The “shoot to wound” proposal in New York

When I was in law school, one of my classmates was a lovely man who had decided to go to law school after several years as a police officer in Oklahoma.  I forget the context of our conversation, but he once told me that, in law enforcement, you never shoot to wound.  Shooting is binary.  Either you don’t need to shoot at all, or if you need to shoot, the only way to ensure a safe outcome for both officer and innocent bystanders is to shoot to kill.  In other words, by the time you’re firing, the time for some hypothetical “shoot to wound” has already passed.  As part of that point, my friend told me that, unless you’re a sharpshooter, in a chaotic, adrenalin filled situation, you can’t shoot for delicate targets such as a hand, foot or knee.  You go for the big target — the torso — or the second biggest target — the head, and then you shoot to kill.

Despite his long, long years as a lawyer, I have no doubt that my friend is shocked and horrified, as are New York cops, at the new rule the Legislature is mulling over, one that requires them to shoot to wound:

City cops are livid over a legislative proposal that could handcuff the brave officers involved in life-and-death confrontations every day — requiring them to shoot gun-wielding suspects in the arm or leg rather than shoot to kill, The Post has learned.

The “minimum force” bill, which surfaced in the Assembly last week, seeks to amend the state penal codes’ “justification” clause that allows an officer the right to kill a thug if he feels his life or someone else’s is in imminent danger.

The bill — drafted in the wake of Sean Bell’s controversial police shooting death — would force officers to use their weapons “with the intent to stop, rather than kill” a suspect. They would be mandated to “shoot a suspect in the arm or the leg.”

Under present NYPD training, cops are taught to shoot at the center of their target and fire their weapon until the threat has been stopped.

“These are split-second, spontaneous events — and officers have to make a full assessment in a fraction of a second,” said an angry Michael Paladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. “It is not realistic, and it exists only in cartoons.

“It’s moronic and would create two sets of rules in the streets if there is a gunfight. This legislation would require officers to literally shoot the gun out of someone’s hand or shoot to wound them in the leg or arm. I don’t know of any criminal who doesn’t shoot to kill. They are not bound by any restrictions.”

Read the rest here.

This one is right up there with the medal the military is contemplating for courageous restraint — an honor, Rush Limbaugh says, correctly, will surely be awarded only posthumously.

Is there anyone else out there who thinks it utterly insane that we, as a society, blithely assume that our troops and police should take all of the risks on our behalf, while we systematically strip them of their right to defend themselves against the bad guys?  Oh, wait.  Of course it makes sense.  I’m just looking at this whole thing wrong.  If you’re a Progressive, the troops and police are the bad guys.  It’s the ones on the receiving end of the evil cop and evil American soldier guns who are poor, misunderstood victims of the man, of America, of white imperialism, etc., and it’s only right and proper that they have the upper hand in any engagement.

Feh!

Sanity returns (at least temporarily) in Chicago

I blogged yesterday about law enforcement run amok, in connection with the decision to prosecute a mother who left a sleeping child in the car, while she walked a few feet away — something every mother in the world has done. As you may recall, I was quite heated in expounding upon the idiocy of a system that would terrorize a good citizen in this way. I suspect I wasn’t the only one generating heat, because Chicago’s prosecutors abruptly decided to drop the charges against Treffly Coyne:

Charges will be dropped against a woman who briefly left her 2-year- old daughter alone in the car to take her two older daughters to pour coins into a Salvation Army kettle, prosecutors said Thursday.

The woman, Treffly Coyne, was charged with misdemeanor child endangerment and obstructing a peace officer after a Crestwood police officer spotted her sleeping daughter alone in the vehicle Dec. 8. The mother claimed she was close by at all times and was gone for just minutes.

Coyne’s trial was supposed to begin Thursday, but prosecutors could not meet the burden of proof and decided to drop the charges, Cook County State’s Attorney spokesman John Gorman said.

Her husband reacted with relief and anger. If convicted, his wife faced up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

“We shouldn’t have had to fight this long and this hard when my wife never did anything wrong,” said Timothy Janecyk. The planned dismissal of the charges “only shows they tore my family apart for no reason.”

Coyne, who was arrested in a loading zone near the entrance of a Wal- Mart store, contended 2-year-old Phoebe, who was sleeping, was safe inside the car after she locked it, activated the alarm system and turned on the emergency flashers.

She said she was never more than 30 feet from the vehicle, did not step inside the store and was gone for only minutes. And her attorney said because the car was always in sight, Coyne’s daughter never was unattended.

Crestwood Police Chief Timothy Sulikowski said he disagreed with prosecutors’ decision.

“We stand by the actions of our officers that night and they were looking out for the best interests of the child,” he said.

Sulikowski said that while police were obligated to report the case to the state’s child welfare agency, Coyne would not have been arrested had she cooperated and not refused to give them basic information, including the child’s name.

“By not providing us with that information and the information of her child, at that point we don’t know that that child is hers. We don’t know if that child has been listed as a kidnapped child or a missing child,” he said. “Absolutely, she forced this.”

Coyne has acknowledged that she did not tell the officers her child’s name after she called her husband on her cell phone and he told her not to say anything until he arrived. She said she was afraid and only wanted to wait for her husband, but police arrested her before he did.

I trust that you’ve figured out by now that this harassment against Treffly was because she didn’t immediately give the police the investigation they demanded. I’m extremely supportive of police, and I fully appreciate how difficult and dangerous their job is. But to harass a mother like this, to threaten her with the loss of her children, because she fell silent, is a horrific act of police ego and overreach, which was then, not only rubber-stamped, but enthusiastically endorsed by the entire Cook County political and prosecutorial system.  Shame on all of them.
And now I have only one last question: what kind of name is Treffly?

How New York should handle Ahmadinejad’s proposed visit to Ground Zero

Much cyber-ink was spilled today about Ahmadinejad’s insistence that he visit Ground Zero. The upset, of course, was that we knew he wanted to go there, not to mourn, but to gloat. As it is, the matter was a tempest in a teapot, since his request was denied.  (But see the update, below.)

Next time the matter arises, though (and it will), I do have a suggestion for how to handle the visit. My idea comes from a story I heard about Teddy Roosevelt’s tenure as president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners. I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, but if it isn’t, it should be.

The story goes that, while Teddy occupied this position, a famous German anti-Semite came to speak in New York. Because he was such an incendiary speaker, and because he was journeying to a City that already had a huge Jewish population, the German man demanded police protection. Despite the outcry from people who would rather have seen the man stopped at the border, or left to his own devices on New York’s hostile streets, Teddy agreed to the man’s request. The German and his followers were convinced they had emerged victorious, until the morning when the German’s police protection appeared. It turned out that each of the armed men surrounding him was a Jewish police officer. The story ends there, but one has to assume that the man spent his entire visit haunted by the fear that, if someone were to attack him, his guard would be slow, very slow, to protect him.

So, perhaps, if Bloomberg eventually feels compelled to allow Ahmadinejad to visit the site, the mayor should make sure the assembled guard is composed of Jewish police officers or officers who are refugees from the Iranian revolution.

UPDATE: Whoops. Seems it’s back on again, so apparently my idea is still in play. Anyone in government listening?

Second guessing cops

I’ve taken a news story and put the facts in a different order.  The story essentially starts with the last point, and organizes the facts based on that point.  I’ve put the last point last, because it’s an after-the-fact conclusion that should not color the report.  I wonder if you’ll agree with my understand of the facts, and think that, at the very least, the reporter got ahead of himself with his upfront conclusion. 

What police knew:

[Richard] Desantis, who lived with his wife and two young children in a Santa Rosa, had fired about 10 pistol rounds into the ceiling of his home before Santa Rosa police officers showed up at his door at about 1:19 a.m.

***

Desantis’ wife, Patricia, had called the county’s 911 dispatch center and asked for help, saying that her husband had fired shots into the attic with his handgun because he thought he heard strangers’ voices. She said her husband was bipolar, and had stopped taking his medication.

Minutes later, police officers arrived and found the couple in the driveway — along with two young children.

Police said Desantis’ wife was holding her 2-year-old girl in her arms and yelling at the officers that this was a mental health problem. Officers ordered Richard Desantis to the ground.

***

Police investigators said Desantis also used methamphetamine.

***

According to the police, Soares used a nonlethal weapon to fire a 3-inch-long plastic projectile at Desantis’ lower body to stop his assault. The projectile apparently broke Desantis’ arm, but he continued charging at three of the officers. Celli, Mann and Menke each fired one round. Two bullets struck Desantis in the torso, stopping his advance.

An ambulance crew said Desantis was dead at the scene. Detectives later recovered one rifle and two handguns from inside the home, including the one used to shoot into the ceiling.  

What police may or may not have known:

“She had disarmed him before the cops were there,” [Eric] Safire [the wife’s attorney] said. “She said, I got the gun, I got the gun. … I can’t say whether they heard her. He gets down on his knees with his hands up, then for some unknown reason advances toward them in some fashion.”   (Emphasis mine.)

What police are being accused of doing (per the opening paragraph in the news report):

A Santa Rosa ironworker was unarmed and in need of medication for bipolar disorder when he charged police and was shot dead early Monday in the driveway of his home, officials said Wednesday.

The death of Richard Desantis, 30, marks the second use of lethal force in four weeks by law enforcement officers in Sonoma County against a person with some form of mental illness.

In the earlier case, a 16-year-old Sebastopol boy was shot dead on March 12 by sheriff’s deputies who were called to his home after he threatened to kill his 6-year-old brother.

A lawyer representing Desantis’ widow asserted that both shootings were unjustified. “Evidently, the (police) training in Sonoma County is not effective,” said attorney Eric Safire of San Francisco.

It’s entirely possible that police may have overracted.  It’s just as likely though, that things played out another way.  Police knew as they approached the property that a deranged man was firing guns wildly, with young children nearby.  He was in front of the property when they arrived and, I have no doubt, they repeatedly yelled at him to get down.  Meanwhile, his wife was also screaming (and I bet the children were screaming, too).  The man partially complied, and then, this same man who had been reported as firing guns within his home, lunged at them.  He was undeterred by a warning, non-lethal shot.  So they shot again, and again.  In other words, based on the exact facts reported in this story under the opening opinion accusing the police of malfeasance, there’s very good evidence that, on the ground, without Monday morning quarterbacking, the police responded appropriate to a volatile and apparently dangerous situation.

As it is, it’s a terrible tragedy for a family whose mentally ill, drug abusing father was shot down in front of them.  That doesn’t mean, though, that it was the fault of the police that the situation ended as it did.