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When is a cop allowed to shoot to kill?   no comments

Posted at 11:42 pm in Uncategorized

Answer by Tim Dees:

Police officers are trained to shoot at the center of mass, as that gives the maximum potential for a hit. You keep shooting until the threat is neutralized. This can be interpreted as "shoot to kill," but more accurately, it's "shoot until they can't shoot back."

What most people "know" about police shootings is from TV and the movies. Police shootings there usually involve carefully aimed shots, often prefaced with some tense dialogue between the cop and the bad guy. Here is one of the most famous of those, which also includes some highly unrealistic ballistic physics:
http://youtu.be/8Xjr2hnOHiM
The unrealistic physics has to do with the guy who was propelled through the plate glass window by the force of the striking .44 Magnum round. I explained this in another Quora answer: Guns and Firearms: Does shooting someone really cause them to fly backwards?

If you watch some of the many dashcam video of police shootings, you'll see that most shots are fired "from the hip," e.g. not aimed, and mostly out of panic. Depending on which study you care to believe, somewhere between half and 80% of bullets fired by police don't go where they were intended. Most go into empty air and fall to the ground at some distant point when they run out of momentum. Some go into whatever objects (or, occasionally, people) who happen to be behind or beside the bad guy. Because cops tend to fire multiple rounds in shooting incidents, enough go into the bad guy so that the cops win more of these incidents than they lose.

"Shooting to wound," "shooting to disable," or, the crown jewel of unrealistic expectations, "shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand" are all feats that few cops could pull off with any reliability. There are cops who are experts with their sidearms, and who practice regularly to maintain that skill. Most learned this before they were cops, either while growing up or in the military (Most members of the military do not handle firearms on a regular basis. Special operations types are often expert marksmen, but these comprise considerably less than 1% of military personnel).

Police officers receive maybe 40-80 hours (there is quite a bit of variation here) of firearms training in the police academy, and this is split between handgun, shotgun, and possibly rifle or less-lethal weapon skill development. Firearms training is expensive. Ammunition alone can cost up to $1000 per academy student. Once the recruit officer graduates, he may never receive any firearms training again. He will qualify periodically with the weapons he uses, but this usually consists of firing a course of 50 rounds or so to achieve a minimum score. If he fails to qualify, many departments just send him through the course again until he passes. These qualifications can be quarterly, semi-annual, or even annual.

This is not done more often mostly because of cost. The ammunition an officer carries in his handgun while on duty sells for around $25 for 20 rounds. If the officer's employer uses the same ammunition on the range (many use cheaper practice ammunition, which costs maybe 1/4 as much, but has a different feel and performance when fired), that's $62.50 per officer per qualification. Add into that the time it takes to shoot the course, plus travel time to and from the range. At my former employer, we had to drive about ten miles each way to our pistol range, which was later replaced by a range about 30 miles away (the first one became surrounded by housing when the nearby town expanded). Add in some waiting time for the next course of fire to start, and time to clean and reload the gun before you left, and a qualification round could easily consume half a work day.

It might be possible to train the typical police officer to a level of handgun proficiency that he could reliably shoot to wound an assailant, or to be able to shoot a weapon out of someone's hand. It would, however, be hugely expensive, and some cops would never be able to do it. Given the difficulty law enforcement agencies are already having in attracting qualified applicants and the stress that training budgets are under, it is unlikely this is to happen.

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Written by Tim Dees on June 26th, 2014

How does the Witness Relocation Program work?   no comments

Posted at 11:40 pm in Uncategorized

Answer by Tim Dees:

The United States Marshals Service runs the Witness Protection Program (Witness Security, or WITSEC), and they are understandably very closed-mouth about it. This is what I think I know about it. I doubt you will get a response much more informed than this.

WITSEC protects government witnesses who provide substantial assistance in federal criminal cases and are at risk for retaliation for doing so. Putting someone in WITSEC can be a very expensive proposition, so it's reserved for high-profile, critical cases.

Because WITSEC requires cooperation and long-term, permanent changes to one's life, no one is compelled to do it, as in "go into WITSEC or go to jail." It's more like "go into WITSEC or Vito will put you in the ground." It's usually a Hobson's choice. There aren't a lot of other options if the witness intends to keep breathing.

The witness, and their family if there is one, is relocated to a place somewhere in the U.S. (because the Marshals have to be able to monitor and intervene), far away from where they live. They have to sever all ties with their previous life. There can be no contact with other family, friends, business colleagues, former classmates, anyone. Any continued or renewed contact can provide a conduit to the bad guys finding the witness, and the Marshals are very good at seeing all those doors remain closed.

The witness is given a "memorandum of understanding" that details their responsibilities. Very little of it is negotiable. If they violate any of the conditions, the Marshals can wash their hands of the witness. The Marshals won't go out of their way to reveal the witness' whereabouts, but the witness will lose all support from the Marshals.

The Marshals make arrangements for housing, possibly a job, and provide a small stipend to keep them in socks and groceries until they can become self-supporting. "Self-supporting" often means doing work the witness is not accustomed to, and often below their professional station in life. The witness cannot return to their former line of work, especially if they work in a skilled profession like medicine or accountancy. There are professional networks in any line of work that the bad guys will tap to try and locate them. If the witness has "portable" skills, such as being a salesman, they may be able to move to a different industry. But, mostly, they will be starting over professionally.

The Marshals will create a new identity for the witness and the family. They will have drivers licenses, birth certificates, credit cards and records, school transcripts, etc. These will be as good as anyone could make.

Some witnesses are crooks themselves. In exchange for entering WITSEC, they have to go straight. If they fail to do so, the Marshals will cut them loose. Witnesses who go to prison may be treated to a modified version of WITSEC, where only a few federal Bureau of Prisons people know who they really are.

On reaching adulthood, children can opt out of WITSEC, if they choose. They can continue with their assumed names or go back to their old ones. In doing so, they sever ties with the rest of their family still in WITSEC. The Marshals can facilitate very limited communications by acting as an intermediary, but they will effectively be saying goodbye.

WITSEC has been highly successful. Thousands of witnesses have been placed in the program, and so far as anyone outside the Marshals Service knows, the program has never been penetrated. This is largely because the Marshals don't talk about it, a plan I suspect will continue.

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Written by Tim Dees on June 26th, 2014

What would be a practical way to fight against US police’s tendency to add “resisting arrest” to almost every encounter with the public?   no comments

Posted at 11:40 pm in Uncategorized

Answer by Tim Dees:

In my experience, it's something of an article of pride for an officer not to rack up too many "resisting" charges. An officer who feels the need to add resisting arrest to every booking becomes known as one who lacks finesse, fails to project an authoritative image, or is just incompetent. Sometimes this is a matter of inexperience or inadequate training that gets resolved as the officer gains experience and confidence, or leaves law enforcement.

When I started as a cop, the "resisting" charge was titled 'Obstructing and resisting a peace officer," or just "O&R." It required physically resisting the arrest by use of force. Later, the charge was amended to include flight (which was fine with me–if you make me chase you, I'm going to increase your grief by adding charges) and/or to provide a false name or age (the latter usually to avoid an alcohol charge). It didn't bother me to make that latter provision an offense, but I didn't think it belonged with O&R. I would have preferred there be a separate statute for "False information to a peace officer," or something like that.

The question suggests that "resisting arrest" is added to most charge sheets. I don't believe this is the case, and in my experience, most people don't resist arrest. People may not be happy about getting arrested, and may argue with the arresting officer, but that is not the same as physically resisting.

I think most people resist arrest because they think they can get away, or maybe they think if they make themselves too much trouble, the cop will cut them loose. That almost never happens. Along with the ethos of not making too many resisting arrest charges is another that you don't back down once you've decided to arrest someone. You don't make that decision casually, but once you're there, it's a done deal. If you resist, the cop will increase the level of force to overcome the resistance. If he is overwhelmed, he'll call for help, and that is a battle you do not want to take on.

I had a little speech I used when I it looked like the fight was about to be on. It would often be prompted by my soon-to-be-arrestee saying something like, "I can kick your ass." I'd tell them, "You might very well be able to do that. I'm not all that tough. But before you try that, keep in mind you will have to kick the asses of the 27 crazy boys in blue that will be coming over the hill after me. Some of them are pretty tough, and they like to fight a lot more than I do. Even the ones who don't like me will enjoy kicking your ass. So, do you really want to go down that road?"  I didn't have to fight all that many people.

If you believe the police have overstepped their authority, take it up after the fact. By resisting the arrest, you will make the situation much worse for yourself.

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Written by Tim Dees on June 26th, 2014