February 19, 2013

STEVEN GREENHUT: Dorner Manhunt Reveals Police Contempt for Public Safety.

Police typically say that their top mission is to protect “public safety.” That’s the lingo. But the recently concluded manhunt for former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner, accused of murdering four people after releasing a manifesto decrying his 2008 firing from the force, suggests that concern about the public’s actual safety sometimes is fairly low on the list of police priorities.

Last weekend, police opened fire on a 71-year-old newspaper carrier and her 47-year-old daughter who had the misfortune of driving a pick-up truck police thought might be Dorner’s. The Los Angeles police detectives who opened fire on them, putting two bullets in the older woman’s back, didn’t do much double checking. The carriers’ truck was a different make and color from Dorner’s.

As the women’s attorney told the Los Angeles Times: “The problem with the situation is it looked like the police had the goal of administering street justice and in so doing, didn’t take the time to notice that these two older, small Latina women don’t look like a large black man.” This could be written off as a sad fluke, except that 25 minutes later different officers opened fire on a different truck—once again getting key details wrong. Can’t officers at least check the license plate, and issue a warning, before opening fire?

“Nobody trains police officers to look for one of their own,” said Maria Haberfeld, a police-training professor at John Jay College in New York, according to the Web site News One. “I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes and I don’t think anybody else would.” We all understand the situation. But saying that we wouldn’t want to be “in their shoes” is no excuse for such dangerous behavior. The police wouldn’t excuse a member of the public for misusing a firearm, regardless of how stressed out that person felt.

Nope. An armed citizen who acted this way would be in jail now. Except that armed citizens seldom act this way.