By SEAN MOORE
It seems like we can hardly go a day without hearing about another deadly police shooting. Conversations about stopping said shootings are prolific but they have largely ignored an obvious solution, taking away police officers’ guns.
This is not to say that no police officer should ever have a gun, but rather that the vast majority of police officers do not need to have guns on their bodies in order to do their typical, everyday job.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime has seen a sharp decline in recent decades, and according to the RAND Center on Quality Policing, even in the 1990s when the crime rate was much higher, 95 percent of New York Police Department officers had never fired their guns while on duty.
To put it simply, most of the time police officers do not need their guns, and the presence of guns in low stress situations serves only to heighten tensions and needlessly escalate otherwise benign interactions. In the rare situations in which a gun would be necessary, highly skilled and trained officers could be deployed in order to properly and safely deal with them.
Aside from this, there are alternatives to disarmament, such as de-escalation and crisis intervention training. These are nice in the abstract, but in practice have proven difficult or impossible to implement on a large enough scale. After an officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department shot and killed an armed suspect on March 25, despite the compliance of said suspect, the CMPD issued a statement regarding their policies on crisis intervention training.
“[Crisis intervention training] is not mandatory, however 47 percent of our patrol officers and patrol sergeants have been through the program. For further context, if you look at the entire sworn department, we are at 36 percent of all sworn have completed CIT training (this includes all ranks). This is significantly higher than the national average of 25 percent,” they said.
25 percent is hideously low for what should be the bare minimum requirement for carrying a deadly weapon as a police officer and all the power and responsibility that comes with it. Given this low figure, it seems that police departments across the country are either unable or unwilling to implement these trainings en masse, leaving disarmament for all except a small number of highly trained officers as the only viable solution if community safety is to be taken seriously.
Similar solutions have been implemented in other countries, including Great Britain, Ireland, and Norway, and the results have been spectacular.
Finding data on police shootings can be difficult, as the U.S. does not keep readily available official statistics, meaning that it is up to individual citizens and organizations to scrape news reports in order to come up with approximate numbers. According to one such effort conducted by Fatal Encounters, U.S. police officers shot and killed over 1,000 people in 2013, while according to the Economist, British police officers fired their weapons only three times that year and none of the shootings were fatal.
The obvious rebuttal is that these police departments are able to patrol largely unarmed because they are in countries that have a much lower rate of gun ownership than we do. However, police officers in Iceland, which has the fifteenth highest rate of gun ownership per capita, do not generally have guns while on patrol, and have killed only one person throughout their entire history as a country.
Despite these statistics, some still might claim that disarming the police in this country is ridiculous, that our gun culture prevents it from being a serious solution. But, cultures can change for the better if we as a community make an active effort and honestly try to do so. If we want the police civilian relationship to be built on mutual respect and admiration instead of abject fear and terror, disarming the police is the only proper solution.