Monday, July 20, 2015

Sunday Globe Special: British Bobbies Better Than AmeriKan Cops

"What America’s police can learn from Britain’s bobbies" by Griff Witte Washington Post  June 12, 2015

LONDON — To join the few and the proud who police Britain’s streets with a gun, first you have to walk the beat unarmed for years.

Then there’s the rigorous selection process — an unforgiving complement of fitness tests, psychological appraisals and marksmanship exams. Finally there’s the training, which involves endless drilling on even the most routine scenarios.

‘‘They rehearse those situations like a SEAL team trying to get into Osama bin Laden’s compound,’’ said Cambridge University criminologist Lawrence Sherman.

(Blog editors chin slumps to chest. The bin Laden raid was all bs. It's endlessly staged and scripted drills gone "real" that we are getting these days)

Yet in a country where the vast majority of police officers patrol with batons and pepper spray, the elite cadre of British cops who are entrusted with guns almost never use them. Police in Britain have fatally shot two people in the past three years.

That’s less than the average number of people shot and killed by police every day in the United States over the first five months of 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Yes, I know.

As the United States reckons with that toll — and with the constant drip of videos showing the questionable use of force by officers — lightly armed Britain might seem an unorthodox place to look for solutions. But experts say the way British bobbies are trained, commanded and vigorously scrutinized may offer American police forces a useful blueprint for bringing down the rate of deadly violence and defusing some of the burning tension felt in cities from coast to coast.

What's wrong with the training they are getting?

Of course, British and American police are patrolling two very different societies. The United States has some of the world’s loosest gun laws and some of the highest rates of gun ownership. Britain is a mirror image, with handguns and assault rifles effectively banned.

That inherently changes the way police officers do their jobs.

Phil Palmer was a British police officer for 15 years and was stabbed twice in the line of duty. ‘‘But in all my time, I never expected to have to deal with anyone with a firearm,’’ he said.

During a year in the United States teaching and patrolling with New York City cops, he quickly realized that they had a very different expectation.

‘‘They were very professional. But every time they got out of their car to talk to someone, their hand would hover over the gun,’’ said Palmer, who is now co-director of the Institute of Criminal Justice Research at Britain’s University of Southampton. ‘‘Police in America are more aggressive, and I think that’s because they have to be.’’

But there are also enough similarities that the British model carries special relevance. Like the United States, Britain is large, urbanized, democratic and diverse. Police have to reckon with gang violence, organized crime and Islamist extremists, all amid persistent allegations that they unfairly target minority communities.

That puts Britain in a different class than the handful of other nations that largely forgo firearms when policing, including New Zealand, Iceland, Ireland and Norway.

Few here would argue that the United States adopt Britain’s nearly firearms-free approach. But as increasingly horrified British officers and commanders have watched videos of American cops firing on civilians, they say they hope that some of their strategies and practices can be translated across the Atlantic.

Peter Fahy, chief of the Greater Manchester Police, commands 6,700 officers — just 209 of whom are armed. Those authorized to carry guns, he said, face extremely tight protocols governing when they can be deployed and under what circumstances they can fire. Shooting at moving vehicles, people brandishing knives and suspects fleeing a scene are all strictly forbidden except under extreme circumstances.

‘‘It’s very controlled,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a huge emphasis on human rights, a huge emphasis on proportionality, a huge emphasis on considering every other option.’’

All officers, he said, are taught to back away from any situation that might otherwise escalate and not feel that they have to ‘‘win’’ every confrontation.

That's where my print ended, but the Globe's web version continues the patrol:

‘‘I constantly remind our officers that their best weapon is their mouth,’’ he said. ‘‘Your first consideration is, ‘Can you talk this through? Can you buy yourself time?’ ‘‘

That mantra helps explain why, across England and Wales over the past decade, there’s been an average of only five incidents a year in which police have opened fire.

So, too, does the stringent screening process. Officers must serve for years before they can apply to carry a gun, and the selection of those deemed worthy is intensely competitive.

When Mark Williams applied to be a firearms officer in 1995, he was among a group of 16 cops who started the grueling regimen of physical and psychological trials. Only three made it.

Williams was among them, but that wasn’t the end of the testing. He and his fellow firearms officers faced regular drills challenging them to find creative ways out of confrontations, and spent long nights at the shooting range to upgrade their marksmanship.

‘‘If you fired the kind of rounds we did, you’d be bankrupt,’’ said Williams, who is now chief executive of the Police Firearms Officers Association. ‘‘We can put a lot of effort into the ones who are armed because there aren’t that many.’’

Some aspects of British policing are more easily transferrable. Sherman, the Cambridge criminologist, recently told a White House task force that the United States should create a national college of policing, that states should set up police inspectors general to provide oversight and that local police forces should merge to achieve a minimum standard of 100 officers per department. All are steps, he said, that have worked in Britain. 

That's the overall effort: federalize and centralize everything.

Of course, police shootings here can still arouse intense debate. One of the most prominent came in 2005, when a Brazilian electrician, Jean Charles de Menezes, was mistakenly identified as a would-be suicide bomber and shot nine times in the head by elite officers while riding the London Tube.

Yeah, they chased him into the subway and executed the guy.

Prosecutors chose not to charge anyone with his killing, a decision his family is challenging this week at the European Court of Human Rights. 

Things aren't all that different after all, are they?

In 2011, police shot dead a 29-year-old black man, Mark Duggan, prompting several nights of riots across London. An inquest later ruled the killing had been lawful because police had ample reason to believe that Duggan was armed. But rights groups say the killing, and others like it, raise questions about police practices that echo concerns in the United States.

‘‘They may well be fewer here, but they raise similar issues,’’ said Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest, an advocacy group.

Still, there’s little doubt that Britain has a more uniform and transparent process for reviewing such cases. Every police killing here is subject to an independent inquiry, and even non-fatal shootings are meticulously tracked and evaluated.

Denis O’Connor, a former police chief who later served as a royally appointed, independent overseer of British police work, said cops here take seriously the idea of ‘‘policing by consent.’’ They see themselves as working for the public, he said, rather than for the state itself. They also know that someone is always looking over their shoulder.

‘‘The cops here tend to fear getting it wrong and being criticized by a judge,’’ he said. ‘‘Cops in the U.S. fear getting shot. Those are two very different worlds.’’


"Britain police on trial over shooting" AP  June 11, 2015

PARIS — The British government went on trial Wednesday at the European Court of Human Rights over the death of a Brazilian electrician, shot by police who thought he was a terrorist in the aftermath of deadly 2005 London subway bombings.

Jean Charles de Menezes’ death caused widespread indignation. A British police inquiry found internal mistakes about how authorities handled the case but no grounds to pursue a murder trial.

The victim’s cousin, Patricia Armani Da Silva, protested that decision and brought the case to the European court in Strasbourg, France. The court held the first full hearing in the case Wednesday after a decade of legal battles.

In court, a British government lawyer acknowledged that police failed and killed an innocent man but argued the government has done all it can to address the police failures since then.

Suicide bombers attacked three London subway trains and a bus on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people. Two weeks later, other bombers tried to target the Tube again, but their devices didn’t explode.


May Day Memories: British Patsies
May Day Memories: The U.S. Connection
Terror Expert: London Bomber Was Working For MI5
Israeli Connections to the London Tube Bombs

Kinda a kick in the head that they were simultaneously running drills simulating those events, huh, and do you know for whom Mr. Aswat and Mr. Khan worked?

Counterterrorism officers pursuing suspects in the second attack mistook de Menezes for one of them, because he lived at the same address as two of the suspects.

Police shot him repeatedly in the head on July 22 as he tried to board a subway train on his way to work.

The next day Scotland Yard confirmed that he was unconnected to the suspected bombers. In a separate civil case, British police reached a compensation deal in 2009 with his family.

Same in AmeriKa in lots of cases.


British cops may be better, but not military:

"US official joins panel reviewing British military" New York Times   June 20, 2015

LONDON — In an effort to allay concerns in Washington about cuts in British military spending, a US official has joined a British review panel established to determine the future of its armed forces.

Speaking to reporters in London on Thursday, Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary, said he had “deliberately invited and included” a US official, and was “liaising very closely” with the Pentagon.

He then jump in his hip pocket?

Fallon also emphasized other areas of cooperation with the United States, noting that a recent US airstrike in Libya targeting Islamist militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar was initiated from a British air base.

They are doing more than that:

"Cameron pushes for Britain to attack Islamic State in Syria; Will lay out five-year plan to confront militants." 


"British personnel have been involved in bombing missions over Syria for some time, “making the current debate over whether Britain should carry out such strikes somewhat obsolete.” 

Looks criminal to me.

The comments came amid a debate about Britain’s role in the world, prompted by years of funding cuts, a Parliament vote in 2013 against airstrikes in Syria, and discussion before a referendum, to be held by the end of 2017, on whether to leave the European Union.

I describe it above. Pocket.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter recently warned against spending cuts. Britain has “punched above its weight,” he said, and “it would be a great loss to the world if it now took action that would indicate disengagement.”

Maybe some lives will be saved.


Turns out Dutch police aren't much better, either:

"Arrests at Dutch protest over death" Associated Press  July 04, 2015

THE HAGUE — Dutch police conducted mass arrests overnight Thursday, detaining about 200 people for ignoring a ban on public assembly in a neighborhood hit by late-night rioting after the death of a man in police custody.

The arrests late Thursday and early Friday capped four nights of rioting in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in The Hague that drew comparisons with the angry protests in the United States following deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers. Mayor Jozias van Aartsen, however, has strongly rejected such comparisons.

Prosecutors investigating Sunday’s death of Mitch Henriquez, a 42-year-old from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, say he likely died of oxygen starvation caused during his arrest at a music festival. The five officers involved have been suspended from active duty, and are being investigated as suspects in his death.