Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When and why to shoot?

The shooting of Mark Duggan is an interesting story. Without full details all that we can do is speculate about the situation that occurred and why it happened the way it did, and try to understand how likely potential reasons or outcomes are.

All we know, from the now official IPCC report (it's always nice to get the full facts rather than cry hysterical murder about a leak), is that it seems Mr Duggan did not fire his gun, a gun that he had illegally and was armed in the minicab he was travelling in. Police did fire, and it would appear that one of their bullets ricocheted and embedded itself in a police radio being worn by one officer.

Mr Duggan was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the arm, from a single officer.

So why was he shot? The first, and improbable answer, is that there was a concerted effort to murder this man. A set of reasons were made for his arrest, and protocol was thrown to the wind as one officer simply killed him, at great personal risk to his career and possibility of serious jail time if ever found out.

I dismiss this as an option, those that believe this option simply do not think about the training necessary to become an armed response officer. According to the latest information about the Met's practices, only an officer with three years service, who carries out a two week training course (and passes) then a further three week training course (and passes that) could be put in the position of the officer that shot Mr Duggan.

It is not an easy process, the testing is focused on situational testing in a simulated environment, and experienced senior armed officers assess individually rather than it being a "Grade C to pass" kind of deal. I reject out of hand that any officer on the CO19 team is there because they want the power of wielding a gun, or to abuse that position.

So that leaves only the second option...this was a legitimate arrest opportunity, with no pre-judgement of outcome by the officers involved.

However from here until the shooting we have nothing to go on. It is almost certainly the case that the minicab was stopped and the driver and passenger ordered to get out of the car, with clear indication that they were armed police. There is no suggestion that the driver was in the vehicle since he was shaken by what he saw.

So here we are with another set of options. The police could have opened fire on the vehicle with the driver still inside. This is unlikely, putting someone in danger such as the driver without knowing they were a threat, or without their life being threatened, is a big no-no.

The driver could have got out of the cab, and then the police opened fire. This option is dependent on visibility in to the vehicle and ability for an officer to clearly determine a threat to another individual or themselves. This is possible.

Mr Duggan could have got out of the cab, and he was shot after this point. However the action of Mr Duggan getting out of the cab would be one of surrender, and without a foolish action would not be fired upon. It also doesn't explain how an officers bullet came to ricochet into a police radio.

Perhaps most likely, the police could have felt compelled to approach the cab to arrest Mr Duggan. To have to do this, to get in to to close quarters it would be a surprise if Mr Duggan was acting willingly and following the orders of the police. In order to have shot him inside the minicab the police will have had to approach the vehicle which is in itself not a typically safe act unless visibility into the minicab was good.

So the real question, regardless of above, is this: what did Mark Duggan do to convince an officer of CO19 to shoot him?

The officers' training is all about determining the point at which the arrest is no longer safe and that taking the person's life is the only option to protect the liberties of those around that person.

It's extremely likely that Mr Duggan made some kind of move, a threatening motion, going for the gun he had with him, or appearing to go for a weapon. Without this imminent threat a shot (or two, as it were...though this may just be the nature of firing a weapon like an MP5) would not have been fired.

To this end it doesn't matter if Mr Duggan fired his loaded gun or not, as we don't wait for a life to potentially be taken by a criminal before we then stop them. I don't usually agree with the mantra "You have nothing to worry about if you have nothing to hide", but when the police are pointing weapons at you it has never rung any truer. You have nothing to worry about, if you just follow their instructions.

It's also not relevant whether or not Mr Duggan's gun was a replica, or if it was even his gun. If his actions were such that it appeared he was about to put the life of an officer or member of the public at risk, then the training of the officers would kick in.

For the conspiracy theorists, the cover-up angle is one they will pursue 'til the bitter end. Even if they accept that the operation was legitimate, they will claim a mistake was made and those present are conspiring to cover it up. They state the situation of the officers claiming that they were fired upon, which is now clear not to be true.

The question really can only be answered when the circumstances of where the officers were when shooting become clear, but let's just put this as one potential scenario. The officers approach the cab, and a definite motion is made to point a gun at a police officer. One shoots, and a ricochet from the inside of the cab hits a police radio...the force is enough to at the very least make the officer feel like they've been punched in the chest. Without being sure, and with more immediate concern for whether the officer has been injured by gunfire, their interpretation is that this was an exchange of fire.

It could just be closing ranks...but that is risky, it threatens to undermine an investigation in to you, and leave you open to potential arrest. What do the police officers have to gain by doing this?

Finally there is the question of how to shoot, too. His fiancee asks why he wasn't shot in the hand, if he was carrying a gun. It's a tragic situation that has happened to this woman, and it's understandable that she'd wonder why more wasn't done to keep her husband-to-be alive.

But the police don't take chances. By only shooting when they believe there is imminent danger, they are making a choice that essentially chooses the life of one or more persons over that of another. A shot to disarm is a shot that is harder to hit. By aiming for the chest you are almost certainly going to kill a person, you're also very unlikely to miss.

There is the chance you may just do serious injury, and I'm sure any police officer that is put in that situation prays that this is the time they get lucky and all they do is incapacitate rather than kill, but in order to provide safety the person posing a threat must be taken down. Aiming for a hand, or an arm...it's very Hollywood, but it also puts people in danger.

And so now the police officer involved, perhaps all involved, will likely be on suspension. This is not an indictment of their actions but standard practice to ensure that they are not on duty while their actions are investigated. Where there are questions over the legality of the shooting the IPCC has not had qualms in the past to suggest the arrest of officers that shoot under less than absolute circumstances for murder or manslaughter, and they stand trial.

Mark Duggan was killed, and the chances of it being as a result of anything other than his own actions are slim. I eagerly await the results of the investigation so that the truth can be shone on this subject...but hopefully here some realities can help put context to the quite audacious claims being made about the actions of the police last week.