Bill Evans 2

^ Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans : his de-escalation or the patrolmen’s long guns ?

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Boston Police Department (BPD) practice appears right now to proceed in opposite directions at the same time: on t.he one hand, de-escalation of confrontations; on the other, a request by the Patrolmen to carry long guns.

By “de-escalation” the BPD means, in the words of Commissioner Bill Evans, “just because you CAN shoot doesn’t mean you HAVE TO shoot.” There is risk here. Not shooting an armed person right away invites that person to shoot first. Not shooting a suspect who may not be armed risks that suspect being armed and taking the first shot. Of course no one, police or civilian, wants to be shot. Yet de-escalation seems to work. The BPD does not “shoot first and ask questions later” unless the danger is clear and immediate; and that restraint has led to a degree of trust between the BPD and people of color.

Late last year, the Boston Globe put it this way :,d.dmo

So why the request to arm up with rifles ? I suppose the BPD thinks that intimidation makes de-escalation less risky. I disagree with the premise. My experience of a long lifetime tells me that intimidation engenders resentment at best, vengeance more sure. The intimidated person may not shoot you this time; but he (most criminals are male) may very well arm himself up for a next time. In short, an arms race. In Chicago, that’s where things stand. Heavily militarized police who react often brutally to suspects face heavily armed suspects; and so it goes.

Boston would be foolish to start down the road to Chicago policing. My own suggestion is for the BPD to do just the opposite : de-escalate its weaponry just as it de-escalates its use thereof. It is not a given that police forces should be armed. London’s “Bobbies” until not long ago carried only a nightstick; they were monitors, not gun-fighters. Clearly, today,. in America, with 315 million guns afoot, an unarmed police force would find itself disadvantaged often. Yet to step back is not to eliminate; and my suggestion is, yes, that the BPD step back. Not every officer needs be armed with Glocks and the like. Plain clothes detectives can certainly make do with a small pocket pistol. I find it enormously scary to see the massive black killer handguns that loom at the belt side of every officer I encounter, at coffee shop or on duty. SWAT teams, I suppose, have valid reasons for carrying deadly handguns; but could not BPD’s line officers, at least, retreat to the pocket pistol ?

Few young people go about armed even in “hot” zones; fewer still use the guns they do carry. I doubt there are many kids at risk who don’t mind getting shot. Their first response, when seeing a BPD officer, should never be “he’s gonna shoot me.” If that’s the reaction to an armed BPD officer, what follows may easily not end well. Far better, I think, for the reaction to a BPD line officer to be “oh well, the fuzz. Act cool.” (we may not like to face that that’s how most young people think of the police, and not just in neighborhoods at risk. But real is real.) It is far preferable for kids and BPD officers to be wary, rather than scared, of one another.

I do not see why the strategy of de-escalation cannot be extended to armament as well as use thereof. Certainly we do not want there to be a police versus criminals arms race. All the momentum right now, in criminal justice reform, is toward de-escalation, of punishment, weapons use, and occupation of territory. Boston’s police, under the guidance of Bill Evans, walk in the forefront of this reform movement. Let us not arm Boston’s police with long guns.


—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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