I was interviewed today by Kevin Mercer, a journalism student at UNC-CH (who will get to the Sweet Sixteen, but no further), about citizen design of policing, and my specific response to this linked story.
My recorded answers came down to the following:
1) I don’t have enough information at the moment to be able to determine if there is genuinely a need for these rifles, at all, or in patrol cars. In any event, and more importantly, I would prefer, under citizen design, that these sorts of decisions were being taken by citizens, after briefing by the police chief, rather than by the police chief himself. Notwithstanding the fact that my experience with Chris Blue is that he is a thoughtful and deliberate police officer.
2) I am nervous at the thought of any front-line police officer bearing any weapon more dangerous than a taser. I would prefer that front-line police officers be disarmed (as they are in the UK), and that their primary responsibility be assessment and containment. I would prefer that suppression, if determined to be necessary by a supervising police commander on the scene, and following rules of engagement previously agreed between citizens and police, I would prefer that suppression be undertaken by a specialized Crisis Intervention Team. Not least so that there is pause and reflection between confrontation and the drawing of a weapon. The latter to be overruled in the event that the person being confronted is already firing, in which event, the CIT be given instruction to suppress immediately.
3) I would be just as nervous (no more, no less) by the sight of an ordinary citizen bearing arms and/or firing the arms. I do not see a problem, in that eventuality, with having front-line police officers disarmed. If a disarmed police officer saw such a citizen, and they were not firing, he or she would engage in containment and talking-down at a safe distance. If firing began, the officer would call for the CIT. If I saw the citizen myself, and this has happened to me (shooting in my apartment parking lot), I would normally call the police, and then hide, sensibly. The one time this did happen to me, I was not sensible. I called the police on my mobile, and then followed the gunman at a distance, so that I was then able to direct the police to him. I’m no hero. I just wanted to be there to warn other people away from him. This is not pie-in-the-sky-duh-utopia. It is what they practice in the UK, where, yes, folks have guns. Illegally.
Answer No.2 was given to Kevin after we’d been all round the houses with my general philosophies. Kevin didn’t want philosophy. He wanted hard quotes for a hard story. I wasn’t being difficult. My positions are sometimes nuanced. He persevered. And eventually came up with the game-changer. How do you feel? How do you feel about police with guns? Excellent question. Told Kevin so. No way out for Geoff. I had to answer. Kevin will make an excellent journalist. He understands the first rule of interviewing. It is his interview, not the interviewee’s. Never let the interviewee set the terms of the interview. I wouldn’t answer his questions. He kept asking until he found one I had to answer. Well done, Kevin.
As to the story itself, I have problems with the approach taken by Chris. And again, I respect Chris Blue. I know what my difficulties are. But I address these next remarks to those I argue with regularly. On the face of it, Chris’s approach is considered and sensitive. He drew up a policy. He has published it. He has communicated it to the elected officials of his funding agency. And he has promised to raise the policy with the Community Policing Advisory Committee. Does such an approach make you feel comfortable? If not, why not?