A white police officer who shot and killed an African American woman in her home in Fort Worth, Texas, in the presence of her eight-year-old nephew has been charged with murder after resigning from the force.
The Fort Worth Police Department said its officers had been responding to a call from a neighbour, who reported to a non-emergency line that Atatiana Jefferson’s front door had been left open. The responding officer fired a shot through a window, killing the 28-year-old woman.
American cops shot and killed 998 people last year, 11 more than the 987 they fatally shot in 2017. In 2016, police killed 963 people, and 995 in 2015.
Those statistics – a steady 1000 or so a year – were examined in a report in Britain’s The Independent:
Years of controversial police shootings, protests, heightened public awareness, local police reforms and increased officer training have had little effect on the annual total. Everyone agrees – criminal justice researchers, academics and statisticians – that all of the attention has not been enough to move the number.
Mathematicians, however, say that probability theory may offer one explanation. The theory holds that the quantity of rare events in huge populations tends to remain stable absent major societal changes, such as a fundamental shift in police culture or extreme restrictions on gun ownership, which are unlikely.
Has there been a fundamental shift in the police culture in this country, where public support for armed police has surged to 61 per cent following the Christchurch mosque atrocity.
New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill told the association’s annual conference public support for general arming had jumped from 55 per cent, the highest level across the six surveys dating back to 2008.
Association figures reveal support within the police for general arming has remained at 66 per cent. The percentage is higher among road policing.
More than half of police were satisfied with the current access to firearms, up from 44 per cent in 2017 to 53 per cent this year.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said general arming would send the wrong message.
He said he was personally uncomfortable with general arming but it wasn’t his call – it was a decision the Police Commissioner had to make.
“My job is to give police the resources they need to their job.”
National’s police spokesman Brett Hudson agrees it shouldn’t be the Government’s job to decide if the police should be armed. He said he agreed with leaving the decision to the Police Commissioner.
So what did the commissioner have to say?
He told Stuff he must always consider police’s operational environment, and whether the deployment model and capability were fit for purpose to ensure the safety of our people.
“As part of this, I have of course considered whether routine arming would be appropriate, and I can confirm that NZ Police has no plans to become a routinely armed police service. The decision to routinely arm is an operational one.”
But hey – just a few days later he was saying new rapid reaction armed police teams will form in three districts after a review of firearms emergencies.
The six-month pilot, starting on October 28, is a response to what Bush called a changed “operating environment” since the mosque shootings, which prompted the review of policy.
Does this mean the terrorism threat been heightened?
On Friday, Police Commissioner Mike Bush cited “growth in organised crime” and the impact of methamphetamine-fuelled offending as factors justifying the new teams.
The country’s police union said the armed response teams (ARTs) showed top brass were finally “jolted” into action after frontline officers warned for years of increasingly aggressive armed criminals.
The armed response teams will start in Auckland’s Counties Manukau, Waikato and Canterbury, using Holden Acadia SUVs.
Unlike existing armed offenders squads (AOSs), staff in the new units will be deployed full-time.
Bush was armed with some statistics to justify the decision.
Addressing media at Counties Manukau Police Station, Bush said since the terror attack, police had responded to 1350 reported firearm offences and been shot at eight times.
No comparative data were provided to show if this represents a real increase in firearms incidents.
But plenty of data peppered an article on arming the police in The Spinoff earlier this year, when frontline police in Christchurch were told to carry guns until further notice following two incidents in the city during which police were shot at.
But more guns are not the answer, Emilie Rākete argued. She wrote:
Last Saturday, the police say a man fired shots at a patrol car in Christchurch. Then on Tuesday, after a shootout, he was arrested and hospitalised in critical condition. The police say they’re still looking for another person, who they claim is connected to these two incidents. As a result of this, the police have told media that every single frontline police officer in Christchurch is authorised to carry firearms until further notice.
Before we address the specifics of this situation, we should look at the general context. Injuries reported by police on the job are in decline as of last year. With 467 injuries reported in 2017, and a frontline staff muster of around 8000, being a frontline police officer was around three times less dangerous than working in agriculture, forestry, or manufacturing, and only slightly more dangerous than being an admin worker. Police report being injured at work at almost half the national average across all industries. Rates of assault against police have been declining for years too, since their peak in 2009. Deaths at work are tragic, but this year will fortunately be the tenth anniversary of the last time a police officer in New Zealand was the victim of homicide.
These facts may be uncomfortable to acknowledge, but if we’re discussing matters of public safety, the conversation has to be founded on evidence. None of the available evidence suggests there’s a worsening crisis of violence against police that only more guns can solve. Instead, New Zealand is in the midst of a crisis of violence perpetrated by the police. The police have shot and killed more people in the last 20 years than in the 80 years before that. Māori are almost eight times more likely than Pākehā to be subjected to police violence. One in ten people who have force used on them by police are suicidal or in mental distress.
This article mentioned the incident last year when Auckland man Jerrim Toms was shot four times by police during what his family say was a mental health crisis. Despite claims by police that firearms are a ‘last resort’, Toms’ family has been left asking why officers did not even attempt to use less-lethal options such as tasers.
Tasers? But why use them if you happen to be armed with a gun?