Cory Lee Henderson, Justin Patrick Moses, Mark Daniel Bess, David Shane Anderson, Daniel Bennet Edwards, Danielle Willard, Darrien Hunt, James Barker, Dillon Taylor, Christopher Roskelley – just a few of the people who have been killed by police officers in Utah since 2005, bringing the total so far to 87. In the wider United States, police officers killed 773 people in 2013, 1,111 people in 2014, 1,207 people in 2015 and 808 people in 2016 – so far.
Understanding the potentially dangerous situations law enforcement officers often find themselves in, this issue is one that should be constantly subjected to a great deal of scrutiny – by both the Utah police agencies and the Utah legislature – for the obvious reason that lives are at stake. In fact, in the last five years,more Utahns have been killed by police than by gang members, drug dealers or child abusers.
Under Utah Code 76-2-404(1) A peace officer, or any person acting by the officer’s command in providing aid and assistance, is justified in using deadly force when: (c) the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. (2) If feasible, a verbal warning should be given by the officer prior to any use of deadly force under Subsection (1)(b) or (1)(c).
In Utah, officers are regularly equipped with a number of non-lethal yet effective tools as alternatives to their deadly firearms. These include batons, pepper spray, and tasers.
Considering these alternatives, the question must be asked: why is it that the majority of police interactions include the officer placing his hand on his gun or drawing it as a first step? Why even equip officers with the myriad of non-lethal devices listed above if they intend to start with the most lethal?
Reason would suggest that if a threatening person were approached, an officer would: 1) talk to the person (verbal judo is general education at the police academy); 2) draw the baton; 3) pull out the pepper spray (an easy to use and effective alternative); or 4) use the taser (capable of completely immobilizing any threat posed by a suspect without a high risk of fatal injury).
In Utah, officers are taught at the police academy that they treat every situation as one which is life threatening. One cannot help but wonder that, if this is in fact the thought process, why not dispense with the discomfort of the bulky belt full of non-lethal tools and simply carry around an assault rifle? Surely it would be more comfortable, easier to carry and can of course kill with much greater reliability.
In the end, the message police officer behavior seems to convey is simple: comply at any cost. Keep this in mind the next time you are stopped even for something as mundane as speeding; the disturbing truth is that in any encounter with police, your life is truly at risk.
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