Do Police Too Often Endanger Public Safety When Seeking Criminals?


A news photograph Friday from the normally placid suburban community of Roseville, Ca., was shocking, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. A California Highway Patrol officer was pointing a rifle at a motorist stopped at a checkpoint, as police searched for an armed parolee who had injured some of their colleagues. News stories focused on the suspect and the details of the manhunt, but the police approach – evacuating houses, using military-style tanks and helicopters – raises a question rarely asked about policing policies today: Do they sometimes unnecessarily endanger the public's safety?

When agencies combed Southern California for ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner in February, some officers fired on innocent bystanders who didn't come close to the right profile. Police behaved similarly as they sought a Boston Marathon bomber. As Conor Friedersdorf asked in The Atlantic, “Does anyone else find it disturbing that Boston area police, confronted with an unarmed suspect in a backyard boat, fired so many bullets so wildly that multiple adjacent houses were strafed?” “We need law enforcement professionals who are not operating from a vantage point of fear and paranoia where their own self-preservation trumps all other concerns,” argues Jonathan Taylor, a Cal State Fullerton professor. He was active in protests after Fullerton police in 2011 beat a homeless man. The trial for two officers charged in the death is set for December – a rare instance of police prosecuted for a killing. “Deadly force should not be the standard whenever police perceive a threat,” he adds.

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