Last Thursday police shot dead a fifteen-year-old boy in Northcote. Tyler Cassidy came at four police officers brandishing two large knives. Police had tried to subdue him with capsicum spray and then tried to shoot him in the legs, before they fatally shot him in the torso six times. I do not wish to criticize police, and realize that as I am ignorant of all the facts that I really should not speculate about what should and should not of happened, but that is still what I am going to do.
The decision to fatally shoot Tyler Cassidy would not have been taken lightly. The three officers who delivered the fatal shots would be grief stricken over their actions, and would most likely are wondering what they could have done differently. They would not be rejoicing over taking the life of someone so young and would not be happy at people who have declared them trigger happy, as I feel they are anything but trigger-happy. I do wonder if they had used all the skills that they had available, and if they were trained to deal with this sort of thing.
In the newspapers the last few days, particularly the ever-reliable Herald Sun, there has been a demonizing of Tyler Cassidy. He got in with neo-Nazi, white supremacists and wanted a show down with police. Others have claimed that he was mentally ill and even though he has shown some obvious signs of mental illness with these actions, his parents have denied this. What is known is that he went into K-mart and stole two large knives, he caused a lot of damage in the K-mart store, and then made prank calls to the police to get their attention. When the four police officers arrived he is said to have be very aggressive and taunted them. He approached them brandishing the knives and did not back off, even after they twice sprayed him with capsicum spray. One of the police officers then tried to shoot a warning shot at the ground, and then at Tyler’s legs, but still he kept approaching them. It was then that the decision was made by three of those officers to fatally shoot Tyler in the torso.
Many people, including me, have speculated that since the police outnumbered the boy they should have been able to overpower him without having to kill him. I have heard many police officers criticize and mock those of us who have this view as being ignorant, and wondering what we would do in such a situation. They obviously think that those of us who dare to criticize them have never dealt with a mentally ill person coming at them with a knife, yet I have experienced this thank to my professional work with people with disabilities and the mentally ill, and I can confirm that I did diffuse the situation without having to resort to killing the person who was attacking me. Unlike the police in this situation I did have the advantage that the person who attacked me was not a total stranger, yet I still remembered that I had a duty of care to them as well as myself. I do think that the police do sometimes forget that they have a duty of care to the perpetrators as well as the victims of crime!
I wonder if this all comes down to how well the police are trained. How well are they taught to deal with people with mental illnesses and disabilities? I have dealt with police a couple of times in relation to this and say that 50% of the times the police have been helpful and seemed to be well equipped to deal with the situation, well another 50% of the time they have come across as power hungry cowboys who just want to show who’s the boss. (I’m not saying that this is the case in Tyler’s situation!) Maybe it is not the training but instead it comes down to the individual police officer. I have heard from some members confidentially that there are others on the force that are bullies who seem to just be in the job to satisfy their own ego. I do hope that they are a minority of members of the police but I sometimes wonder.
I have also heard calls from police that they should be able to carry tasers and that this would be the solution to this sort of situation. I sort of agree to this but again wonder if police will use the taser as a way to short cut an incident, rather than as a last resort. I know that in the US there is evidence of police using the taser inappropriately and that it is not always used by them after every other possible avenue to solve a situation has been used first.
I expect comments from angry police to come flooding into to this site after posting these comments. When I critisized tram drivers over their safety record I received a little bit of flack by angry trammies, and I do know that police are just as sensitive over any critisizm of them. I don’t want to critisize the police but want to have faith in them. I don’t want Victorian Police to have a situation like they did in Britain with the de Menezes case. This is a very complex issue and it should not just be dismissed without a full and frank discussion.