Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Police tactics

“Police say the tactics, which involve shooting suspected suicide bombers in the head, are the most effective.”

Police also say that “the most effective way to stop criminals from committing crimes is to shoot them in the head,” and that “the most effective way to stop ordinary citizens from becoming criminals is also to shoot them in the head.”

Even taking into account the unlikely event of someone surviving seven or eight bullets to the brain, this tactic has a 99.9% success rate in preventing future offences, and projections forecast the biggest single reduction in criminality since records began.

And, following this logic, today the government will draw up fresh legislation to streamline the justice process.


  1. Will the govt now do the decent thing and pardon Tony Martin?

  2. An important step which must now be taken by the inquiries into the shooting is to attempt to make some sort of quantification of the probabilities involved in a policy of killing suspected suicide bombers. It is not sufficient to merely say "if he had been a suicide bomber then many may have been killed" lest we find ourselves in a situation a few years down the track where several people have been killed and no suicide bomber has been stopped. Hint: how many people does the average (attempted) suicide bombing actually kill?

    In addition to the unspeakable wrong done to the victims of police shootings, NoseMonkey's point about race relations and indeed community relations in general speaks loud. How effective will the police be in investigating these sorts of crimes if large parts of the community perceive the police as the agents of state murder?

  3. "An important step which must now be taken by the inquiries into the shooting is to attempt to make some sort of quantification of the probabilities involved in a policy of killing suspected suicide bombers."

    Now I think I'm on the side of the police here, and here's why.

    In an ideal world, yon policeman would stop before pulling the trigger and carefully think about the following.

    "Based on what I know and further information I can reasonably gather, what's the probability that the suspect is a suicide bomber? If he is a suicide bomber, what are the odds that a body shot will detonate the explosives – or that a non-lethal hit will allow him to detonate them anyway? Again, if he is a suicide bomber, is there an alternative way to prevent him from detonating? If not, how many people are likely to be killed? In general, what is the chance that the likely negative effects of detonation (in terms of innocent deaths, injuries, fear, disruption, long-term changes in the political landscape) will outweigh the likely negative effects of shooting to kill (including the probability that the suspect might be innocent after all, but also including the effect, be it positive or, as Nosemonkey suggests, negative, on public confidence in a police force willing to take such action)?"

    And so on. The outcome of these deliberations will determine, to the best of his knowledge, what action to take next.

    But we don't live in an ideal world. When you're pursuing a suspect, there isn't time to gather all possible information, to weigh up pros and cons, to assess probabilities. The negative effects of trying to do so, if the suspect is indeed a bomber, would be immense.

    So the police have to use heuristics – i.e. rational short-cuts, rules-of-thumb. They have to find the rule-of-thumb which produces results as close as possible to optimum (i.e. maximal protection against terrorism combined with minimal risk of mistaken identity) which can also be applied reliably within a very short time-frame.

    Let's suppose that the rule chosen is: 'If you have a certain level of confidence (say x%) that the suspect is a bomber, and the suspect refuses to respond to instructions to stop, and there may be an immediate risk to life, then shoot to kill'.

    Now, this is an imperfect rule – i.e. applying it can produce bad results sometimes. But that doesn't necessarily make the rule itself bad, or make those who apply it morally blameworthy. The judgement on whether it is a bad rule is not based on whether it produces the right result in any given situation, but whether it is the best possible rule within the relevant constraints.

    Assuming the police have thought through such a rule and are applying it consistently, then I think I'm on the side of the police.

  4. Alex, I'm not disagreeing with you. You'll note that I said the inquiry should look into the numbers involved in the policy. The police officer on the ground certainly has to operate one heuristic rules of thumb. The question is whether the current rules are justified. This is quite different from the inquiry which will obviously take place into whether this particular officer made the right call in this occassion.

    The difference is that I'm not prepared to take it as read that the police have adequately done such an assessment. Even if they have, a policy on how and when police kill people as to be subject to public scrutiny if there is going to be any sort of confidence that police actions are justified.

    Oh and as a piece of pre-emptive rebuttal, I'm not talking about all police tactics being public, there are obvious arguments against that. However the precise circumstances in which police are to use deadly force are properly the subject of public scrutiny and debate and always have been.

  5. Much as I dislike criticizing the police in these times – here is something I spotted on telly. The BBC London crew were interviewing a top Israeli Security dude, about their 'shoot-to-kill' policy.
    The interviewer asked the guy to confirm that the Israelis shot suspected suicide bombers in the head. He said: 'No, we don't. We shoot them in the chest or the back.'
    'But surely that sets off the bombs?'
    'No, the detonator is tiny, the chances of doing that are minimal.'
    The Israeli seemed to be suggesting that their policy is shoot-to-paralyse rather than shoot-to-kill.
    Which is all very odd, given that the Met are supposed – or so I heard – to have copied their suicide-bomber-handling techniques from the Israelis, no?
    For good measure the Israeli added that their cops would never shoot in the back of the head, as at Stockwell. only in the face. Can't remember why tho.

  6. The whole thing's odd, but as for the face/back of head thing, a face shot's more likely to kill – exit wound would take off most of the back of their head and brain with it. Shoot from the back, the bullet could miss all the vital parts of the brain (but disintegrate the face on exit), allowing them to still flick a switch.

    Of course, if you pump eight of the buggers into the poor sod's head, it doesn't really matter which side you fire from…

    (And no, I have no idea why I know this.)

  7. This just in from our Flogging A Dead Horse Correspondent:
    I spoke to the British Transport Police about Vauxhall (I'm thinking of doing a piece on it…) they said the whole thing happened because 'a woman spotted a suspect package, and pulled the emergency cord, but the package turned out to be lost property'.
    I asked the guy about the smoke and smells, and he said 'maybe it was the Tube braking,' but he added, 'this of course happens 400 times a day in london, but maybe people got upset this time because of the nervous atmosphere.'
    Lotsa weird things here. Several eye-witnesses specifically report the bizarre smoke and smells before the 'oh my God' woman did her thing. One of the witnesses actually says the smoke and smell was definitely not brake-fumes. Anoher one mentions the chemical suits donned by the police – no mention of that by the BTP.
    For good measure, and I know this is highly subjective, the BTP spokeseman seemed shifty and evasive when he spoke to me, and unconvinced by his own account.
    Finally, of course, all this happened in the Vauxhall/Kennington/Stockwell hotspot, where we now know some of the bombers were living.
    So what was it? I think it was either mass hysteria, being played down by the authorities so as not to cause more hysteria, or indeed (less likely) a crap chemical attack designed to spread fear rather than death…

  8. Agreed, David – I'm not disagreeing with you either. I wrote: "Assuming the police have thought through such a rule and are applying it consistently, then I think I'm on the side of the police." But that is indeed a big assumption, as you point out.

    And yes, the policy must be an open, public one – partly so it can be publicly scrutinised and possibly improved, partly because making us aware of it is a good way to reassure us that our law enforcement people are sensible, and partly so that innocents have a greater chance of knowing how to react in similar situations and what to do to avoid being mistakenly targeted.

  9. I'm thinking that Alex makes some excellent points.
    Here in the States, you probably know that our police are now equipped with "Tazers" or "stun guns". I'm not overly familiar with their capabilities but apparently they DO incapacitate a person quite readily. I'm wondering if anyone knows if they are sufficiently potent to entirely disable a would-be suicide bomber. Of course the WBSB would have to be at close range.

    Does anybody know?

  10. azyuwish – I'd guess, and I'm only speculating here, that pumping a load of electricity through someone suspected of being laden with volatile explosives is probably even more risky than firing bullets into them.