Anchorage making headway on valuing human life

Honestly, I have a hard time seeing putting a police officer on the street without a partner.  Just the effects of TV drama?  I don’t think so. I just see approaching a potentially violent situation without backup as creating unacceptable risks, and that goes for the police officer, the private citizen, and anyone close enough to be hit by flying lead.  While the law in Alaska expects people to retreat if possible (until Democratic State Senator Wielechowski has the opportunity to reintroduce the ALEC crafted stand your ground legislation he sponsored last session), what are our expectations of a police officer confronting an individual ‘wielding a stick’? Anchorage decided to find out earlier this week.

Police received a number of calls about a man creating a disturbance in Mountain View (blocks from a substation created to keep a lid on disturbance in this neighborhood.)  Callers indicated that the man was likely intoxicated and bellicose, was screaming and yelling and had just attacked a dog. One officer drove up 15 minutes later, apparently spotted the man creating the disturbance, who on seeing the officer started walking towards the officer in an aggressive manner with the stick. The officer fired several rounds at the man, killing him, as another officer drove up. A disturbance which had been going on for over 15 minutes without any apparent physical injuries to anyone was over in seconds with one man dead at the hands of the very persons called to resolve the problem.

Should the veteran officer have simply kept his distance until back-up arrived? Who really wants to second guess an officer who perceives himself being attacked? I think such questions simply scapegoat the officer while the real culprits skate by. The real issue here is that the officer really had no non-lethal option, and the real reason that a non-lethal option wasn’t available is named Mayor Dan Sullivan. No, Mayor Dan was not there at the time,  but in a very real sense he might as well pulled the trigger himself.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, while ‘Alaska State Troopers and some law enforcement agencies in the Lower 48 outfit all officers with Tasers, but in Anchorage only about 35 to 40 percent of officers carried the “less-than-lethal” devices last year, according to funding request the department made to the 2011 Legislature.’ And the paper goes on to state that an Anchorage Police Department spokesperson, Dave Parker went on to indicate that, ‘In the case of the Mountain View shooting, police procedures likely would not have allowed the officer to use a Taser even if he had one, Parker said. That’s because at least two officers would need to be on hand, one to use the Taser and one to back up with lethal force, if necessary.’

What we are seeing, then, is a very cynical approach to urban law enforcement. The current administration apparently believes that the true cost of the lives lost to such exchanges is less than the cost of ensuring that no APD officer has to address street crime without a partner.  One can imagine the Anchorage Risk Manager tallying things up; what’s the cost of killing half a dozen ‘unimportant’ people as compared to the cost of putting enough of those greedy union cops on the payroll? You want to know what the average value of a police killed citizen in Anchorage is? This week it was arguably about $100,000, but wait till the end of the year and divide the cost of providing adequate police officers by the number dying such unnecessary deaths. There you will find Mayor Dan’s pound of flesh.

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