Police Issues

As good guys and bad ramp up their arsenals, the margin of error disappears
(#330, 3/4/19)

     During the evening hours of December 8 Ian David Long, 28, burst into a busy Los Angeles-area nightclub, threw smoke bombs into the crowd and unleashed a barrage of more than fifty rounds from a Glock .45 pistol. Twelve patrons were shot dead and one was wounded. Long hid and waited for police. Two officers soon burst in. Long opened fire, striking Ventura County sheriff’s sergeant Ron Helus five times. A sixth and fatal wound, to the heart, was accidentally inflicted by return fire from a highway patrol officer armed with a rifle.

     Long legally purchased his gun two years ago. He had enhanced it with a laser sight and high-capacity magazines, the latter illegal in California yet easily obtainable elsewhere. Why he acted may never be known. During the horrific episode the six-year Marine Corps vet (he served in Afghanistan) posted Instagram messages denying any motive other than insanity: “Fact is I had no reason to do it, and I just thought… f***it, life is boring so why not?”

     Long would soon bring the incident and his life to a close with a shot to his own head.

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What can be done to prevent mass shootings?

     Please forgive us if this essay seems a bit more prescriptive than what Police Issues normally offers, but it’s only been a few days since an angry, heavily armed man opened fire in a rural Texas church, leaving twenty-six dead and more than a dozen injured, many critically.

     It’s not to make light of this horror to point out that within hours of last month’s reveals about Hollywood Harvey, waves of similar accusations engulfed prominent figures on both sides of the Atlantic, leading a growing number of highly-placed “untouchables” to lose lucrative contracts, past honors and memberships in influential groups and making them vulnerable to unwelcome non-sexual advances by aggressive prosecutors.

     So where’s the follow-through when dozens of innocents are gunned down? That’s the question we should have asked after Las Vegas. And Orlando. And San Bernardino. And Sandy Hook. And Aurora. And on and on. (Click here for CNN’s comprehensive list of mass shootings.) To be sure, one might argue that every killer was appropriately punished. Excepting a few such as James Holmes, who drew life without parole for murdering a dozen movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado, mass shooters have usually perished at their own hands or those of the police.

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Rule #1: Don’t let chaos distort the police response. Rule #2: See Rule #1.

      “She was too fast for me.” Taking the stand at his trial for murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide, that’s how NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry explained winding up in a situation that ultimately forced him to pull the trigger, mortally wounding Deborah Danner, 66, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. Only a day later Mayor DeBlasio declared the officer at fault: “The shooting of Deborah Danner is tragic and it is unacceptable. It should never have happened.” Police Commissioner James O’Neill agreed: “That’s not how we trained. We failed.”

     On October 18, 2016 officers were dispatched to the apartment building where Ms. Danner lived and occasionally lost control. Sgt. Barry testified that when he arrived Ms. Danner was ensconced in her bedroom, a pair of scissors in hand. He said he convinced her to put the scissors down and come out, but she soon became recalcitrant. Fearing she’d go back for the scissors, he tried to grab her, but the panicked woman slipped away. So he chased her back into the bedroom, and got confronted with a baseball bat. Sgt. Barry testified that Ms. Danner ignored repeated commands to drop the object, then aggressively stepped towards him and began her swing.

     In our earlier comments about the case (A Stitch in Time and Are Civilians Too Easy on the Police?) we referred to NYPD’s lengthy and, in our opinion, confusingly written protocols. In all, these rules apparently prescribe that unless a mentally ill person’s actions “constitute [an] immediate threat of serious physical injury or death to himself or others” officers should limit their response to establishing a “zone of safety” and await the arrival of their supervisor and an emergency services unit.

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A Not-So-Magnificent Obsession Lapses in policing lead to chronic rulemaking. Does it hit the mark? (#329, 2/15/19)

A Victim of Circumstance Building cases with circumstantial evidence calls for exquisite care (#328, 1/26/19)

When Walls Collide Ideological quarrels drown out straight talk about border security (#327, 1/14/19)

Cops Aren't Free Agents To improve police practices, look to the workplace (#326, 1/3/19)

Red Flag at Half-Mast II Preventing more than suicide may carry serious risks (#325, 12/5/18)

Red Flag at Half Mast California’s Guv nixes expanded authority to seize guns from their owners (#324, 11/21/18)

Preventing Mass Murder With gun control a no-go, early intervention is key. Might artificial intelligence help? (#323, 11/4/18)

Notching a "Win" A self-professed “sleeper agent” is (legally) flimflammed by the FBI
(#322, 10/21/18)

Is it Ever OK to Shoot Someone in the Back? Laws, policies and politics clash with the messiness of policing (#321, 10/8/18)

Speed Kills Acting swiftly can save lives. And take them, too. (#320, 9/23/18)

The Bail Conundrum Bail obviously disadvantages the poor. What are the alternatives? (#319, 9/4/18)

Make-Believe Surprise! A well-known terrorist winds up in the U.S. as a refugee (#318, 8/18/18)

Police Slowdowns (Part II) Cops can’t fix what ails America’s inner cities - and shouldn’t try (#317, 8/4/18)

Police Slowdowns (Part I) Bedeviled by scolding, cops hold back. What happens then? (#316, 7/22/18)

Should Every Town Field Its Own Cops? Recent tragedies bring into question the wisdom of small agencies (#315, 7/6/18)

No One Wants Ex-cons to Have Guns The New York Times affirms its liberal creds. And falls into a rabbit hole. (#314, 6/24/18)

Fewer Can Be Better Murder clearances have declined. Should we worry? (#313, 6/9/18)

The Blame Game Inmates are “realigned” from state to county supervision. Then a cop gets killed. (#312, 5/21/18)

Is Your Uncle a Serial Killer? Police scour DNA databanks for the kin of unidentified suspects (#311, 5/6/18)

There's no "Pretending" a Gun Sometimes split-second decisions are right, even when they're wrong (#310, 4/18/18)

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