Surprise! Cops Are People Too!

I went to a talk today about firearm injury prevention. The five lecturers were from different backgrounds and spoke about different topics having to do with preventing homicides and suicides — and injuries — from firearms. One researcher talked about how the media narrates the stories out there about shootings. She said that mass shootings get all the attention, but gun violence is an everyday thing that goes underreported. Another researcher — one whom I know from Hopkins — talked about the different laws in different states and their effects on firearm homicides. She said that laws designed to slow down the process of acquiring a weapon (like universal background checks) have the effect of lowering the rate of homicides and suicides from firearms.

The “trouble,” if you want to call it that, came when a researcher talked about deaths of police officers from having their guns taken away and used against them. He said that this happened in about 10% of officer deaths, and it happened more often than not because the perpetrator was trying to flee. This researcher is an occupational health researcher, and his main purpose is to reduce/prevent injuries in the workplace. Since cops are working as law enforcement officers when these incidents happen, his hope was to understand what happened a little bit better and maybe offer some solutions. (Some of which would be engineering solutions, like “smart” guns or harnesses that made it harder for someone to take the weapon.)

During the Q&A, someone asked him how he intended to do research — or how his research would be received — in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, he answered this very diplomatically, but I wish that he would have admonished the question as being a not-so-valid question. I certainly would have. Let me tell you why…

Yes, there is a problem with law enforcement using deadly force against individuals in general, and individuals who are Black or Latino in particular. Certainly, Black men are disproportionately represented when it comes to “legal interventions” that end in deaths. (In fact, there was a heated discussion during the governing council meeting on a position statement regarding “police violence,” but that’s for a whole other discussion later.) However, police-involved homicides are a completely different matter to police officers dying while in the function of their duties.

In fact, attempting to tie the two phenomena together muddles the waters when it comes to the discussion we are trying to have. It’s not a zero-sum game, and — as the researcher mentioned — someone taking a powerful weapon away from a police officer is a public health problem because that weapon is now in the hands of someone who endangers us all. Fixing that problem will surely save lives well beyond those of the police officers who have their guns taken away in a struggle.

This is the problem with how polarized we are in this country. I got the sense that the person who posed the question was almost saying that we shouldn’t worry about cops getting killed when cops are killing… Thing is, it’s not all cops. In arguing about officer-involved deadly shootings, people who are otherwise reasonable fall into the trap of lumping all officers together into the “bad apples.” Surely, we need the honorable and professional cops to stand up and speak against their colleagues who do bad things. But that is a different discussion than whether or not we should look out for their health as well.

After all, when we decided to practice public health, we didn’t really agree on leaving out one segment of the public, or on tending to the needs of one segment of the public over another… Did we?

It’s damn near impossible to have discussions today without framing them in a political viewpoint, and I’m very much guilty of that. I can’t talk about children being separated from their parents without tasting bile in my mouth because I see Baby Ren in every child who is forcefully taken away from their parents. And I can’t take an anti-vaccine candidate for office seriously on any other subject because I am so adamant about promoting the use of vaccines.

I wish we could. I wish we could reach a place where we talked sensibly about issues and be respectful.

Featured photo by Elvert Barnes on / CC BY

3 Comments on “Surprise! Cops Are People Too!”

  1. I’m solidly in BLM’s court, save when the individual(s) present lose all sense of reason and insist that every LEO in the world are evil or simply bad. Then, I simply ask them to kindly stay off of my side, they’re damaging a worthy cause with unreason.

    As for LEO members losing control of their weapon during an interaction or arrest, there are two primary categories to consider. Weapon holstered and weapon unholstered. Retention holsters have largely addressed the problem of an LEO having his weapon taken from his holster, as there are a series of motions one must engage in to remove said weapon or the weapon remains locked inside of the holster and with any duty class holster, the trigger isn’t available until the weapon is drawn.
    So, that leaves weapon unholstered. If the officer is in pursuit, there’s a problem and not a single “smart gun” technology is ready for prime time, otherwise I’d own one. If the technology ever is ready for prime time, we’ll then have another discussion on fail secure or fail insecure, or fail safe or fail lethal. If the technology fails, dead battery, dead control circuit, how does it fail?
    That’s an argument in physical security, essentially each and every day. Do we let the doors fail locked and unopenable? Do we let the doors fail unlocked and anyone can come in?
    From a fire safety standpoint, it’d be a no-brainer, fail open. But, if the area is an arms room or area with classified information, we want to fail secure, but permit escape.
    Welcome to a corner of my world of information security. And a corner of being a military veteran, who also was trained in weapons retention in close quarters.

    As for powerful weapon, most law enforcement officers are still armed with 9mm pistols, which are fairly anemic as far as lethal cartridges go. Which is a good thing, as anything actually powerful could penetrate wooden walls and kill that child sleeping peacefully on the other side and every good cop I’ve known has nightmares of such a thing happening. The round is actually a fair bit weaker than the ancient .38 special round that preceded it, less powder, slightly smaller projectile, shorter or equal barrel. To gain full appreciation, one has to look at energy at specific ranges of the projectile from the appropriate length barrel, then if you’ve ever saw a gun shot wound, you’ll need guts of steel, because we’d then go into penetration, fragmentation, tumbling of intact remainder of projectile, tissue destruction and the theory of hydrostatic shock (I subscribe to it, but not the way some do, it ain’t a magical death ray, it’s a shockwave traveling through tissues, causing cavitation bubble/collapse damages).*

    *I had some modest input on the selection for a SOCOM round, which eventually was adopted as the mk318 mod1 5.56 x 45 mm penetration round. Not armor piercing, but it will defeat a windshield or car door, drywall (see nightmares) and other light barriers and still stop a terrorist with a button connected to an even bigger nightmare.
    Gee, I wonder why I like civilian life so much, now that I’m tagged REF…**

    **REF, you know. Retired, Extremely Flatulent.


    • We had a discussion about smart guns, and, yes, they are no where near where they need to be for widespread adoption.

      There was also discussion about the kinds of holsters/harnesses that would prevent this from happening, and even the kind of training that would need to be adopted… But, again, it got derailed with the BLM question.


      • Hence, “stay off of my side!”. I’m not alone and indeed, the skin color of the entire cloud of people is highly mixed and alarmed over multiple overrepresentation numbers.
        And we know both the demographic in some regions and the arrest and death rates.
        Veterans are also overrepresented. We’re a solid minority of the minority of minorities.


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