Entries Tagged "guns"

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Shoot-to-Kill Revisited

I’ve already written about the police “shoot-to-kill” policy in the UK in response to the terrorist bombings last month, explaining why it’s a bad security trade-off. Now the International Association of Chiefs of Police have issued new guidelines that also recommend a shoot-to-kill policy.

What might cause a police officer to think you’re a suicide bomber, and then shoot you in the head?

The police organization’s behavioral profile says such a person might exhibit “multiple anomalies,” including wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather or carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires. The person might display nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact or excessive sweating. There might be chemical burns on the clothing or stains on the hands. The person might mumble prayers or be “pacing back and forth in front of a venue.”

Is that all that’s required?

The police group’s guidelines also say the threat to officers does not have to be “imminent,” as police training traditionally teaches. Officers do not have to wait until a suspected bomber makes a move, another traditional requirement for police to use deadly force. An officer just needs to have a “reasonable basis” to believe that the suspect can detonate a bomb, the guidelines say.

Does anyone actually think they’re safer if a policy like this is put into effect?

EDITED TO ADD: For reference:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

But what does a 215-year-old document know?

Posted on August 4, 2005 at 3:08 PMView Comments

Shoot-to-Kill

We’ve recently learned that London’s Metropolitan Police has a shoot-to-kill policy when dealing with suspected suicide terrorists. The theory is that only a direct headshot will kill the terrorist immediately, and thus destroy the ability to execute a bombing attack.

Roy Ramm, former Met Police specialist operations commander, said the rules for confronting potential suicide bombers had recently changed to “shoot to kill”….

Mr Ramm said the danger of shooting a suspected suicide bomber in the body was that it could detonate a bomb they were carrying on them.

“The fact is that when you’re dealing with suicide bombers they only way you can stop them effectively—and protect yourself—is to try for a head-shot,” he said.

This policy is based on the extremely short-sighted assumption that a terrorist needs to push buttons to make a bomb explode. In fact, ever since World War I, the most common type of bomb carried by a person has been the hand grenade. It is entirely conceivable, especially when a shoot-to-kill policy is known to be in effect, that suicide bombers will use the same kind of dead-man’s trigger on their bombs: a detonate that is activated when a button is released, rather than when it is pushed.

This is a difficult one. Whatever policy you choose, the terrorists will adapt to make that policy the wrong one.

The police are now sorry they accidentally killed an innocent they suspected of being a suicide bomber, but I can certainly understand the mistake. In the end, the best solution is to train police officers and then leave the decision to them. But honestly, policies that are more likely to result in living incarcerated suspects—and recover well from false alarms—that can be interrogated are better than policies that are more likely to result in corpses.

EDITED TO ADD these comments by Nicholas Weaver:

“One other thing: The suspect was on the ground, and immobilized. Thus the decision was made to shoot the suspect, repeatedly (7 times) in the head, based on the perception that he could have been a suicide attacker (who dispite being a suicide attacker, wasn’t holding a dead-man’s switch. Or heck, wire up the bomb to a $50 heart-rate monitor).

“If this is policy, it is STUPID: There is an easy way for the attackers to counter it, and when you have a subway execution of an innocent man, the damage (in the hearts and minds of british muslims) is immense.

“One thing to remember:

“These were NON uniformed officers, and the suspect was brasilian (and probably didn’t speak very good english).

“Why did he run? What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!

“I find the blaming the victim (‘but he was running!’) reprehensible.”

ANOTHER EDIT: The consensus seems to be that he spoke English well enough. I don’t think we can blame the officers without a whole lot more details about what happened, and possibly not even then. Clearly they were under a lot of stress, and made a split-second decision.

But I think we can reasonably criticize the shoot-to-kill policy that the officers were following. That policy is a threat to our security, and our society.

Posted on July 25, 2005 at 1:59 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.