As a reminder, the police were looking for a 270 lb black guy in a black nissan pickup.
In incident #1, they shot up two hispanic ladies delivering newspapers in a blue Toyota tacoma. Both women were hit, and bullets were literally sprayed around the neighborhood. It looks like the police issued no verbal warnings, did not attempt to disable the vehicle, and fired as the vehicle was driving away from them (and thus posed no imminent threat).
In incident #2, they shot up a scrawny white guy going surfing in a Honda Ridgeline. He stopped and complied with a police checkpoint, then was rammed by an officer as he drove away after being cleared. After being rammed by a police car, the airbags deployed. When the airbags deployed, the police officer that rammed him (causing said airbags to deploy) could no longer see him, so the cop opened fire. Luckily he was not hit.
There are a few important points here.
None of the officers involved are in lockup. They are all on paid administrative leave. I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that they will hang out on leave for awhile, get "retrained," and retain their jobs. They will not be fired and they certainly will not be charged or spend a day in jail. Their actions will be reviewed in a closed process by fellow officers in an internal review and they will be good to go. Any lawsuits will be paid by the taxpayers and will have zero personal impact on the officers involved or even their department's budgets.
One line in the declaration of Independence decried a system of justice put in place by Parliament where offenders could be tried in Britain to get a "fair" trial (i.e. one where the jury was made of good British subjects, not colonials) for crimes committed in the colonies:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
Policing your own ranks is the sign of a healthy profession. Refusing to hold the incompetent, the unwise, or the ethically challenged responsible indicates an institutional failure of accountability.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Currently the Rules of Engagement for many military forces in Afghanistan are stricter than those demonstrated in California. In COIN ops typical ROE are "Shout (verbal or written warning), Show (your weapon), Shove (use physical contact or a pen flare as a warning), Shoot (employ deadly force)." Every effort is made to eliminate civilian casualties. Troops are expected to establish positive ID of an enemy and be able to articulate the hostile act/intent that was observed or imminent to justify use of force. This results in US casualties but fewer civilian deaths.
In California, apparently the police can jump directly to deadly force. They did not put out signs warning that a checkpoint was ahead, they did not have a serpentine barricade (even an improvised one made of squad cars) or pen flares to allow the use of non-lethal force, they had no barricades like spike strips, and they did feel comfortable doing a mag dump in a crowded residential area as their first go-to option. Bear in mind that the LEOs were at a defensive checkpoint with all the time in the world to establish appropriate traffic control measures to allow an appropriate, measured response.
Dave Grossman writes about the ideal of the police officer:
Have you ever wondered why police officers wear a shield on their left side? This is a direct, intentional, overt reference to the knights of old. There really were knights. They woke up every day and donned armor. They hung a weapon on their hip and a shield on their left side. And they went forth and did good deeds and administered justice in the land.
Gunpowder defeated armor, and the knights went away.
Today, for the first time in centuries, in both the military and law enforcement communities, we have warriors who don armor every day, take up their shields, strap on their weapons, and go forth to do good deeds.
If that is not a knight, if that is not a paladin, a new order of chivalry, then you tell me what is.
The knights of old are somewhat mythical, but these new knights are real and are embodying the spirit of the ancient model of the knight paladin, the champion of the weak and the oppressed, dedicated to righteousness and justice.
Here's the deal with being a hero: Being a hero means that you accept personal risk -- including that of death -- to protect the weak and innocent. A police officer who delays shooting to make certain of his target, accepting some personal risk in doing so, is acting heroically.
If you suit up in armor, grab an assault rifle, and stand a post with a primary interest of earning a fat paycheck and no intention of accepting any unnecessary risk, there's a word for that career choice too: mercenary. It comes from the Latin word meaning, "for wages" or "for pay." That is ok, and not all cops are mercenary in their attitudes, but let's be honest about what is going on in such cases (see "accountability" above).
Fact check time: In the decade from 2002 to 2011, 1561 officers died . If you remove car wrecks, motorcycle crashes, illnesses, and aircraft accidents to focus on violent death (and the uncommon accidents like "train accidents") you get around 800 deaths, or 80 per year. Out of 900,000 sworn officers, that means the violent death rate is less than 9 per 100,000 each year, and declining.
Professions with higher death rates include taxi drivers (19.7/100K), electric line repair workers (20.3/100K), garbage men (41.2/100K), and fishermen (121.2/100K). Yes, LEO work is more dangerous than many jobs, but it is not anywhere near as likely to kill you, as, say, farming, logging, trucking, or construction. Modern equipment including body armor and trauma care along with generally falling crime rates and better training have greatly reduced the risks of the LE profession. So I am a little suspicious when "officer safety" trumps all other considerations.
I want police officers to come home at night to their families. They should not accept unnecessary risks. When military soldiers overseas operate under tighter ROEs with more discipline than our paramilitary police forces at home do, then there is a problem. When a paramilitary institution refuses or is unable to hold its own responsible for their actions and maintains standards vastly differing from those imposed on the rest of the community, then accountability needs to be imposed from outside the organization. When "officer safety" trumps all else, including the safety of the community and the protection of innocent life, law enforcement professionals are acting more like mercenaries than paladins.
I don't mean to belittle the difficult life and death decisions that LEOs must rapidly make. It is precisely because those decisions are so important that cultivating a culture of accountability, sound TTPs, and self-sacrifice is so important. It is not easy to make tough calls under pressure, but that comes with the job.
I hope that the actions of police in California serve as a learning point for other agencies and a wake up call for the public, helping to move us back to Principles of Good Policing. Ultimately, accountability, sound procedures, and heroism are good for the police and for society.