump up on the suspects hood and fire from that distance.

Also causing part of the problem was that some officers fired their weapons through their own windshields toward the the suspects, and other officers seeing the damaged windshields assumed that that meant incoming rather than outgoing fire.

George Lowry February 13, 2013 9:27 AM

After 25 years of installing, maintaining, designing, implementing and tending to public safety communications systems, I’ve learned that the problems are almost always down to Wiio:

“The fundamental Wiio’s law states that Communication usually fails, except by accident. Here’s a quick summary of all laws:

Communication usually fails, except by accident.
    If communication can fail, it will.
    If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails.
    If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there's a misunderstanding.
    If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails.
If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage.
There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message.
The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds.
    The more we communicate, the faster misunderstandings propagate.
In mass communication, the important thing is not how things are but how they seem to be.
The importance of a news item is inversely proportional to the square of the distance.
The more important the situation is, the more probably you forget an essential thing that you remembered a moment ago."

SJ February 13, 2013 9:30 AM


I’ve been a driver in the United States for more than a decade.

In that time, I’ve had a chat with Officer Friendly on the side of the road once.

I did follow the advice to keep both hands in plain sight, and move slowly and carefully. [1]

It’s an interesting cultural difference. Since I grew up here, I find it slightly disturbing, but not distressingly so, that the Police Officer has to assume danger to himself in every interaction with the public.

I also find it slightly disturbing that the Policeman’s pen is more dangerous to me than his gun. Because if he writes something down about me, the courts will generally accept it as gospel truth. Whether it is shaded truth, lie, or slander.

However, I’m not sure that Policemen in other countries are without that power. I suspect it manifests in different ways in those countries.

[1] For reference, that one chat was due to me missing a speed limit sign. However, regional Police had been on the lookout for a nut-case who had been shooting at cars on the freeway. This may, or may not, have also made that stop a dangerous stop.

SJ February 13, 2013 9:56 AM

I would caution everyone hear to remember that incidents like the one in Cleveland are much rarer than incidents like this one, mentioned in these two news stories.

Whether or not this particular shooting-by-Police is justified, I suspect that it is a pattern much more likely to happen than the event in Cleveland. Police were responding to a report of trouble, and followed a suspect who led them on a chase.[1] Suspect crashed car, and tried to leave. Even though he was observed attempting to break into a home, Police did not use deadly force until he charged them while carrying a knife.[2]

Even if several hundred (or a few thousand) Policeman face armed assailants every day in the United States, that is a small number. There are something like 22000 Law Enforcement Agencies in the United States, varying in size from a dozen officers (small town) to large-city departments with many thousands of officers (NYPD, LAPD). [3]

Incidents like the Cleveland case (and the Macon, GA case mentioned above) reflect badly on the Police departments in question. But they may not be typical of all Police departments in the U.S. And they appear to happen at a rate of maybe once-per-year, for the entire U.S.

I would encourage people to not assume that this is typical behavior of Police, but it is wise to be aware that such bad events are possible. Even the most cautious and careful person can run afoul of a Police Officer or Agency which is in the process of making a fatal mistake.

Ask Jean Charles de Menezes…

[1] For those not familiar with the region, this chase crossed several jurisdictional boundaries, including at least two township P.D.’s and two Sheriff’s Departments. Other news reports indicate that State Police were on the scene, as well as Police from the jurisdiction in which the chase started.

[2] Google the phrase “Tueller drill” to learn how dangerous a man carrying a knife can be to an Officer armed with a pistol.

[3] Every year, the FBI releases a Crime in the U.S. report. That report’s summary gives some idea how many Police Agencies submit data to the FBI for inclusion in the report. Last time I looked, the number was slightly more than 22000.

Stephen February 13, 2013 10:00 AM

its simple its driving while black. Very dangerous at night and in areas that are drug zones.

Most cops now days shoot first and worry later.

Learn where NOT to go at night.

I bet 50 bucks no 1 gets charged with any crimes.

bob February 13, 2013 10:07 AM

Here in the 1st world, when I get pulled over I hop out of the car to see which bulb’s gone out.

Unless I was speeding in which case I sit in the car and practice my “Really? I’m soooo sorry.” face.

Doug Coulter February 13, 2013 10:08 AM

Difference between police and your average gangster – if you’re a cop and kill the innocent, you don’t die or go to jail.

But there’s a larger difference. Ever notice how this stuff does not go down in small towns, where everyone knows everyone else? In a dense city, cops are reduced to traffic checks etc to solve any crime – hoping to find a trunk full of dope, guns, whatever.

In a small, undense area, the cops know everyone, who is good, who is not. Often a crime is solved trivially, and they can just go where the criminal lives and pick him up, as needed. With few people to know, it makes it easy to see this MO and know who it was (seen this in person). And it’s usually not an issue with gangs, in a place where half the roads aren’t paved and there are no street corners to fight over for drug profits (which also wouldn’t exist if we made them legal and let the stupids suicide via them).

Storms that used to miss doing damage now can’t – we’re so dense that any disturbance wrecks something.

That seems to me the root issue.

cdmiller February 13, 2013 10:47 AM

sarcasm: Only the police should be allowed to carry guns, then we’ll finally be safe. :end sarcasm

None of the current hyped legislation to further regulate firearms has stated how it will prevent another Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora theater incident etc.. Despite the current myriad of gun laws (see the ATF compilation of state laws for example ) the incidents occurred anyway.

Is history a guide?

Banning stuff appears to create economic incentives encouraging organized crime and it’s associated violence. Read up on the history of prohibition leading to the 1934 National Firearms Act, the creation of the BATFE, and the war on drugs. Here is one source:

Are the violent crime spikes and increasingly totalitarian regulations in the UK, Australia, Chicago, Washington DC, and elsewhere partly due to banning or heavily regulating firearms ownership by the general populace?

Jeff H February 13, 2013 11:28 AM

@SJ: Fair point to consider the number of incidents vs the number of police & what they face; that’s a very valid point from a perspective of risk.

I suspect that what has most people worried when they examine these things is the systemic problems. The number of police involved, the apparent lack of training, the clear command issues that resulted in this occurring in the first place, the very shaky timeline of what apparently occurred, and that the person assigned to investigate apparently has ties with the police union. (All of these are of course what I have read, not thoroughly fact-checked).

Screwups happen. It still boggles the mind, but they happen. How a given society deals with them is as telling, I feel.

Petréa Mitchell February 13, 2013 11:45 AM

In the specific case of the police, media should not be considered the primary narrative input. This is more likely the list:

1) Training, if it’s a situation that was covered in training. And it depends how: did the suspect always turn out to have a gun in the practice version? Were they exposed to scenarios which provided a realistic simulation of the suspects panicking, or being in other altered of consciousness?

2) Narratives about other police which are asserted to be true (even if they’re actually urban legends). In general, anyone will pay extra attention to information about what happens to people who share their occupation. The average policeperson is probably much better-informed about incidents where other police have been killed, even for all that the mass media likes to play those up.

3) And then a fallback to mass media if they encounter some totally bizarre situation outside of the narratives provided by 1) or 2).

Most people, not having the first two options, will in fact tend to be most influenced by narratives provided by mass-media. (And there are some actual security-related examples out there: see the Stanford Prison Experiment or what happened when the US took over Abu Ghraib, for instance. In both cases, people were assigned the role of prison guards with no prior insider knowledge, and wound up acting out movie depictions of what prison guards do, which are generally the furthest thing from what actual guards should do.)

J Charles Ferrari February 13, 2013 1:12 PM

And you can add the two Donner related incidents where the LAPD shot up two separate pick-up trucks where the only thing in common with the truck driven by Donner was that they were pick-ups.

Bear February 13, 2013 1:40 PM

Petréa Mitchell, you might want to review my posts.

  1. Training- The “situations” were covered so well in training that CYA and excuses were included. This suggests to me that the problem is widespread… enough to require… CYA and excuses in training.

And really, in the this Cleveland case, they needed specific training for one third of the entire department to not abandon their assigned posts without authorization? Not to shoot unarmed people? Not to conduct a traffic stop and pursuit with unmarked cars? Not to stand exposed on top of a car in a supposed firefight? Not to disregard basic freaking rules of firearms handling (know your target and what is beyond it springs to mind)? Not to gather in a [censored] circle and shoot at each other; fields of fire, anyone?

  1. Narratives- Yep, LEO/peace officers might know more. But my [peace officer!] experience is that unless they were directly involved, they knew no more than anyone else to gather data, and usually less because they simply accepted the other officer(s) word on it.
  2. Fallback- Sadly, that is all that’s available to most non-LEOs/peace officers because the cops do tend to close ranks and protect each other (not necessarily a bad thing, depending on circumstances), and state employment laws are often used to keep facts out of the public eye: “The investigation of the officer’s performance and any discipline are a personnel matter which the law forbids us to release.”

SJ:“But they may not be typical of all Police departments in the U.S. And they appear to happen at a rate of maybe once-per-year, for the entire U.S.”

They happen far more often than that (just for a single set of examples). And Balko gets the stuff where enough witnesses or evidence turns up to prompt outside questions. My own experience suggests that most bad shoot cases never get noticed- often because the only witnesses were the dead “perps”.

anonymous February 13, 2013 3:07 PM

mishehu • February 12, 2013 6:38 PM : “the case of that motorcyclist with the camera on his helmet getting pulled over by an off-duty cop and then later being sued via wiretap laws or something like that, and I don’t believe that in that case the off-duty officer identified himself to the motorcyclist. ( 24 seconds )

Motorcycle traffic violation – Cop pulls out gun

Anthony Graber

Uploaded on Mar 10, 2010

GoPro 1080p HD camera. 720p mode 60fps. 2008 CBR1000RR

3/5/2010: Pulled over for speeding
4/7/2010: 6 Cops show up at my house with a search and seizure warrant for all of my computers, cameras and electronics.. They also bring an arrest warrant for “wiretapping” and 2 additional traffic violations. I could not go to jail due to health issues (surgery).
4/14/2010: I turned myself in and spent the night in jail. I was charged with “wiretapping.” Felony- 5years $10k max fine. Bail set at $15k?
4/15/2010: Bail review – Released on my own recognizance.

The video shows a cop in a civilian car (or unmarked police car), not wearing a police uniform, coming out of the car and drawing his gun. He tells the motorcyclist to get off of the motor cycle several times before verbally identifying himself as “state police”.

aaaa February 13, 2013 3:14 PM

@anonymous I’m just curious, is it legal for a cop to draw a gun in such situation?

Also, if a guy in an unmarked car comes out and draws a gun, does stand your ground law allows you to kill him?

markm February 13, 2013 6:47 PM

This is like the many raids where cops break down doors in the middle of the night.

1) Cops act so as to put people in a panic.
2) Panicked people act stupidly.
3) Cops panic and shoot them, then blame the victims for acting stupidly.

Except that so far part 4 is missing: Investigators conclude that all was in accordance with accordance with department policies. (And there is never an investigation to find, fire, and charge with manslaughter those who wrote and implemented policy.)

Some “pursuit”. According the police’ current version, this started with a guy in an unmarked vehicle “investigating” a parked car. And “escalated” when the car fled from the _unmarked_ police vehicle (which seems pretty reasonable to me; some states even used to have laws against traffic pursuits by unmarked vehicles… back in the good old days when some cops still _wanted_ to be the good guys). And it ended — after the “suspects’ ” vehicle was rammed by an unmarked police car (wait… isn’t starting to sound like an attempted carjacking?) — when the “suspects pulled into a parking lot and stopped. And a third of the entire police department decided to abandon their assigned duties and posts to join in the mass shooting of unarmed people who… probably thought they’d been fleeing [freelance] criminals.

Anon Y. Mouse February 14, 2013 12:47 AM

Another example of police over-reacting with deadly force is that of Otto Zehm,
who, after withdrawing some money from an ATM, entered a convenience store and
was promptly beaten, tasered, and then suffocated by two police officers.

Jon February 14, 2013 2:04 AM

A straightforward definition of a “police state” is when the civilians are more frightened of the cops than of each other.


SJ February 14, 2013 9:39 AM


I’m willing to stand corrected on the rate of occurrence. I will admit to wanting to give the average Policeman the benefit of the doubt. Though I also admit that evidence of a systemic push towards “Protect the Police” does lead towards abuses of Police power.

Though I do have to wonder: how many of the cases gathered by Balko are of no-knock raids at the wrong address? How many are of traffic-stops that turn into wrongful shootings, as in the Cleveland case?

Speaking of the Cleveland case: Assume that the Cleveland cops had it out for someone, and were planning to shoot the person(s) dead instead of arrest them. Assume that the target is someone for whom the narrative “resisted arrest” would not be a surprise, and that possession of a firearm would not be a surprise.

If that were the plan, the cover-up would have been something along the lines of “Wanted man, known to be Armed and Dangerous, was tracked and tailed by an unmarked car. Backup was called in from many adjoining areas, and the Wanted person started shooting at Police. They responded in kind, and the firefight ended after the Wanted person died.”

Set the chain of events in motion with the unmarked car wrongly identifying the target. Shortly after the bullets stop flying, the Police discover that they don’t have their intended target.

Would the news reports that come out of that chain of events look far different from the reports we are seeing?

It’s still frightening, but not frightening in the sense of any traffic stop can turn into a shooting gallery. It’s frightening in the sense of some Police agencies decide to execute a person without the benefit a trial. And they don’t always ID their target before they shoot.

Dinosaur February 14, 2013 4:59 PM

Well, not stopping where you are asked by the police and driving into a school is not the best thing to do, unless you are aimong to the Darwin Award.

nb February 15, 2013 6:48 PM

Looking at their pictures, they are obviously guilty of at least “driving a car while being black.”

I’m glad the police have a really strong union that protects them no matter what happens and keeps the “us versus them” mentality going.

Jared February 18, 2013 11:28 AM

Also, if a guy in an unmarked car comes out and draws a gun, does stand your ground law allows you to kill him?

Of course not. That you didn’t know he was a cop, couldn’t know he was a cop, that the cop when out of his way to ensure that nobody ever knew he was a cop, is no excuse.

David MACLAGAN February 18, 2013 2:18 PM

One of the problems with pursuits is that they tend to cause pretty big adrenaline hits for the officers pursuing (both because they’re fast and exciting, potentially dangerous and because departments tend to be pretty uptight about them). Adrenaline, among other things leads to increased aggression, which in combination with a fluid confused situation and the fact that pursuits generally (though of course not always) involve someone with a reason to run form police (which may also cause them to be violent), leads to bad situations if not actively managed.

David February 19, 2013 2:13 AM

What sort a sick country has these problems? Armed guards in primary schools, shoot first and ask questions later policing – and then claims to be the greatest peace loving democracy in the world? A country where less than half the eligible citizens vote and a government that refuses to audit its own gold reserves. Sounds like Afghanistan, Zimbabwe or Iran to me…

Autolykos February 19, 2013 8:42 AM

@David MACLAGAN: I think you made a quite important point here. Adrenaline works scary well for what it’s designed to do, but functioning in a civilized society wasn’t on that list at the time.

soundrelshare February 19, 2013 11:30 PM

….AND….this is why I trust myself and civilians with guns more than I do the police. 250,000,000 guns laying around in the US, 315,000,000 people, and only 30 people a day killed by them. That’s as close to zero as you’re going to get. Cops shouldn’t be the only people with guns, not when they act like this and LAPD.

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