November 29, 2006

MORE ON POLICE MILITARIZATION, in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Simply put, the police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on “officer safety” and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. On the other hand, 51 officers were slain in the line of duty last year, out of some 700,000 to 800,000 American cops. That is far fewer than the police fatalities occurring when I patrolled New York’s highest crime precincts, when the total number of cops in the country was half that of today. Each of these police deaths and numerous other police injuries is a tragedy and we owe support to those who protect us. On the other hand, this isn’t Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort.

Read the whole thing — the link should work for a week.

UPDATE: Reader Gary Cameron emails:

I think it’s important to separate issues that involve the safety of individual cops from the so-called “police militarization” controversy.

Joseph McNamara, as a former cop speaking out against the recent NYPD shooting in the WSJ piece, is the police equivalent of those former Bush officials turned media darlings who turn on the administration after they leave office. His credibility with the MSM media stems solely from the fact that he once worked as a cop, as well as his willingness to speak out against pretty much anything rank and file police officers believe in, which he has done ever since his very short and controversial term as San Jose police chief. This is not to say that the opinions of most police officers (or the NYPD shooting, for that matter) are necessarily ‘right’, just that McNamara has no more credibility or insight on these issues than anyone else.

I think the following quote from his piece is very telling:

>>Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances.<<

Back in 1985, while a street cop in Vancouver, BC, I ended up firing all six of my .38 rounds at point blank range into the 10-ring of a mentally-disturbed gentleman. He had stabbed me in the side after stabbing a young man in the stomach, just missing the baby he was carrying. Nothing happened. He didn't stop trying to kill me until another member also shot him. Police officers carry "high-caliber" semi-automatics nowadays because they should have access to the best tools possible when they are really needed. Trust me on this: even the most routine call is an "extraordinary circumstance" to a cop in trouble.

I have no objection to high-capacity handguns. I do think, though, that McNamara is right about the psychological change that’s gone on. (Kind of like the change in Hill Street Blues, where the catchphrase went from “Let’s be careful out there,” to “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.”) I think that’s a bad psychology for police.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Sven Swenson emails:

Col. Jeff Cooper long maintained that most police officers do not have the training and discipline to be trusted with more firepower than is provided by a 6-shot revolver. He reasoned from long observation that high capacity handguns, assault rifles & such encourage “spraying & praying”, which endangers bystanders. It’s a psychological thing. The man with a singleshot is going to make his one shot count. Under stress, the guy with a belt-full of 20-round mags is likely going to fill the air with lead to little effect.

The recent shooting in Queens is a case in point: The officers fired 50 or so rounds and only hit *the car* 21 times, much less its occupants. That’s spraying and praying, and ought to be considered reckless endangerment, no matter how evil the guys they’re trying to take down.(Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the police, I blame the people who issue them such high firepower weapons but *never* give them enough money and time for training.)

Pax your correspondent who relates putting 6 .38s “into the 10-ring”, it might be worthwhile to remember that it takes about 12 seconds for a person to lose consciousness once their blood pressure drops to zero. His heart may be completely gone, he’s effectively dead, he just doesn’t know it yet. I’m sure that’s a very looong 12 seconds when someone is stabbing you, but 6 .45 acp hydrashocks to the heart might not have done any better.

That and the possibility that your target is wearing a ballistic vest or totally wakked on drugs led the Colonel to advocate the “Mozambique” even with a .45: One or two shots center mass immediately followed by a shot to the head. If you shoot the guy between the eyes and he keeps coming, then you can complain to me about your ineffective .38.

Sounds like a zombie. They’re everywhere these days! As I recall, by Hollywood convention only shotguns work against zombies and other evil powers.