There’s a film I quite like with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes called Rising Sun. In one scene Snipes, a police officer and his partner are moving in to arrest a suspect. There’s a swat team getting ready to move in, and Snipes’ partner hands him body armour. Snipes asks what this is all about and his partner says something like “LAPD doesn’t take chances” to which the reply comes “But we do take prisoners, right?”.
From this side of the pond American police seem more like a branch of the military. They’ve got pistols,assault rifles, shotguns, armoured personnel carriers, tear gas, special forces trained people, there’s legislation in America which allows the transfer of surplus US Army kit to local law enforcement agencies. They’re kitted out better than most third world armies all to deal with, at most, a guy or two with an assault rifle.
Here if there is an armed robbery the police call in a specialist firearms team; they surround the suspects, evacuate bystanders, take cover and then wait. The suspects have no one to shoot at but the police, who are liable to shoot back, the situation goes on for a couple of hours until the idiots realise that they’re not going anywhere, the adrenaline wears off, self preservation instincts kick in and they surrender. Only very rarely does this necessitate shooting anyone. Almost never do the police feel the need to move in and confront the suspects.
In America there seems to be the opposite policy. One of the Boston bombers hid themselves in a boat, so the police moved in and turned it into a sieve with a hail of gunfire. This served no real law enforcement purpose, the guy wasn’t going anywhere, he was no real threat to anyone, but it’s part of that culture of American policing that just can’t wait to get into a firefight. The idea of using a bit of nous and a bit of patience is anathema. Why pass up an opportunity to shoot a bad guy, right?
This attitude leads to American police carrying weapons that they really do not need and when people carry weapons and get on adrenaline rushes, they use them. We’ve seen this in the UK with tasers; in theory they’re a weapon of last resort, but throw in adrenaline, fear, an uncertain situation they become the first resort. “We’re not taking any chances”. The end result of all this is people, carrying weapons, feel safe getting into confrontations that they can’t win by any other means than shooting someone.
For instance a police officer, on his own, confronts a teenager. In the UK this wouldn’t happen because, shock, it takes more than one person to wrestle a suspect to the ground and arrest them. This officer knows he has a gun, he knows that ultimately he can just shoot the guy so he gets into an one on one fight, a perfectly balanced, fair, fight. Of course he can’t win this, so what does he do? He uses the only method he has available of overcoming his now assailant: he uses his gun and shoots the guy.
This is what happens with the “policing by superior firepower” rather than “policing by community consent” model is used.