The many misunderstandings of law enforcement

The many misunderstandings of law enforcement

Jason McKay

Saturday, February 22, 2020

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Law enforcement is one of the areas in day-to-day life that is misunderstood by almost everyone.

This is largely because actual exposure is limited to the few who are involved in it. But everybody believes they know it, despite never having worked in a job of that nature.

I am going to select just a few examples of popular misunderstandings of this discipline by many, including the Jamaican public. For this article I will be wearing my self-defence expert hat as well.

There is a popular belief that it is only justifiable to use a firearm against a knife attacker if he is at arm's length. This misbelief has impacted public opinion worldwide.
The use of a firearm is, in fact, far more appropriate against a knife attack when the attacker is about 20 feet away. This is because if a man is at arm's length with a knife in hand, the use of a firearm makes little sense.

You see, a bullet – unlike a sledge hammer – does very little to shut the body down, unless the bullet strikes the head or the spine. It will kill, but not often within the period that your ability to do harm exists. You can slice for minutes after receiving shots to the torso, before blood loss starts to impact you.

The spine is thin and the head is shifting constantly, thus both are hard to hit. If you miss, you will likely get stabbed and you have occupied one of your blocking hands with a gun, which can now easily be removed from you.

Therefore, the appropriate defence is to use the gun before the knifeman gets within arm's reach. This can be up to as much as 25 feet, because ground can be covered quickly and the momentum will carry the attacker towards you even when he is taking shots, unless, as stated earlier – the spine or the head is hit. Maybe also the hip.

On another note, I see a lot of stories, particularly in the United States of America (USA), where much is made of the volume of rounds that impact a suspect who fires on a police party.

Firstly, there seems to be a misunderstanding as to how little time it takes to expend ammunition. Secondly, there seems to be a belief that only one person fires from a party under attack.

If a police party is fired upon by a gunman, all members – if they are in the same location – are under threat. All will likely fire. And, if the party is five and they each fire four rounds, then the victim will get hit 20 times, depending on accuracy.

Note, they will all also fire within the second they detect the threat. This entire activity could take less than a second. Four rounds from a semi-automatic pistol, which is law enforcement's tool of choice, is a half-second event. So 20 strikes is a likely occurrence in a situation as described. Yet, to the average person, this will seem excessive.

This same misunderstanding occurs in cases of shoot-outs in close quarters, where both offender and defender are firing. The purpose of the defender is to end the threat, or stop the attacker from firing. However, even a wounded, drunk, or elderly person, can squeeze a trigger. It requires such little strength.

Again, you will be required to disable the attacker by hitting the tiny spine or the head. Both are hard to hit in a split second when you yourself are under fire. This again results in multiple hits that to the public seems excessive.

They, of course, are not taking into account that the required speed to hit the attacker before he hits you costs you accuracy, for which you have to compensate with volume. It is the sad reality of a gunfight, and it may take a while to wrap your head around it.
Also, if it is not your area of study and you have never experienced it, you cannot identify with it. How could you? You have seen Denzel Washington do it so differently.

Another misunderstanding is that information is evidence. You have heard that Tom Brown did the murder; the police grab him. But, the fact that you heard from a 'good source' that he did it, and you tell the police what you heard does not mean the police can charge him. This is not China, Cuba, or Vietnam. You need evidence to incarcerate, particularly in Jamaica – one of the hardest countries in which to gain a conviction.

As it should be, evidence comes from police investigations, but it just as often comes from the public. If you are not willing to participate in the process it is not going to work in a free Jamaica. Giving information is helpful. But only evidence can convict.

The lack of photographs in wanted publications often gives the impression that the police are inefficient. Photographs are common and easy to acquire in these days of selfies and social media.

However, use of a photograph on a wanted poster could result in the disallowing of an identification parade that may be required for a case. So in plain terms, the case may get 'dash out'.

One more misunderstanding is that police are required by law to effect an arrest once a crime is committed in his or her view. There is discretion, risk assessment, as well as other processes that can be followed. There is no obligation to arrest.

There is a stipulation to protect a person in danger and to render assistance once required, but not to take a perpetrator into custody.

This misconception leads often to allegations of corruption or furthers belief in special treatment for some.

The list of likely confusing areas is as long as the Hollywood movies that further the fantasies. But before you pass judgement, ask for more information that does not come in theatres, on television, or on that new streaming site. These facts are often hidden in ... books!

Jason McKay is a criminologist. Feedback:

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