Are police ‘trigger happy’?

It's not just target practice for police.

It’s not just target practice for police.

Queensland has had three fatal shootings by police in the last week. Scary figures. Cue the media headlines, distraught family members and training reviews.

So, are police trigger happy? No. Resoundingly NO. Let me explain.

Imagine the most stressful situation you’ve ever been in. Your heart is pounding so loudly that it nearly drowns out all the other sounds around you. Time feels like it has been sped up, except for you, you feel like the air is as thick as custard, weighing you down and making you move in slow motion. You gulp at the air, you can’t afford to pass out. Then you need to make a decision. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Chances are, it won’t be a well-considered thoughtful decision. It will be a gut reaction, an instinct. It will most likely be based on your training, movements that have been repeated often enough that NOW when your brain is not capable of conscious reasoning, this training will kick in and hopefully save your life. Possibly at the cost of someone else’s but that is the nature of the job. Police are trained to draw their guns for certain situations. If someone has the potential to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on you, shoot them. Protect yourself. Stop the threat. Protect others. Don’t believe a person with a knife can’t kill you with one strike.

It takes about 1.5 to 2 seconds for a police officer to draw their gun and fire. That doesn’t sound like much, but a person can run about seven metres in that time. The action of the offender will always be faster than the officer’s reaction – the officer has to see the movement, choose a course of action, and put that course of action into motion, such as removing their weapon from its holster, and firing. So applying this theory, if a threat is closer than seven metres to them, forget about trying to shoot. Start running backwards to buy some time, or get ready to fight. Police are taught all of this, and it is all whirling around your brain, along with the stresses of the situation itself.

A police officer who is forced into that corner and does shoot someone then has their own crisis to deal with. Firstly, they’ve shot someone. They’ve killed a person. That have taken someone else’s life. Often the deceased’s family or friends may have witnessed the shooting. Imagine for a minute this tsunami of grief, anger and confusion crashing over the top of them, while they themselves are trying to come to terms with what has just happened. Police are not psychopaths (psychometric testing precludes them). This directly affects them too. It may horrify, disturb, and shock them – the same normal human reactions as anyone else involved. Then the bosses start to swarm. Whichever police officer was involved is removed, interviewed, photographed, swabbed and bombarded with questions. If the answers are wrong, then they may find themselves on trial. The whole experience can be and often is career ending.

Always, the cry goes up – why didn’t the police TASER the person instead of shooting them? Police are not taught to draw their TASER in most situations involving weapons because of the risk it involves. If one of the probes misses, they’re stuffed. If one of the probes does not ‘stick’ (hits a zipper or a doesn’t pierce a thick coat), they’re stuffed. They don’t have a second shot. Reloading takes 2 or 3 seconds. The aggressor will be on top of them and they’ll be fighting for your life. Yes, tasering a person may save their life, but it might cost the police officer theirs.

A high proportion of people shot by police are suffering from mental illness. It’s tragic but not something police can control. The person may have reached crisis point for reasons unknown to the attending police. They might not have followed through – no one will know. They were in the grips of psychosis and didn’t mean it. They’re misunderstood. They wouldn’t hurt a fly. You hear all these things in the aftermath.

Police just can’t afford the speculation. They can’t take that chance. Because police want to go home at the end of the shift. Because police have their families waiting at home. Because police are doing their jobs.

You pull a knife on a cop – you’re going to get shot. End of story. When the offenders can grasp that, that’s when these shootings will end.

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