The cold calculus of fighting terrorism

Let’s revisit the case of the Brazilian man killed by police on a London subway last night, and apply a little brutal logic to the situation.

Reduced to its simplest factors, there are two possibilities for the suspect — he is a bomber, or he is not a bomber — and two options for the police — shoot, or do not shoot.

First, though, let’s look at the “shoot” option. “Shooting for the body” is a bad idea for a suspected suicide bomber. The body is where the bomb would be, and could set it off. “Shooting to wound” is also a bad idea. The chances of missing are much greater, and a wounded terrorist can still set off the bomb. Shooting to kill, with the head as the target, is the best option.

Now, with two possibilities and two reactions, we have four possible scenarios to consider:

1) The suspect is a bomber, and the police kill him. In this scenario, the innocents killed are zero, and the guilty killed is one — a good outcome.

2) The suspect is a bomber, and the police do not shoot. This results in numerous innocents killed, as well as one guilty person. This is a bad outcome.

3) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police do not shoot. No one is killed.

4) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police kill him. One innocent is killed.

Now, obviously, the third scenario is the ideal one — no one is killed. But this overlooks a single key element — the police have absolutely no control over the first factor. They cannot affect whether or not the suspect is a bomber or not.

What they can do, though, is “play the odds” and use their best judgment on whether or not the suspect is a terrorist. They can look at his clothing, his behavior, his conduct, his general mien and use their best professional opinion on whether he is a terrorist or a harried commuter.

This is what used to be known as “good policework,” but is now known as “profiling.”

That’s exactly what happened in London last week. They played the odds, ran the numbers, and chose in instants whether they would risk one dead innocent or countless dead and injured innocents — and they shot him.

One innocent man is dead, but the message is clear: the police are ready and willing to kill to stop terrorists. And the fact that it took over two weeks for an innocent (or anyone, for that matter) to pass the threshold of “reasonable certainty” and merit shooting gives me faith in the police.

The London police are not crazed, trigger-happy psychos who are gunning down everyone with dark skin who “looks wrong.” They are very carefully evaluating and watching and studying people, and in the tens of thousands they’ve watched, only one person pushed enough buttons to justify their shooting him dead.

As I said before, my heart goes out to Mr. de Menezes’ family. But from all I’ve heard, the he was utterly wrong in how he acted, and the police were utterly right in how they acted. If there’s anyone to blame for this, it’s the terrorists who decided that they will flout the conventions of civilization and embrace such barbaric tactics as the suicide bomber against innocents.

Quote Of The Day - Nanny State Edition
Weekend Caption Contest™ Winners

42 Comments

  1. HP July 25, 2005
  2. michele July 25, 2005
  3. Jay Tea July 25, 2005
  4. BR July 25, 2005
  5. michele July 25, 2005
  6. Jay Tea July 25, 2005
  7. grendel-999 July 25, 2005
  8. michele July 25, 2005
  9. JEW July 25, 2005
  10. CW July 25, 2005
  11. Steve Crickmore July 25, 2005
  12. Allium July 25, 2005
  13. LoadTheMule July 25, 2005
  14. Phinn July 25, 2005
  15. handy July 25, 2005
  16. Conor July 25, 2005
  17. -S- July 25, 2005
  18. LoadTheMule July 25, 2005
  19. Chuck Simmins July 25, 2005
  20. Saltydogg2u July 25, 2005
  21. Conor July 25, 2005
  22. rm3friskerFTN July 25, 2005
  23. Phinn July 25, 2005
  24. Martins July 25, 2005
  25. Steve Crickmore July 25, 2005
  26. Nathan July 25, 2005
  27. Phinn July 25, 2005
  28. LCVRWC July 25, 2005
  29. tee bee July 25, 2005
  30. Martins July 25, 2005
  31. rm3friskerFTN July 25, 2005
  32. Martins July 25, 2005
  33. Conor July 25, 2005
  34. Sabba Hillel July 25, 2005
  35. Bryan C July 25, 2005
  36. judgment_call July 25, 2005
  37. BoDiddly July 25, 2005
  38. tee bee July 25, 2005
  39. moseby July 25, 2005
  40. brad July 25, 2005
  41. Anonymous July 26, 2005
  42. mitch July 26, 2005