by Dennis Townsend, Contributing Writer
We are at a tipping point as far as police and community relations are concerned and now those sworn to “protect and to serve” need protecting themselves. And after hearing news reports everyday about police being ambushed and killed, surprisingly, the statistics say that the deaths of police officers is at an all time low. On the other side of that statistic is the troubling trend of police officers shooting unarmed suspects which has risen by 40%. The latest killing of a man in a wheelchair by police highlights that we have a long way to go on this matter, and a very short time to solve the problem. Why are police shooting first and asking questions later, it’s simple, self preservation, commonly known as fear. When you are in an occupation that requires you to carry a firearm, it means your life will be in danger at some point and your mind will automatically kick into survival mode powered by adrenaline, then in the human brain it’s either kill or be killed. There is no neutral ground.
The average person has no clue about what it's like to be in a gun fight with someone intent upon killing you to get away at all cost. If you peek out from behind your cover at the wrong time, it’s curtains. Bulletproof vest are fine for protecting the body, but that leaves the head vulnerable which makes you a 50/50 target. But when the threat is from a knife or any other non firearm, hand to hand combat should be an alternative to lethal force. There is a fine line between the two, and this is where the unrest in the community rears its ugly head.The public does not have a problem with an officer using reasonable force to protect citizens from harm, and any life threatening circumstance should be met with likewise retaliation. But for a police officer to willfully shoot an unarmed suspect in the back 5 times is no less than murder. On the other side of the spectrum, a police officer was just cleared in Cleveland, Ohio for jumping on the hood of a probable suspect's moving car and shooting through the windshield at point blank range 17 times, killing an unarmed man and women and saying he feared for his life was a pure case of panic shooting and in my opinion was unjustified. He was however telling the truth when he said he feared for his life. The number of times he fired his weapon is proof of that.
More modern crime fighting techniques with an emphasis on non lethal ways to take down a suspect without shooting him numerous times is in order. Sure, as heartless as it might sound, killing a suspect saves local and state governments from having to foot the bill for a lengthy trial, not to mention not having to house the criminal for years at a cost to the tax-payers. I for one am not saying that the rise in police shootings amounts to executions but emotions should not be a deciding factor in the search for justice especially if the so called suspect turns out to be innocent. For a police officer to be the judge, jury, and executioner is justice moving in reverse, and all non lethal avenues should be explored to protect not only the suspects rights, but the officer"s as well. Use of stun guns should be more of an option when possible as one solution. With that said, if a police officer finds him or herself in an all out gun fight, then I am all for whatever it takes to protect lives. Body-cams are a very good idea as they will record the truth and will not distort it to fit the circumstances, and is the perfect tool to protect all involved. The other problem that has come to light now is the decrease in the number of police recruits. Many now see being a police officer as too dangerous especially when they see themselves becoming targets. Should there be a lot more psychological testing done on recruits to make sure they are not prone to becoming trigger-happy? Possibly, but I do know one thing, without the police to draw a line in the sand between us and the criminal element, life would be hell.