The difficulty of split-second decisions

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Ten years ago PC Anthony Long made a split-second decision to shoot an armed criminal, Azelle Rodney.

Since then the circumstances of this armed intervention have been considered in detail by police investigation teams, the independent police complaints commission, the crown prosecution service, a public inquiry and a crown court jury.

Some of these bodies considered that PC Long acted appropriately, others that he acted with no lawful justification and recently a jury 
on a majority decision found him not guilty of any offence.

Similar protracted proceedings are developing in Manchester in relation to the death of 23-year-old Jordan Begley. He died in July 2013, after police used a Taser and other physical force during his arrest. Begley’s mother had made a 999 call because she alleged he was armed with a knife and was being violent. Unbeknown to officers, Begley was also a drug abuser and an alcoholic, who had been receiving treatment for blackouts and chest pains.

An IPCC investigation led to no action being taken against any officer but an inquest jury has declared that officers’ actions were inappropriate. The incident will now be reviewed again to consider whether further proceedings are necessary.

Obviously where a person dies as a result of police action the matter should be investigated thoroughly but something is going badly awry when it is taking so many investigative bodies, many years, to make conflicting conclusions about the same incident. Both events lasted just a few minutes and the officers involved have made decisions in fractions of seconds, based on their training and on the circumstances.

The existing investigative processes and reviews in these and other similar cases are clearly unsatisfactory for both the deceased’s family and for the officers involved. However, it’s unlikely that a better, fairer or more independent system can be developed to investigate and deal with this type of incident.

The reality is that the decision to use the firearm or Taser in the above situations were made in quick time in finely balanced dynamic situations, where there will always be those who disagree with the decision made and others who will relate to why the action was taken.

Officers in cases such as these do not have the gift of hindsight and unless there is clear evidence to the contrary they should more readily be given the benefit of any doubt.