“Shoot to kill”, the misrepresentation of the status quo and the dangers of legally enshrining violence

Armed Police Surround House After Grenades Were Thrown From A Window
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – SEPTEMBER 10: Armed officers at the scene of an ongoing incident on Dumbarton Road on September 10, 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland. Armed response units were called to a property in the West End following reports of grenades being thrown from a tenement flat. A man has barricaded himself inside the flat following a domestic disturbance. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

There is a long standing tradition in the UK, that is to wake up in the morning (in my case this morning in considerable agony thanks to my rather liberal attitude to alcohol last night), to make breakfast, to begin the days tasks and at around about midday to be greeted with the shrill sound of media squawks over politics. These shrill squawks usually consist of the media grossly bending the words of one or both leaders of the Labour and Conservative party, the airing of a handful of grossly out of context segments and shots of the generally rowdy atmosphere that dominates the Commons on a Wednesday morning. I would like to say that today has been different, but I would be kidding myself. As usual, the press have jumped to twist the words of one of the party leaders in such a way that makes them sound like a fool. In this case Jeremy Corbyn is the target, over his comments regarding the controversial “shoot to kill”. This post aims to look at the true status quo, and the implications of what a “shoot to kill” policy could actually entail, to come to the conclusion that a specific shoot to kill policy would be a disaster, and the laws currently in effect are more than substantial.

Firstly it is important to acknowledge what the current policy is, and what the new policy could be. The Criminal Law Act 1967 states that “a person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime”. What this means in application to a case of a terrorist attack is that people (the police) may use whatever force necessary to prevent the crime (the killing of innocent people). This includes the use of deadly force when no other option is available. To put it bluntly, the UK already has an unnamed “shoot to kill” policy, that can be invoked in extreme circumstances. What a named “shoot to kill” policy would actually involve is extending the legal grounds for using deadly force. There are a number of reasons why I feel it would be a grave mistake to make this change and to introduce a named policy, which shall be outlined below:

Reducing the emphasis on negotiation/apprehension.

The benefit of the present policy is that it clearly names only using force “as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime”. What this means is that killing of a suspect that could could either be apprehended or talked into surrender would be classified as an illegal act. Enshrining a named policy that grants armed policy or the army the right to shoot to kill will remove this level of protection, risking the use of deadly force before all other options have been considered. For evidence of this risk becoming a reality we only need to look at the state of affairs in the US, armed suspects are frequently killed with no negation even being attempted. Finally, it is important for us to remember that a wounded or terrified and panicking armed suspect is significantly more dangerous to the police/army, hostages or bystanders than one engaged in negotiation. A common rebuttal to this argument is that we cannot negotiate with terrorists who would happily die (and believe they will be martyred with a great reward in the afterlife) for their cause. This is true, if a suspect has explosives strapped to their chest then it is quite clear that negations are exceptionally unlikely to succeed, and an attempt to apprehend the suspect would put the officers involved at great risk. However, it is important to stress that a shoot to kill policy would not solely apply to terrorists hell bent on the destruction of all Western states and everyone in them, it would apply to any situation in which a suspect is armed. This could include terrified people in the midst of mental illness, or a robbery that has gone wrong. To suggest that we should implement a policy that would allow for these suspects to be shot dead with no attempt at negotiation is morally dubious. A named shoot to kill policy would ultimately reduce emphasis on peaceful tactics to solving a potentially dangerous situation, and increase the risk of needless casualties.

This policy would exacerbate the already horrific outcomes of racial profiling.

Now I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting that all police officers engage in racial profiling. This would be an utterly groundless and downright stupid claim. However, to deny that racial profiling exists when the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that in some London boroughs (namely Wandsworth, Kensington/Chelsea, Bromley and Havering) a black man was 6 times more likely to subject to a stop and search policy than a white man is equally devoid of reality (the full report can be found here, statistics cited on page 28). Racial profiling has already claimed numerous victims in the UK, such as  Jean Charles de Menezes, and many more in the US. All appropriate checks and balances to the use of deadly force must remain in place to ensure that more life is not needlessly lost. Shoot to kill will not exacerbate racial profiling by any means, the proportion of police officers that use such profiling will most likely stay the same, though it would generate a greater potential for an exceptionally morbid outcome. People can be apologised to if they are unjustly arrested or stopped and searched, but you cannot apologise or compensate a corpse, the outcome of shoot to kill is absolute.

Paris attack
Source: ABC.

A shoot to kill policy will not reduce crime or stop terrorist attacks

The discussion over shoot to kill has been pushed to the forefront as a result of the horrific attacks in Paris last week that left 128 people dead. This has resulted in contemplation whether or not the attack would have been prevented if a shoot to kill policy was in effect, the simple answer to this is no. This policy will not in any way influence the levels of intelligence that governments have prior to these attacks, and the simple fact is that the attackers were completely unknown to the French officials prior to the attack itself. This means that everyone only knew they were going to commit an attack when they were actually in the middle of slaughtering innocent people, to which point if a similar attack was to befall the UK the 1967 act would legitimise the use of deadly force anyway. The police are not going to negotiate with people whom are in the middle of murdering innocent civilians, they are going to instantly look to neutralise the threat using any means necessary. A shoot to kill policy would make absolutely no difference if a similar attack to that in Paris last week was to befall London, the idea that it would is nonsensical and groundless. Furthermore, armed police cannot be on the scene the moment a terrorist raises their Kalashnikov, deployment still takes time. Unless a shoot to kill policy was accompanied by arming or regular officers or the permanent deployment of firearms officers, which needless to say is highly unlikely due to the proposed at least 25 per cent cuts to the police force by the government. Even if such accompanying policy was implemented, I do not need to go in to much detail to show how horrific the results would be when in 2015 alone more than 350 suspects have been shot dead in the US. Therefore we can conclude that a shoot to kill policy would be utterly ineffective regarding actually preventing terrorist attacks, and the accompanying policy required would put many more lives at danger.

To conclude,  the comments that Jeremy Corbyn made regarding shoot to kill (which can be found here) have been twisted grossly out of context (as is most that he says to be honest). The current policy that covers the potential for the use of deadly force, the 1967 Criminal Law Act, is more than sufficient when taking into account armed suspects. A named shoot to kill policy would be a disaster on the counts that it would reduce the emphasis on negotiations, allow for the potential of unintended consequences in the context of racial profiling and irreversible and would have no impact on actually preventing terrorist attacks. Finally, it is important to remember that ultimately, a life is a life, a body is a body and blood is blood. We all bleed, we should all do as much as we possibly can to preserve life. When it is possible for a suspect to be apprehended or negotiated into surrendering then I feel it is the duty of society to attempt to resolve the situation without bloodshed, and that a shoot to kill policy ultimately compromises this.


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