NSW Police “Shoot to Kill Policy”- Is it the answer to Terrorist Situations?


NSW ‘Shoot to Kill’ Policy – Is it the Answer?

It has been almost a year since ‘Sydney siege gunman,’ Man Haron Monis shot and killed one hostage and held another 17 terrified hostages in the Lindt café in Sydney’s city centre.

On October 2, 2015, radicalised youth Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad killed Sydney police civilian employee, Curtis Cheng, as he was leaving police headquarters at Parramatta.

And now not even a year after the Sydney siege, we have had one of the worst terrorist incidents in recent times when various terrorist attacks were orchestrated throughout the city of Paris, France on November 13.

All of these and similar atrocities around the globe are forcing authorities to be hyper-vigilant as they wait nervously for what many feel to be another imminent terrorist attack. In light of these potential threats, NSW police have responded with a new ‘shoot to kill’ policy. This policy allows police to shoot terrorists instead of first trying to de-escalate volatile situations.


Presumption of guilt

A major flaw in NSW’s new ‘shoot to kill’ policy is that it presumes people are guilty without any evidence or crime have taken place yet. Basically as Gary Younge of the Guardian points out, a presumption of guilt is made on an assemblage of “probabilities, generalisations, bigotries, calculations, likelihoods, falsehoods, archetypes and stereotypes’ made about who someone is and what they might do, prior to any evidence about either.


Are police adequately trained to ‘shoot to kill’?

Secondly, are police adequately trained to successfully implement a ‘shoot to kill” policy?  During recruitment training, NSW police officers receive Weapons and Tactics training. However, no matter how much training police officers get for the proper use of lethal force, there is always a risk of instinct taking over in intensely emotional situations. Especially ones in which police officers feel lives are being threatened, especially their own. Since the attacks in Paris, everyone is jittery waiting for the next terrorist attack. The potential threat is all around us just waiting to strike. Anyone is suspect. NSW police officers receive Tactical Options and Simunition Training but they are not real life scenarios. They are only simulations.

Another issue with this training is that police personnel usually only attend Operational Skills and Practices training sessions once a year. This level of training is not repetitive enough for officers to acquire any sort of instinctive reactions.

In tense real life situations enforcement personnel do not always have the time to think before they respond. According to a 2013 report released by the Australian Institute of Criminology between 1989 and 2011 police fatally shot 105 people. Of those people, two in every five (42%) persons shot by police over this period were suffering from a mental illness at the time of the shooting. In many of these situations police were presented with a “person committing a violent offence who was behaving irrationally.” This example shows that police officers, regardless of the amount of training they receive are still human beings and under certain high stress situations their fight or flight response is heightened to the point that it could affect their judgement. Judgement is particularly impacted when impressions are made through a lens of fear.

Critics feel that when you give police the authority to ‘shoot first’ without first assessing a situation, there is the risk that innocent people could get hurt or worse killed. For example, Monis was killed during the Sydney Lindt hostage crisis in December 2014. However, two hostages were also killed. One was Tori Johnson and the other was Katrina Dawson who was killed when a police bullet rebounded and hit her during the raid. As well, three other hostages and a police officer were injured by police gunfire during that same incident.

In 2005, Brazilian electrician Jean Childs de Menezes was killed with seven bullets to his head by British police who mistook him as a suicide bomber trying to blow up London’s Tube.

Police and security service personnel rationalise the ‘shoot to kill’ policy saying that there is too much at risk when it comes to terrorist threats. Acting Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas says in these cases it is “far more urgent for police to intervene.” He adds, that when “people’s lives are being threatened . . . [police] would have to move immediately.” Especially when “you’re dealing with someone who is there with a preconceived aim of dying and who wants to kill as many people as they possibly can.”

In September 2014 Abdul Numan Haider was shot dead by police outside a Melbourne police station after he stabbed two police officers who had called him for questioning over investigations of terrorism. It is increased national security threats like these that legitimises the need for a ‘shoot to kill’ policy and the subsequent necessity of using firearms as the main use of force option.

However, as Younge points out in his article, is the new ‘shoot to kill’ policy the answer? Is letting some community members “live in terror of the state so that others can enjoy the illusion of security the course we want to take in a democratic society?”