Police Issues

Accurate information can provoke lethal errors
(#333, 5/5/19)

     In Minnesota, to return a verdict of guilty of murder in the third degree – its least severe form – requires proof that the defendant had a “depraved mind”. Here is the statute’s present form:

    Whoever, without intent to effect the death of any person, causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life, is guilty of murder in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 25 years.

“Depraved mind” is an expansive, highly charged term for a package of personality characteristics that supposedly lead to noxious behavior. Here is how Minnesota’s high court defined it nearly a half-century ago:

    A mind which has become inflamed by emotions, disappointments, and hurt to such degree that it ceases to care for human life and safety is a depraved mind.

     Proof of the defendant’s depravity was one of the challenges faced by Minneapolis prosecutors during the recent trial of former city police officer Mohamed Noor. On July 15, 2017 Noor, 32, a two-year veteran of the force (and of police work) was riding in the passenger seat of a patrol car driven by officer Matthew Harrity, 25, with one year on the job. About midnight they were dispatched to a pair of 911 calls placed by Justine Ruszczyk, 40, who reported hearing noises that suggested a sexual assault was taking place in the alley behind her residence.

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

     On April 20, 1999, two high school seniors staged an elaborately planned massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School. Before committing suicide they shot and killed twelve students and a teacher and wounded nearly two dozen others. When it comes to police strategy, Columbine changed everything. Criticism that lives would have been saved had officers moved in more quickly – they awaited SWAT, which took forty-five minutes to arrive – led the Gov ernor’s review commission to suggest a new approach:

    Clearly, rapid deployment poses risks to innocent victims but, even so, immediate deployment by teams of responding officers to locate and subdue armed perpetrators seems the best alternative among a set of risky and imperfect options in a situation like that at Columbine High School. (p. 67)

     Dubbed IA/RD (“Immediate Action/Rapid Deployment”), the new strategy marked a shift in response philosophy, from containment to prompt intervention. To be sure, IA/RD doesn’t simply mean “barging in.” Officers are supposed to be trained in this approach, and when the opportunity comes form small teams and move in a coordinated fashion. Yet when things get “hot” in the real world time is at a premium, and the one thing that cops must have to make good decisions – accurate information – is often lacking.

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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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Mission Impossible? Inner-city violence calls for a lot more than cops. Is America up to the task? (#332, 4/13/19)

Driven to Fail Numbers-driven policing can’t help but offend. What are the options? (#331, 3/27/19)

No Such Thing as "Friendly" Fire As good guys and bad ramp up their arsenals, the margin of error disappears (#330, 3/4/19)

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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