Shooting to kill

The objections are beginning to build to the Metropolitan Police's policy of shooting to kill. The media has even rolled out John Stalker, who investigated an alleged 'shoot to kill' policy in Northern Ireland in the 1980s to comment. It is worthwhile distinguishing between the two cases. Stalker investigated an alleged shoot on sight policy, although the media always called it 'shoot to kill'. The matter was never definitively resolved, but if the allegations Stalker investigated were true, the policy could not possibly be justified. It was a policy of shooting certain suspects on sight instead of arresting and trying them. There are no excuses for this, indeed shifting the rules of engagement from those of criminal justice to those of war was a key objective of the IRA - which really did operate a shoot on sight policy - and would have been inexcusable by the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The case with the Met is completely different. It has always been the case that armed police officers are required to shoot a suspect if it is the only way of preventing a crime in progress and proportionate to the crime being committed. (It would not, for example, be permitted if the crime was grafitti). The question then arises, if shooting, should an officer shoot to kill. The answer to this is normally, and always has been, yes. It is unusual that a police officer would have a clear disabling shot, and it is arguably less humane to shoot someone's leg off anyway.

In the case of a suspected suicide bomber, the criteria are pretty much automatically met. It is the only way to reliably prevent the crime, the response is proportionate to the crime and a disabling shot would not prevent a bomber from activating the device.

This is, of course, concerning. Once officers suspect someone of being a suicide bomber in the process of committing the crime the situation escalates immediately to shoot to kill. Warning the bomber would be hugely dangerous to passers by. This means two things. If the police are to remain subject to the law, they have to be very careful in identifying suspects. Also, we have to accept that innocent people will die. Police officers can be careful, but will never be infallible.

We also have to accept, that if we did not have a shoot to kill policy innocent people would also die as a result of that, too. It is not a happy scenario.

I have no time for the idiots who are screaming that Mr Menezes, the innocent man shot eight times by police officers in Stockwell last week shares the blame for his death. "Why was he running if he was innocent?" they chant. Probably because armed men in plain clothes were waving guns at him. His death is a terrible tragedy. And there will be more tragedies, whether we maintain the shoot to kill policy or not.

On balance, I think shoot to kill is the least bad option. But let us not pretend that it doesn't have costs.

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All information © copyright Quentin Langley 2019
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