Sunday, January 10, 2016

Responding to violence without deadly force

Even our small city has its share of violent incidents requiring a forceful response from police.  Maybe we’ve been lucky, or maybe being in a small city makes a difference, or maybe our police and sheriff departments are well trained and well disciplined.  Whatever the reason, we have not had to face questions about whether the police were justified in using deadly force.

A few nights ago an armed man with a history of violence sent a text to another household that he was on the way to kill them.  Members of that household prepared themselves with their own weapons.  More information came in that the man had forced a relative at gunpoint to drive him to the house of his intended victims.  You can see where this could lead.  

From what I know, our police department convinced the members of the household to put their weapons away in a safe, secure place.  They conducted a textbook felony stop of the car, secured the release of the driver, and in over an hour of hard work, disarmed the man and took him into custody.  No one got killed, no one got physically hurt.  

In the fourteen years that I have been a public safety chaplain, I have witnessed our police and sheriff departments resolve other incidents ripe for the use of deadly force without using it.  Several involved violent persons who held drawn weapons on police officers and others.  With a combination of good training, steady nerves, and intelligent action, no one got killed, and the suspects were taken into custody.  There may come a day when, like other communities, an incident will not end as well.  In the meantime, we sigh in collective relief, and offer collective thanks to our cops who know how to do things right, and do it.  

Sadly, there are a few public voices who would rather see a shootout.  I don’t understand it very well.  Part comes from the bellicose far right wing that fulminates over whoever they see as the bad guys, and proclaims a desire to shoot first and ask questions later.  As trite as that sounds, that’s what they bellow.  I’m always surprised at what a cowardly noise they make.  Part comes from their kin who proclaim no tolerance for criminal behavior (except for their own).  In the old days they would have been the instigators of lynchings,  but not the ones who actually did the deed.  

It’s a relief that they have so little influence on our local law enforcement departments.  Why not?  It may be that our local police and deputies are also coaches, scout leaders, church elders, and the like.  In other words, they are active participants in the life of the community.  They have kids in the local schools.  Their spouses are teachers, nurses, lawyers, and such.  Many have extended local families who farm, ranch, and own small businesses.  More than a few are bilingual.  I think it makes a difference.  It's community policing applied not as a strategy but as a fact of life.  When the police are of the community they have an investment in its well being and future because their own well being and future are a part of it.  In like manner, because they are of the community, they probably know the potentially violent perpetrator or suspect.  They know his or her habits, history, family, and patterns of behavior.  The bad guy may be very bad indeed, but he or she is probably not a stranger.

For the time being I’m ignoring two other related voices because they tend to squeak rather than bellow.  One comes from a small and aging group on the far left that continues to view law enforcement as “the pigs” they distrusted back in their hippie days.  I imagine they’ll take that attitude with them all the way to the nursing home.  The other comes from a few teens and young adults who just don’t like cops.  They exist in two subsets.  The larger subset is drug and gang related, and the smaller one is college related.  The larger subset doesn’t like cops because they interfere with their business interests and social habits.  The smaller one is just immature.

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