Damned Police

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. The man then drives along a footpath brutally mowing people down and killing several pedestrians. The police are heavily criticised for not doing anything to stop him earlier.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by successfully shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The car however does not immediately stop – it veers out of control, onto a footpath and kills a pedestrian. Police are heavily criticised for shooting at the car in a public place because it doesn’t actually make a car stop completely.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to stop him by shooting out the tyres of the moving car. The police officer misses because this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. One of the stray bullets ricochets and hits a pedestrian, killing her. Police are heavily criticised for shooting in a public place.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer shoots the man at the wheel, killing him. Police are heavily criticised for over-reacting because his family says he was not a bad man, he was just going through a bad patch and didn’t deserve to die. People ask why the officer didn’t just incapacitate him by shooting him in the shoulder.

A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public space. A police officer attempts to tackle the driver through the open window. The police officer is thrown off balance, falls under the wheels of the car and is killed. The man then drives off, hitting several pedestrians. Although the officer himself is hailed as a hero, the police are heavily criticised for lack of training and that nothing further was done to try to stop the man.

Real life is not like a movie. Just because Bruce Willis could do it in ‘Die Hard’ doesn’t mean it can happen in the street. As a police officer, you are thrust into a situation and you have to think on your feet. You use your human skills and best judgement on what you know at that precise moment.

Maybe you know the person you are up against. Maybe you know he is violent and unpredictable, and has been threatening to kill. Or maybe you only know what you can see. An angry man in a car. But you do know that you will be held accountable for every decision you make.

As a police officer, you rely on your training. You have the voices of your superiors ringing in your ears to show restraint and caution. You also hear the voice of your own conscience. Is this justified? Can I live with the consequences of my actions, whatever I choose? Can I forsee all the possible consequences?

No one knows the ‘right’ answer at the time. The ‘right’ answer only appears afterwards with hindsight.

As a police officer, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

J.M. Peace is a serving police officer and the author of ‘A Time To Run’ and ‘The Twisted Knot’.

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40 thoughts on “Damned Police

  1. The Police cannot win, they are damned if they try to retaliate, and have the wrath of the public to contend with if they do nothing. Definitely a no win situation all round

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  2. Here here!! Well said.

    There are far too many muppets, keyboard cowboys and arm chairs critics!

    Now let’s wait for all the inquests, policy reviews etc…

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  3. They are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t. Let’s drawn that down a little further. They are dammed (disciplined, dismissed and civilly litigated) if they do and dammed (publicy criticised but retain employment) if they don’t. Your choice

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  4. Its almost hopeless for Police in the CBD…Everyday I see some grub either sussing out mail boxes or breaking into cars, or the fraud that is attemped via stolen CC’s our business has been hit 2 times in 6 months.

    There will always be Questions about what happened at Flinders st…
    One thing that sits poorly with me is the two guys who tried to stop that car by hitting it with a sticks whilst it was doing donuts. The police also just watched them too. No chase policies definitely need review as your granting the crooks the upper hand..100%.

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    • It must have been bizarre and then horrifying for everyone at Bourke St that day, both as police and bystanders. It will be interesting to see what new policies come out of it and whether they will be useful or not.

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  5. Really well put. The proses of deciding what to do in the moment cannot be described when the two options are to kill or not. Was recently in that situation and still can not put into words how the process works. Training, training, training.

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  6. Totally agree. Surely either the rules regarding police chases&/or safe apprehension need to be reviewed? Also I wonder if the superiors authorising these decisions whilst having many years experience maybe out of touch with current day policing?

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    • Whenever they come up with new (no) pursuit policy, anyone who is operational shakes their heads. But if you accidentally clean up some innocent bystander, I’d find it hard to live with that too. Thanks for your comments.

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  7. The media also have a hell of a lot to answer for. Be a real shame if they jumped onto the side of the coppers having to deal with these split-second decisions instead of mostly condemning their actions.

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  8. The bit I really struggle with is how on earth could any person (Police or civilian) have anticipated the tragedy that was to unfold. If we knew the outcome (of the driver’s alleged actions) then we’d know what sort of intervention to take and how serious that intervention would need to be. I don’t think anyone could have predicted this… even in their worst nightmare. My sincere thanks to the Police and other emergency services for all that they did in each and every split second that they faced in this situation.

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  9. Serve and Protect. Why have a police “force” if they can’t use their training to apprehend. They are trained to exercise their skills in bringing down bad citizens, but their hands are tied in their role as protectors of the good citizens. It seems that the baddies have more rights to protection, so in this instance and any of the same ilk, that the people should pass judgement because the judges certainly are not doing the job.

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  10. Police will always be criticised by ratbags and low quality polticians supported by the gutter press. Get over it. Trust yourself , have confidence in your judgement and training. In the latest situation, how can you know this nutter would drive on Bourke St Mall.

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  11. For the sake of discourse, and objectively speaking – here’s how it ‘looks’ to the ‘uneducated public’.

    A man in a car does donuts in a crowded public place for roughly 2-3 minutes whilst screaming absured and horrible things, thus making one hell of an obvious psychological statement to the world about what his clear intentions were ‘going’ to be. And everyone just watched him.

    Sad and hurtful to realise yet it’s true. This is of course excluding all of the information Police has about him leading up to the incident 12-24hours before it occurred.

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  12. I had pretty much this EXACT scenario-based conversation over a few beers on the weekend. Really well put there mate. Gees, I really feel for the police who were in the vicinity at Flinders St – they can’t win. Yeah maybe they knew he was considered dangerous – but would any of them honestly have believed that he was about to go and do what he did? Was just knowing he’s dangerous enough for them to defy policy/orders and do something in a heartbeat?

    It’s a hero/zero situation. You act out of instinct, and against policy, and stop him at Flinders – you’re still in the shit because at that point he hasn’t killed 6 people – so really, in the eyes of the public (and probably your superiors/non-operational peers) all you’ve done is stepped out of line to take out a dickhead doing donuts.

    If you fail in your attempt, then you’re REALLY in the shit, because then you’re probably even going to have people accusing you of antagonising him and potentially being a factor in his decision to go on to Bourke St.

    Bottom line is this bloke wasn’t fit to be on the streets, and that needed to have been addressed well before he arrived at Flinders St. Where does that sit? How far back do you go with this guy? Are the courts to blame? What about the shot-callers who held back on grabbing him whilst under surveillance earlier in the day?

    Either way, I feel for the police in the city that day. I hope the incident brings about change or at the very least, a train of thought that works towards giving police on the ground the ability to make the decisions that they were trained to make, and changing the public’s perception of the reality of those decisions.

    Again – well written mate – thanks.

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  13. Well written and well executed! Unfortunately these things still happen all over the world. It’s just how it is and that honestly sucks. Props to you lot though!

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  14. It is with the knowledge of hindsight of what other Police have been through after they have taken action and things have subsequently gone, or been judged to have been wrong that makes the Police on the street today hesitant to make a firm decision. Fear of the possible consequences hamstrings Police by leaving the in a ‘Will I or won’t I’ situation.The Police Hierarchy and Government both need to somehow alleviate the situation Police find themselves in the modern day Police Services. Perhaps a return to Police Force instead of Service would be a good start.

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  15. Hi I am a leftie when it comes to all thing political…I mention that so people dont think me a redneck. I think the police in this situation did every thing humanly possible to control this situation. When some one is behaving like an idiot with a total disregard for the safety of innocent bystanders it will inevitably end up in tragic consequences.

    All that being said the Police can not simply shoot some one for being an idiot…

    Personally I really do not see how the police could have done anything differently.

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    • Have you read the whole story? The police had a number of opportunities to stop him but it was either against policy or they were directed not to. They had been following for six hours. They knew he was dangerous as he had just stabbed his brother. It is the left that drive the critique of the police and overly influence policy. Tolerate other opinions and debate . What is the left? Is it only one view or is some diversity of opinion allowed.? I have some ‘left’ views but I am not a leftie.

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  16. Why not take the police off the hook and look at the scenario a little more broadly.
    Cars are meant to stay on the road. They’re a tonne and a half of potential killing machine if mixed with pedestrians, and that scenario occurs quite often whether due to driver fatigue, negligence or insanity.
    Where was the risk assessment around the safety to pedestrians in this public space? If those responsible had performed any sort of safety assessment it would show high risk with catastrophic results, requiring installation of bollards, or rails to avoid cars from accidentally or intentionally entering the area.

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  17. Thank you for writing this. I was there and saw first hand how amazing the police were. They did the best they possibly could in an impossible situation. I can’t thank them enough. X

    I wrote a little something on my blog too if you fancy taking a little look.

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  18. You have put this very well. I hope most people agree with you and support you. The police did the right thing. No-one could have anticipated the dreadful end to this story.

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  19. Well written! The police (or anyone for that matter) was not to know that after doing donuts in the city he would then go on a murderous rampage. I think the police did an excellent job in the horrible situation this man put them in.

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  20. “At *THAT* time,
    In *THOSE* circumstances,
    With the training *I* have had,
    And the resources *I* had to hand,
    That is the decision *I* made
    In the time *I* had,
    And the actions *I* took.”

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  21. Some of those making decisions are afraid of the dark. The indecision shown here is not the first example and it won’t be the last. This disaster was just waiting to happen. This almost happened in East Gippsland a few years ago. Good policemen with a bit of heart are being ‘hobbled”. Vic Pol is on a hiding to nothing.

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