When can (should) police use lethal force? That question is at the heart of all the civil unrest we see today. Legally, there is an answer to that question. We see that questioned answered every time there is a fatal shooting by a law enforcement officer – and even shooting by a citizen.
For the latter citizen, it is defined in what are known as “stand-your-ground” laws. Put simply, if you have a reasonable fear that you or loved ones – as victims — are facing potential death or serious injury from an attacker, you are allowed to use deadly force to protect yourself and others so threatened. That is in line with America’s long jurisprudence of “justifiable homicide” – the right to defend yourself and loved ones.
That same standard applies to police, but it is extended to a belief on the part of the officer that the subject poses a serious threat of death or injury to the public-at-large if allowed to proceed. In that case, he can end the threat with lethal force.
Every police shooting in America today is investigated. Officers involved are routinely put on paid leave during the investigation. In the vast majority of the cases, the shooting is declared to be justified based on the hard evidence. The public concern is rightfully focused on the RARE cases where justification is controversial – or where the lethal force was clearly not justified. In those cases, police face criminal charges – and are often found guilty. The system works – not always, but mostly.
Yes, some police departments are culturally and racially corrupt, but that is isolated to a few of the major big city departments, such as Chicago and New York. But even that is improving through citizen-based reform movements. For most police and police department, however, it is just a matter of a bad guy confronting a good guy – a criminal confronting a cop.
So, what about the use of lethal force?
If you were to attack a police officer on the street with a Molotov Cocktail … or a bat … or a rock … that officer could – just could — be within his or her rights to shoot you. If you tried to use a laser to damage the eyes of an officer you could get shot. If you were firebombing a building – potentially endangering the lives of others — you could be legally shot.
However, … by training and by desire, police do not like to shoot people. They use non-lethal force to every degree possible – even risking their own lives. That is why of the 10 million arrests made every year in America only a few – a very few few – result in a cop firing his gun. And most of those do not result in death.
What is amazing is how little the police use guns – lethal force – in the face of life-threatening violence. More than 50 days of rage – including attacks on police — in Portland, Oregon and no one is killed by police. Of the hundreds of thousands of violent confrontations with police – and attacks on citizens person and property — in scores of cities across the country over the course of many weeks, not one rioter, vandal, looter, arsonist and attacker has been killed by police despite the legal justification in many instances.
Part of the reason deaths from police shootings are so few is the introduction of non-lethal weaponry. That includes tear gas, pepper spray, tasers, rubber bullets, etc. These are used to disperse and discourage violent crowds – and to demobilize individuals.
Those have long been considered very positive reforms – ways of handling criminals without using guns. But apparently those on the left – including several officeholders – oppose even those non-lethal tactics. They seem to want the police to completely disengage – to not perform their sworn duty. They want to eliminate the “protect” from the “protect and serve” motto.
We see this in the “stand down” orders issued by mayors and governors as criminal rioters burn, loot, pillage and kill. They demand that federal troops protecting federal property not only be removed, but they accused the law enforcers of inciting the violence that was occurring before the feds arrived.
Portland mayor AND POLICE COMMISSIONER Ted Wheeler actually joined in the street violence – and got tear gassed (as he well deserved). Many officeholders and left-wing reporters say that all those rioting mobs are merely peaceful protesters. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler even declared all the violence we see on television to be “a myth.” Yes, he actually said that.
(Am I mistaken or is it only the Democrats – like Nadler — who seem to be blind to the violence? Who claim peaceful protest as rioters loot, burn, destroy, injure and kill? Is it only the Democrats who incited disrespect and violence against police? Just asking. But I digress.)
It is bad enough that so many Democrat officeholders side with the rioters — blame the police, incite public distrust and disdain for the police and move to defund police departments – they now are doubling down on their derangement. The city council of Seattle, Washington – an epicenter of liberal lunacy – has passed an ordinance against the use of non-lethal weaponry, such as tear gas and pepper spray.
Ponder that for a moment. How far do political leaders have to go to abandon common sense, rational thinking and the public welfare to justify such an utterly absurd public policy? The only possible explanation is that these public servants wish to govern through mob rule. Perhaps they see benefit in an alliance with the street thugs – much like Mussolini used the Brown Shirts and Democrats used the KKK.
Seattle’s Police Chief Carmen Best had the proper response in a letter to the Council. It is rather long but well worth reading.
July 23, 2020
Lorena González, President and Lisa Herbold, Public Safety Chair
Seattle City Council, City Hall
600 Fourth Ave, 2nd Floor
Seattle, WA 98104
Re: City Council Ordinance 119805 – Crowd Control Tools
Dear President González, Chairwoman Herbold, and Seattle City Council Members:
SPD has confirmed with the City Attorney’s Office that the City Council ordinance banning the use of less lethal tools – including pepper spray – commonly used to disperse crowds that have turned violent, will go into effect this weekend as written.
I am sending this notification for the purpose of ensuring I have done my due diligence of informing Council of the foreseeable impact of this ordinance on upcoming events.
It is a fact that there are groups and individuals who are intent on destruction in our City. Yes, we also have seen weeks of peaceful demonstrations, but two recent events (Sunday, July 19th and Wednesday, July 22nd) have included wide-scale property destruction and attacks on officers, injuring more than a dozen, some significantly.
This weekend we know that several events are planned across the city that will foreseeably involve many of the same violent actors from recent days. There is no reason not to assume we will continue to experience property destruction, arson, looting, and attempts to injure additional officers throughout the weekend and beyond.
With this Council ordinance, we hear loudly and clearly that the use of these less-lethal tools by SPD officers to disperse crowds that have turned violent have been completely banned by City Council.
Under these circumstances, as created by Council, we cannot manage demonstrations as we have in the past. If I am not allowed to lawfully equip officers with the tools they have been trained to use to protect the community and themselves, it would be reckless to have them confront this level of violence under the current legal restrictions imposed by Council.
Some have asked why officers are not arresting those engaging in criminal behavior, as officers do every day, and as they have in recent protests. If it is safe to do so, and even when it places their lives in danger, our officers always directly address criminal behavior. They do this, however, when they know they have the tools shown to allow the safe use of their policing powers. This Council ordinance denies them access to these tools that have been an essential part of their court-approved tactics.
We have clear, court-mandated procedures for arresting individuals, grounded in the principles of de-escalation. SPD’s de-escalation principles are premised on the expectation, consistent with policy and best practices, that officers have the full array of approved tools. In large crowds, there is no safe way for officers to effect arrests when their colleagues do not have the tools necessary to protect them.
As City Council’s legislation goes into effect, it will create even more dangerous circumstances for our officers to intervene using what they have left – riot shields and riot batons.
For these reasons, SPD will have an adjusted deployment in response to any demonstrations this weekend. The Council legislation gives officers no ability to safely intercede to preserve property in the midst of a large, violent crowd. Allowing this behavior deeply troubles me, but I am duty-bound to follow the Council legislation once it is in effect. If the Council is prepared to suggest a different response or interpretation of the legislation, I stand ready to receive it.
Additionally, while the Ordinance by title suggests a limitation to crowd management purposes, the language of the Ordinance, in its blanket prohibition on the procurement and ownership of such tools, effectively eliminates these tools as available less-lethal options across the board. The bill clearly bans OC spray at any rally, demonstration or other event, despite if it turns violent.
Further, while we recognize a limited exception for the targeted use of OC spray, the exception does not realistically allow for deployment in such a manner that ensures the aerosol does not disperse onto anyone other than the intended subject. For these reasons, officers who typically deploy with OC as one of their standard less-lethal options will no longer be carrying this tool. We continue to assess the impact of the prohibition on the procurement, ownership, and use of these tools on SWAT operations.
I believe Council can lead on de-escalation at each of these events through their voice and presence encouraging peaceful demonstrations. It remains my deep hope that once OPA and the OIG have had the opportunity to complete the analysis tasked to them, Council will engage productively with SPD and its accountability partners to forge a meaningful path forward that provides for public safety in these unprecedented times.
Chief of Police
Seattle Police Department
If they are so intent on restarting the police, defunding the departments and banning non-lethal options, perhaps the police will just have to go back to the old standby – the gun.
So, there ‘tis.