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Columns : Editorial

Of Man and Superman

The public and some elected officials don’t understand that you are flesh and blood.

April 01, 2006  |  by - Also by this author

You probably heard about this. It went through the law enforcement community like wildfire, especially in the Northeast. A N.Y. state senator recently started promoting a bill that if it had passed would have required cops to avoid killing suspects in shootouts.

State Sen. David Paterson, a democrat from Harlem, says he wrote the legislation in 2000 after four officers were acquitted on charges stemming from the infamous Amadou Diallo shooting. “I thought I was writing a bill that really mirrored what the department rules are,” he told the New York Daily News.

Not quite, senator. If your bill had passed, it would have made it illegal for law enforcement officers in the state of New York to use deadly force, even to defend themselves or the public they serve.

The bill, which has been withdrawn, showed an ignorance of police operations that was both laughable and frightening. Paterson actually believed that officers engaged in deadly combat could choose to aim at an attacker’s arms or legs. The Paterson bill even established a new provision for second-degree manslaughter for officers who kill suspects in the line of duty by failing to use the “minimum amount of force necessary” to neutralize the threat.

Paterson says he withdrew the legislation after a meeting with John Grebert, director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.

OK. I don’t doubt that Grebert had some influence on Paterson’s decision to withdraw this ill-conceived and dangerous bill. But I’m also cynical enough to believe that Paterson also received one or more tongue-lashings from N.Y. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. You see, Spitzer is running for governor and Paterson is running for lieutenant governor on Spitzer’s ticket. Spitzer has been endorsed by the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. And I imagine that he explained to Paterson in no uncertain terms that his hare-brained legislation had the potential to derail their campaign.

Paterson has admitted he was wrong. So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he really was stupid enough to believe that the pistol prowess of contemporary American law enforcement officers matched that of the Lone Ranger. That means two things: One, Paterson has never shot a pistol under combat conditions. Two, he hasn’t considered the fact that cops are human and make mistakes.

Paterson’s proposed law came from the widely held belief that officers can actually shoot with machine-like precision. What he and many others don’t understand is that few officers can shoot that well on the range, much less under combat conditions against an armed suspect who is shooting back.

It’s clear that Paterson has bought into the superhuman view of cops that’s dispensed by movies and TV. On TV, the “C.S.I.” team solves every murder in less than 45 minutes. On other shows and movies, cops rarely miss when they shoot it out with the bad guys. And you know that isn’t true. Even when police corruption is depicted in movies and TV, it’s usually superhuman corruption, with cops running drug empires. In real life, the most common form of police corruption is overtime fraud.
If anything good has come out of Paterson’s foray into writing use-of-force policy, it’s that at least one elected official has been set straight on this issue. He knows now that cops are not machines who shoot their weapons with the precision of industrial lasers. He knows that you experience fear and adrenaline in combat and, when everything hits the fan, you have to shoot to kill.

Now, you just need to find a way to get that information across to the rest of the public who believe you are either evil robots or the indestructible Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” Good luck.

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