When using police methods results in things other than police methods

Noted on Intel Dump by Randal Cook:

Where public safety forces are necessarily equipped and authorized to use decisive force to prevent essentially unpredictable acts of terror, every police action takes on a potentially lethal aspect. We are witnessing a perhaps unavoidable erosion of police procedures as the logic of a global war on terror imposes itself on our public transportation, big cities, and lives.

One result is that it becomes increasingly difficult to evaluate the propriety of a particular police action. I think most people would accept that what is reasonable action for a policeman trying to arrest a fleeing felon is entirely different from what is reasonable for a national security officer trying to ensure that a suicide bomber is incapacitated before he can blow up a crowd of commuters. The problem is when, as here, the fleeing suspect looks, is dressed like, and acts like either a subway toll jumper or a suicide bomber, depending upon one’s perspective. A similarly ambiguous situation regularly presents itself in the skies over Washington, DC.

I am obviously a proponent of military action (when called for) against terrorist organizations and the states that sponsor them. But unlike many “warmongers”, I readily admit that much of the war will be fought with police officers. How those battles are fought, and on what terms, will be discovered over the next twenty years or so.

UPDATE: Jay Tea at Wizbang writes:

Reduced to its simplest factors, there are two possibilities for the suspect — he is a bomber, or he is not a bomber — and two options for the police — shoot, or do not shoot.

First, though, let’s look at the “shoot” option. “Shooting for the body” is a bad idea for a suspected suicide bomber. The body is where the bomb would be, and could set it off. “Shooting to wound” is also a bad idea. The chances of missing are much greater, and a wounded terrorist can still set off the bomb. Shooting to kill, with the head as the target, is the best option.

Now, with two possibilities and two reactions, we have four possible scenarios to consider:

1) The suspect is a bomber, and the police kill him. In this scenario, the innocents killed are zero, and the guilty killed is one — a good outcome.

2) The suspect is a bomber, and the police do not shoot. This results in numerous innocents killed, as well as one guilty person. This is a bad outcome.

3) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police do not shoot. No one is killed.

4) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police kill him. One innocent is killed.

Now, obviously, the third scenario is the ideal one — no one is killed. But this overlooks a single key element — the police have absolutely no control over the first factor. They cannot affect whether or not the suspect is a bomber or not.

Note that I’m not specifically defending the London Police, here. I don’t have enough information to have an opinion. But I’m perfectly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this time.


  1. A subway toll jumper wearing a backpack and fleeing police in London this week deserves a Darwin Award. The British police should not be criticized for removing the DNA that created such a poorly functioning brain from our gene pool.

  2. The facts of this case are a tad disturbing. The britsh tailed this guy for miles. Allowed him to ride a bus and so forth. Something is missing in the facts thus far revealed. I would have to say that 5 head shots at a guy bolting is a good piece of shooting. That said, I’ll have to go with the popular questions of the day. What led police to be so suspicious of Mr De Menezes? Why was he not apprehended when he left the house? Why was he allowed to board a bus? Who, if anyone, authorised the shooting? What was the exact warning given by police