The protocol, as I learned from Jack Webb on Dragnet, was that an officer never fires unless fired upon first. You can see the suspect with a gun in his hand, you can see the suspect waving the gun at you. But unless he fires first, you do not fire.
The protocol also stated that whenever an officer discharged his gun, a Board of Inquiry was immediately set up to investigate whether or not it was justified, and if it was found that the officer fired without due cause, his career was over.
I remember this from the episode The Shooting Board, in which Sgt Friday claimed to have shot and killed a suspect in self-defense, but the BOI couldn’t find the assailant’s spent bullet anywhere at the scene of the crime.
But somehow, in the past 50 years, the protocol has changed from “Don’t shoot unless fired upon first” to “Shoot if you even think they might be reaching for a weapon.”
That ain’t right, and it's causing a lot of needless deaths.
Yes. I get that being a police officer is a very dangerous job. Yes, I get that there are people out there with weapons who might want to kill you. But I also know that most of us out there don’t have weapons and don’t want to kill you.
I also know how real this fear among police officers is, after having read one officer’s description on an incident he was involved in where someone was reaching into his pocket for something, and he thought, “This is it. I didn’t get my gun fast enough. I’m gonna die.”
But he didn’t. Because there was no gun.
Where did this new fear that every interaction, that any sudden move by a nervous suspect means that a gun is on its way out come from? Is it from officers who’ve been on military duty in places where “they” really are out to get you?
Does it come from too many young men playing too many “first person shooter” games, where everyone is packing, and after you; and where you have to shoot first in order to stay in the game? Can overexposure to these games be having a bad effect on the people who are our police officers, making them overly jumpy and trigger happy?
The simple fact of the matter is that according to some figures that I briefly glanced at, last year roughly 50 police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty. At the same time over 500 unarmed civilians were shot and killed by police officers.
500 unarmed civilians killed by police officers vs 50 officers shot and killed in the line of duty. That’s a 10 to 1 ratio.
500 unarmed civilians killed by officers who thought that they had to shoot first in order to save their own lives.
This tells me something important. It says that while being a police officer is a dangerous job, the person you pull over, or who you see acting suspiciously is more than likely not reaching for a weapon.
It also tells me that we need to go back to the protocol I learned from Dragnet. I admit that it might result in a few more police deaths each year.
But it would also result in a lot fewer deaths among innocent civilians.