Wed, Mar 01, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Police ambivalent about using weapons

By Rich Chang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Most police officers never have to draw their pistols or aim them at suspects during the course of their careers, but they recently have come under criticism for poor skills when wielding firearms. Critics say police often react poorly when faced with a crisis in which they might have to use deadly force.

Though Minister of the Interior Lee Yi-yang (李逸洋) has vowed to improve police marksmanship and weapons handling after each incident, the ministry has yet to come up with proposals to improve training.

On Feb. 17, a policeman battling a knife-wielding suspect accidentally killed a 14-year-old girl watching the scuffle from the balcony of a sixth-floor apartment in Tainan City.

Tainan police said the suspect, surnamed Chen, was likely suffering from mental illness and was reportedly carrying a knife and threatening passers-by in the city's streets.

When a police officer, surnamed Gan, approached the suspect and attempted to take him into custody, Chen hid the knife behind his back before suddenly attacking the officer with it.

Gan fired several shots at the suspect but failed to stop him. The suspect lunged like a "maniac" at Gan, according to police.

Girl killed

Gan fired his weapon just as the man knocked him over. The round he fired flew at a 60? angle into the air, missing Chen and striking the girl instead.

Gan suffered knife wounds to his neck, chin and leg from Chen's attack.

The suspect was stopped only after he was brought down by bullets fired by another officer.

Police said that the two officers fired a total of 24 shots, with Chen being hit by eight rounds. Although critically wounded, he survived the incident.

Many observers criticized the two police officers for what was perceived as poor use of their weapons in accidentally shooting and killing an innocent person.

Earlier the same month, two Taipei County police officers were notified that a thief was breaking into a house. A police officer, surnamed Lee, entered the house with his pistol drawn while his colleague stood guard outside to prevent the criminal from escaping.

The suspect surrendered after Lee confronted him in the kitchen.

However, when Lee attempted to escort the thief out of the house, the thief suddenly grabbed a knife from the kitchen and attacked him.

Lee was slashed on his face, and the thief took his pistol. The officer was then bound with his own handcuffs, and the suspect fled, taking the officer's pistol with him.

Although the thief was caught the next day, the Taipei County's Police Department was embarrassed by the incident.

Simulation training

Fang Yang-ling (方仰寧), a senior Taipei City police officer, told the Taipei Times that the police have monthly target practice in which each officer fires around 20 rounds of live ammunition, as well as physical fitness tests twice a year. But he said they have little real-time simulation training.

This was why police often make poor snap judgments when facing crises, he said.

Fang said that all police officers become anxious when encountering a dangerous situation, but extensive training exercises in different scenarios are helpful in keeping officers from becoming flustered.

For example, "if Lee had practiced moving a suspect in custody, he would not have been attacked by the suspect," Fang said.

Kaohsiung police officer Yeh Ming-ter (葉銘德) said police authorities should loosen the strict regulations that apply to police unholstering their weapons.

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