Category Archives: New York Police Department

Good Enough for Government Work, Except When It Isn’t

Writing for The Huffington Post about the recent shooting near the Empire State Building in New York, Sanjay Sanghoee says the following in his article, “Friendly Fire: What NYC Shooting tells us about Cops, Guns, and Armed Citizens”:

“Now consider what would have happened in that situation if all New Yorkers were armed. With more guns in the mix and more citizens deciding to take matters into their own hands, many more shots would have been fired, and if the professionals themselves could miss their target and shoot innocent bystanders instead, you can imagine how ordinary citizens, most of them with only amateur shooting experience, would have done a hell of a lot more damage.”

He uses two words there that require analysis:

First, what is a professional? The word comes from a Latin verb meaning to declare. Thus, professors in college declare their knowledge and wisdom to students (or so we’re supposed to do…). Someone who converts to a particular religion or joins a monastic order makes a profession of faith. That latter sense led to occupations being called professions–occupations that involve specialized skills, in constrast to general labor. Today, the word includes that notion of skill, but it also brings in the fact of being paid for the work.

Let’s consider the New York Police Department. Are they professionals in the skilled sense of the word? The RAND Corporation was commissioned to examine NYPD use of force after the Sean Bell shooting. Look here to read the whole study. What interests me is that in a gunfight, a New York police officer on average has an accuracy rate of eighteen percent. When shooting at someone who isn’t shooting back, said officer scores somewhat better–about thirty percent. That rate improves to thirty-seven percent when the range is less than seven yards (pages 44 and 45). Are we talking about batting percentages for the New York Yankees here? No, these are situations when a police officer sends rounds outward, ostensibly with the purpose of stopping a dangerous person from causing harm.

We find the explanation on page 50 of the report. To qualify for carrying a handgun, a police academy recruit must hit stationary targets from fixed firing positions at least seventy-eight percent of the time. Other sources indicate that the targets are set at seven, fifteen, and twenty-five yards. Serving officers are tested semiannually with the same examination. This strikes me as an easygoing evaluation of firearms skill, so much so that I’d have doubted it had I not seen the RAND report.

By contrast, consider the word, amateur. An amateur, in today’s sloppy use of language, is someone who lacks skill in a particular field. This is far from the proper meaning of the word, though. Amateur, used correctly, means someone who loves (Latin: amare) a subject. This includes the tinkerer or the do-it-yourselfer that I wrote about here. Amateurs spend their free time enjoying their hobbies. They study the subject in detail–and often are willing to share volumes of information, even when the listener isn’t interested. They keep themselves informed about the latest developments in the field. With regard to firearms enthusiasts, we would find the proficiency test of the NYPD to be boringly easy.

So Sanjay Sanghoee, between the two groups, the NYPD and gun enthusiasts, which one do you honestly believe is more skilled with firearms? Actually, I withdraw the question. In the recent shooting, the two officers fired sixteen rounds, of which, at best, only nine hit their target who was standing a few feet away. There’s no need for Sanghoee to answer. Gun control advocates have been saying for years that the police are the only ones who are skilled enough to use firearms responsibly and safely. We know the answers that we’ve been offered in the past. Good sense says that we should come to a different conclusion.

Still have your doubts? Watch this video.

Any questions?