Davis is correct in some respects, misses mark in others
By Ken K. Gourdin
This responds to BYU political science professor Richard Davis’s April 15 commentary. [See the following address, last accessed April 26, 2015: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626463/Any-good-cops-patrolling-the-streets-Recent-new-stories-make-us-wonder-2-and-thats-not-good-for.html?pg=all]. Davis leaves implicit some things he could have made explicit, and while he is correct in some respects, he is not in others.
A robust dialogue should occur about police-public interaction. Anyone with a reasonable proposal for reforming how officers’ actions are investigated, disciplined, and, if necessary, prosecuted, as well as for improving training, is welcome at the table.
Davis is correct in saying that much of the public perceives no difference between the Ferguson, Mo. police shooting of Michael Brown and the others he mentioned. However, a fair-minded examination and comparison need not be exhaustive for the differences readily to become clear.
For example, the reason why two exhaustive investigations of the Brown shooting both exonerated former Ferguson, Mo. officer Darren Wilson, while former North Charleston, S.C. officer Michael Slager quickly was dismissed and charged with murder is because those respective results likely were warranted in each case.
The Ferguson shooting was necessitated by the fact that Michael Brown struggled with Wilson for his weapon, and the “hands up don’t shoot” narrative favored by many was unsupported by eyewitness accounts and physical evidence. Conversely, Slager’s shooting of the fleeing, unarmed Walter Scott was unjustified, as Scott posed no deadly or serious threat.
Obey officers’ commands and don’t attempt to flee or to resist, and overwhelmingly, you will emerge from the encounter unscathed, able to dispute officers’ actions elsewhere, and free to complain all you like about unfair treatment.
The high incidence of stress-related physical and psychological diagnoses among officers militates against the proposition that they simply are trigger-happy. Most all officers don’t want to shoot anyone: they simply want to keep others safe and to go home safe at the end of their shift.
Intense media focus on rare exceptions skews public perception. However, the reason why most instances of use of deadly force by officers are deemed justified is because overwhelmingly, officers know the law and follow it.
Whether U.S. special forces should have captured Osama bin Laden rather than killing him will be debated forever, it seems. However, Davis ignores complications that likely would have arisen had we chosen to try bin Laden in a court of law.
One is physical security. While a major metropolitan force like the NYPD surely is better equipped to handle the security surrounding such a trial than are many others, that doesn’t change the fact that every resource dedicated to security for such a trial leaves one less resource for the agency’s primary mission.
Another is national security. While it’s easy to say that security always should yield to openness in a representative, participatory democracy with open courts, the results of even that seemingly-noble choice likely would not all be desirable.
One solution proposed by University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora is the establishment of a national security court, whose operation would be similar to that of the court established to hear cases under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Such attempts to strike a balance between security and openness are worth exploring.
Ken K. Gourdin, Tooele, is a certified paralegal, and has studied and written about law enforcement issues extensively.