Saturday, November 24, 2012

Meeting people for the first time on the worst day of their lives.

That's something I often say to people when they ask me why I left the police force.

This week I wrote about that and expanded on it for The Drum in a piece that I submitted, not really sure if it worked or it didn't.

I couldn't even come up with a title. The editors at The Drum called it: Giving up the licence to kill.

I was a bit unprepared for how it spread. The following afternoon I found myself talking with Richard Glover about it on ABC702 Drive. I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to chat on regional radio when The Old School came out, but this was different. When you talk about your book you have that distance, they're characters, it's fiction, but this was personal, it touched on real people and real tragedies and I was terribly nervous.

I walked out knowing I'd been talking for close to twenty minutes but, rather like when you walk out of a job interview you're not entirely sure of what you've been saying.

The piece was a response to the number of incidents involving the police and the use of both deadly force and alternatives to deadly force that have ended badly in recent times. Even today, as I write this, the news is full of discussion about another incident.

There's one thing which I didn't address in The Drum piece which I might add here. When police do use their firearm, people have often asked me why it is they don't just shoot to wound someone. Wing them. Shoot their arm so they can't stab. Or their hand so they drop their gun. Or their leg so they can't escape.

There's a very good reason.

An arm, or a hand, is a few inches wide. In the sort of circumstances where police use their weapons people are generally not standing stock still. Their movements are frantic. The police involved are probably shaking with adrenaline as well. The kind of sharp shooting that involves hitting a small moving target with pinpoint precision in a frantic scenario isn't even seen in Olympic sharp shooting competitions. And cops are not Olympic level shooters and they are not shooting in Olympic controlled conditions.

There's a basic brutal reason police are taught to aim and shoot at the body mass. It's because it's the biggest thing. It's to maximize the likelihood of hitting the target and the target alone, not anybody else because, as I explain in The Drum, if a police officer takes out their firearm, a really specific set of circumstances have to exist. It's not there to scare, to warn, or to wound, but to stop someone.

Today is another day I'm glad the most stressful things I had to do was give a talk at a library, write a blog entry or two, and prepare a lecture for tomorrow. And I have the good fortune to know that if I stuff up any of them no one is going to die.

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