Thursday, September 21, 2006

Dying for No Good Reason

In the early hours of last Saturday morning, a distraught mother dialed 9-1-1 seeking help to control her 18-year old son, who was drunk, disorderly and threatening to harm himself. Two Washington County deputies and a Tigard city cop were dispatched to the scene of the disturbance. Minutes later, Lukus Glenn died in a hail of bullets.

This sad affair calls to mind another incident, not so long ago, in which another young man died needlessly in a withering fusillade of police gunfire. Fouad Kaady, naked and in shock from serious injuries and burns suffered in a car accident, was gunned down by Gresham police when he became combative and failed to respond to police commands. He possessed no weapons of any kind.

Police justify the use of deadly force whenever they fear that out-of-control persons pose a threat to themselves, to the police, or to others. Officers are trained to respond to a particular level of force with the next highest level of force. I guess—if one subscribes to this line of reasoning—that it’s okay for police to respond to someone who’s intent on fisticuffs with a knife in the belly, or to repel a rock thrower with an RPG. Certainly, someone wielding a hand grenade should be countered with a hydrogen bomb.

But, c’mon! How much of threat can a naked, unarmed crazy guy be? Or a drunken crazy kid armed with a three-inch bong knife? Or, for that matter, a drunken weirdo pissing in the street?

Police spokespersons claimed that the officers involved in these incidents acted according to the book. At the risk of sounding like a Monday morning quarterback, maybe it’s time to review police training procedures, tactical weapons, and threat assessment/threat response protocols.

We know that Tasers are, too often, ineffective against people who are pumped on adrenaline or high on meth. We know that beanbag rounds are, too often, ineffective for the same reasons. News media accounts provide ample evidence of this. Is there anything of less than lethal force that can subdue someone who seems possessed of superhuman strength? Do police have tactical means available to them that will allow them to gain control of an out-of-control miscreant without risking serious injury or death to themselves or the miscreant?

In fact, at least two means do exist. Both are primitive, both are effective, and each is relatively inexpensive. Neither is likely to cause fatal injuries. I’m referring, of course, to nets, long used by game hunters who want to capture their prey alive, and to pugil sticks, long used by the Marine Corps as training devices in bayonet training, where the use of real bayonets might prove lethal to fellow marines. Any cop who, after a couple of weeks of training, can’t disarm and/or take down a knife-wielding suspect with a pugil stick doesn’t deserve to wear a badge.

Unfortunately, police continue to overlook or ignore the potential of these great, non-lethal countermeasures. Until cops are willing to explore safer alternatives to guns, senseless deaths will continue.