Saturday, August 22, 2009

Armed and Dangerous Behind the Badge - When "Protect and Serve" turns deadly.

We live in a dangerous world - gangs, drug cartels, random gun toting lunatics roam the streets. We depend on law enforcement to protect us from harm.

But what do you do when the harm comes from the cops themselves? In cities all across America, police are killing civilians in the "line of duty". Sure, usually the victims are criminals, dead set on hurting citizens and cops. But too often, they are not. They are innocent passers by, or cases of unfortunate mistaken identity, or merely troubled young people who need therapy rather than hot lead. Even when cops follow all the proper (current) procedures, sometimes things go terribly wrong.

Take the case of Libertyville mother, Marilyn Foutes. Her son, 23, had recently come to live with her after having some trouble with local Arizona gangs. He was turning his life around, staying away from drugs, holding down a job and planning for college. But he also struggled with depression, and this past Saturday came home drunk and angry after receiving a DUI and being brought home by neighboring Vernon Hills police. He lost control, and punched the wall. His mother called Libertyville police, fearing that her son may be having a psychotic episode (his father also struggled with mental issues). Police arrived and entered the home, found Spencer Foutes lying on his bed holding a handgun. It is unclear what happened at that point, reports from the officers and the mother differ. But Spencer was shot and killed by police after police claim he pointed his gun at them. (link to full article below)

Now, I don't blame police for needing to protect themselves. Nor do I give a pass to cops who get trigger happy and kill without justification, and the newspaper archives are full of stories of cops shooting innocent people. And I question the wisdom of high speed car chases through city streets that too often take innocent lives. Police must protect themselves, but we must also ensure the safety of citizens (including suspects).

In cases like Spencer's, the shooting was legally justified (although why police took mother Marilyn to headquarters and held her there for several hours without informing her of her son's death is unknown. ) But was his shooting NECESSARY? Would officers have shot and killed this young man if they had a NON lethal option to subdue him?

In the last decade, non-lethal law enforcement technology has become a routine sight, but has yet to be fully embraced by police departments. Tazers are common place, used by patrol officers, and are often the weapon of choice in courtroom or crowded situations. However, rubber bullets, pepper spray bullets, even tranquilizer technologies are being developed, but have yet to be integrated into widespread police procedure. EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse ) devices that can be deployed like spike strips and fry the electrical system of the fleeing vehicle, shutting down the engine, have yet to replace the considerably less effective traditional tire mangling spike strips that often leave a car still riding on it's rims.

Some of these methods have met resistance from citizens (and police). Stories about Tazer related deaths are often cited, and tranquilizer guns have been wholly shunned because of "the potential dangerous reaction to the drug" a few folks may experience. "What if the cops tranquilize someone who is allergic and they die?" is a common argument.

But these arguments seem weaker when we see the loss of a life like Spencer's. While some folks may react badly to Tazers or tranquilizers, EVERYBODY has a bad reaction to bullets. Had the police officers been armed with and deployed some of these methods, Marilyn's 23 year old only son might be sleeping off a hangover awaiting bail instead of taking his eternal rest and awaiting burial.

Understandably, police officers have resisted replacing their firearms with a "zapper". I think too often well meaning bleeding hearts have put non-lethal weapons as a "either/or" situation. I feel that police officers should keep their firearms, but should also be supplied with and trained to use non-lethal options as a matter of first protocol. In many departments across the country, these methods are starting to infiltrate police work, and where they are deployed, officers are glad to have this option. Cops don't like shooting people, contrary to the plot of The Shield. Reality video shows like Most Wanted show clips of suspects being disarmed safely. A man threatening to shoot himself brought down with Tazers and quick cop work, an angry drunk wielding a machete subdued with a Mace grenade, a distraught gang banger bent on "suicide by cop" instead lives to serve his time when his baiting police gets him a belly full of rubber. Situations that could have turned out deadly, but were instead resolved without injury because police effectively used non-lethal methods. We will never end police related deaths, or shootings, cops have to defend themselves against some well armed criminals. But how many more lives can be saved, how many innocent victims will be spared, how many criminals will live to serve their time if every police officer in the country has the non-lethal option?

Unfortunately, Marilyn Foutes and her son weren't so lucky. While Libertyville police may not have done anything wrong, in this case and in countless others across the country, non-lethal police weapons could have prevented a death and helped police to more effectively and safely "Protect and Serve."

Here's the link.,0,434852.story

And here's an image to remind us of the human cost. (This photo breaks my heart)


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