The Nuclear Option: When Officer Safety Is Job No. 1, Citizens Die
Defending yet another police shooting of an American citizen, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson last week casually made a stunning admission — one that fell largely on deaf ears among the twisted media, race pimps and merchants of racial discord gathered in Ferguson.
"I think officer safety is the number one issue," Chief Dotson explained to reporters after two of his officers reportedly fired nine rounds into an accused shoplifter who was apparently armed with a knife.
Such a statement may sound perfectly reasonable in the upside down world where allegiance to your labor union trumps allegiance to the public or allegiance to your employer.
But step back and consider: Is a police officer's number one job really to protect himself and his partner? Really?
If that is the case, then cops should never pull over a car for speeding at night and then walk up to the darkened vehicle to ask for license and registration. They should simply use hood-mounted rocket launchers to blow to smithereens any vehicle suspected of speeding. That would ensure the safety of the officer in what could be an exceedingly dangerous interaction. Incidentally, it would also enforce the speed limit.
And in the case of shoplifter Kajieme Powell, Chief Dotson's officers never should have stopped at the scene, thereby exposing themselves to the danger of the knife-wielding shoplifter. No, they should have simply rolled down their windows and pumped nine rounds into the guy as they drove by and then headed back to the station to get coffee and fill out a report. Would have been a whole lot safer for the officers.
Of course, this is absurd.
But it gives you some glimpse into the mindset of police around the country today as they arm up with military gear. It was reported just last week that Miami has acquired 250 assault rifles, two military helicopters, four mine-resistant armored vehicles and five grenade launchers. Grenade launchers?
A retired cop defended similar acquisitions in Colorado: "You want that intimidation factor."
The No. 1 job of a police department is not "officer safety," as Chief Dotson claims. If that were the case, then just eliminate all police officers from the dangerous and complex job of policing and let us protect ourselves.
No, the No. 1 job of a police officer is public safety, which includes civilians, police officers and, yes, even suspects.
While the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson has garnered all the media attention, the Powell shooting a few miles away is in some ways more shocking.
According to Chief Dotson, police arrived on the shoplifting scene, encountered Powell and drew their weapons only after the suspect revealed a knife. Powell was clearly agitated. But officers shot and killed him only after he raised his arms and lunged at them with the knife in an "overhand grip," according to Chief Dotson.
One problem with the police chief's story. Unlike the case of Michael Brown with all the various tainted testimony from angry compromised witnesses, this shooting was caught entirely on tape.
The video is rolling even before police arrive on the scene. Powell has reportedly stolen two energy drinks and some pastries. The shop-owner — apparently not exactly fearing for his life — had even confronted Powell on the sidewalk and demanded he pay for the items before calling police.
Powell is clearly agitated and witnesses can be heard joking about the man's foolish antics. It later emerges that Powell was known in the neighborhood to be "mentally challenged."
When police arrive on the scene, according to the video, officers step out of their SUV, immediately draw their weapons and train them on Powell. Powell paces back and forth. He is still ranting and steps up onto a slightly elevated blacktop across the sidewalk from where the cops are standing, guns drawn. According to police, Powell has a knife in his hand, though it is not entirely clear from the video.
What is clear is that Powell's arms are at his sides and still a good six-to-ten feet away when the officers open fire. His body collapses onto the sidewalk.
This, according to Chief Dotson, is totally cool, because Powell was within "lethal range for a knife."
"I think it is certainly reasonable that an officer has an expectation to go home at the end of the night," he explained.
Yes. And so does a citizen. Even if he or she is a crazy thief with a knife.
It all just seems a little heavy-handed. At the very least, maybe police departments might revisit their knife-disarming policies. At least before we start handing them grenade launchers and mine-resistant armored cars.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @charleshurt.