By Calvin Palmer
In Cumbria, England, a man shoots two people in a street and then drives for more than three hours during which another 10 people are killed before the man abandons his vehicle and goes into a wood and takes his life.
Police finally catch up with taxi driver Derrick Bird and find him dead with a rifle and shotgun at his side.
At no point, did the police mount roadblocks or use a police marksman to halt the man’s trail of carnage.
In Jacksonville, Florida, an armed man robs a bank on March 26 and then attempts to carjack a vehicle to make his escape. Jacksonville police officers fire 42 shots at the suspect, killing him and leaving a boy and his mother injured.
Two nasty incidents; two different police responses and both are wrong.
Chief Constable of Cumbria Police Craig Mackey today defended the actions of his officers.
“At no stage did any police officer have the chance to end this any sooner,” Mackey said.
“The first call to police came in at 10.20 a.m., reporting shots fired in Frizington. Armed police were deployed immediately.”
The second phase of Bird’s attacks took place between 10.30 a.m. and 11.35 a.m. while he was on the run, Mackey said.
Those shootings began in Whitehaven and he went on to kill 10 other people during that hour.
A call came in to police at 10.33 a.m., reporting shots fired in Duke Street, where Darren Rewcastle was killed at the taxi rank.
Mackey said that, as soon as the call came in, every armed officer — 42 in total — in the county was deployed to the area.
He said: “Our officers were on the scene within minutes but, due to Bird’s knowledge of local roads, he had fled in his vehicle and was travelling south, firing shots along his way.
“Police and RAF rescue helicopters were drafted into the area and a massive land and air search began.
“Crucially, in this period Bird was firing shots out of his vehicle, moving from place to place, and was not in any one area for a significant length of time.”
It all sounds well and good, obviously the Press Relations Unit of Cumbria Police has been working through the night to control the damage.
But with the aid of helicopters, would it not have been possible to track gunman Derrick Bird’s vehicle and coordinate a series of road blocks? Even more calculated would have been the use of a police marksman to put his training on the rifle range to good practice and take Bird out.
If that had occurred, several people would probably still be alive today but the public outcry against Bird being gunned down would have been deafening.
Not so in Jacksonville, where the actions of the police officers involved in killing robbery suspect Jeremiah Mathis have been exonerated.
State Attorney Angela Corey said: “Our determination here is not whether or not we think the police acted correctly in strategy, where they set up or the number of shots fired.
“Our analysis is whether they were justified in even pulling the trigger that first time. We concluded they were.”
During a news conference on Tuesday, Corey gave five reasons why the killing of Mathis on March 26 was justified under state law:
Mathis was armed, had just robbed a bank and was attempting to carjack a vehicle to escape.
The first officer to respond to the incident ordered Mathis to stop and warned he would be shot if he didn’t.
That officer knew Mathis was armed and heard him threaten to kill Joann Cooper, the driver of the vehicle he was trying to carjack.
The first shots were fired knowing Mathis was violent, armed, refused to obey police and threatened to kill Cooper and/or police.
The other officers acted to prevent Mathis from harming Cooper, police or other bystanders.
Understandably, relatives of Mathis found the decision unpalatable.
“They could have shot him once and let him have his day in court,” said his sister, Cachandra Mathis.
When the position of State Attorney, the equivalent of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, is an elected position, it does raise the question of whether some political agenda is at work.
Had Corey condemned the action by police officers and sought to bring criminal charges against them, I doubt she could count on the vote of single serving police officer come re-election time.
It is the political dimension of these positions that gives cause for concern because these officials, remember that they are officials and not politicians, could easily take decisions out of political self-interest rather than impartial and objective decisions within the letter of the law.
But it is a fine line that has to be walked between contributing to murder, as appears to be the case in Cumbria and giving police officers a license to kill, which some would argue happened in Jacksonville.