We Should Be More Like Germany!

by Dave Schuler on January 21, 2013

Over at OTB Alex Knapp points out that German police officers fired only 85 rounds in all of 2011. The most obvious conclusion I would draw from this is that U. S. police officers are trigger-happy.

Do we have too many firearms? Sure. Are they fired at other people (or ourselves) too frequently? Definitely.

Should the homicide rate per 100,000 in the United States (4.8) be compared with that of Germany (.8)? Why not to that of Mexico (22.7)? Or Ghana (15.7)? Is median income the dispositive factor? What about things like social cohesion? Presumably, I need not go into detail on the extreme measures that Germany took within living memory to increase social cohesion.

Do we really want to be more like Germany?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw January 21, 2013 at 10:38 am

Reference is made in the linked comments at OTB to mental health treatment; I think one needs to be cross-cultural comparisons. Countries stigmatize mental illness differently and conceptualize it differently. One difference is the degree to which Germans see mental illness as incurable, while Americans see it as something to be overcome. This is pretty old research, but it strike me as an important cultural observation:

“German patients generally agreed that mental illness is a biologically determined, and rather incurable condition. In contrast, American patients generally believed that the individual is partially responsible for his condition and with the proper motivation and help, he can improve. Patients’ statements about themselves and about proper behavior in the hospital were consistent with these national differences. It was concluded that institutionalization consists more in conditioning the patient to accept his status than in convincing him that he is insane.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1141883

Dave Schuler January 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

We Calvinist Americans tend to view many things from poverty to mental illness as character flaws.

PD Shaw January 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

I’d day post-Second Awakening Calvinism — people are capable of change or re-birth, prisoners and the mentally ill included. Prior to that evangelical movement, the notion that ‘one is pre-destined to be what one is’ was much stronger.

steve January 21, 2013 at 4:56 pm

“Do we really want to be more like Germany?”

If we can get the police to shoot less, yes. Just in my lifetime the militarization of our police has been extraordinary. Friends have been mistakenly raided (wrong address) with a no knock raid and nearly killed. Balko has documented dozens of deaths from these mistaken raids. many dog shootings also.

Steve

Dave Schuler January 21, 2013 at 5:04 pm

If we can get the police to shoot less, yes.

This goes back to my remark about the vapidity of the “if just one life” notion. The Germans increased their social cohesion by gassing their minority populations.

Societies are not simple systems but complex ones. You can’t select features from them like ordering from a menu. It’s all or nothing.

Dave Schuler January 21, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Now that my knee has finished jerking, let me offer a better tempered response to your comment, steve.

One process we might consider in demilitarizing our police would be to stop accepting have served in the military as a credential equal to having a college education. At least here in Chicago there are two tracks for admittance to the police academy. Either you can have an associates degree or a high school diploma plus military service. Most do the latter. Is it any wonder that our police forces imitate the military? That’s the model the men and women in it understand.

Steve Verdon January 21, 2013 at 5:43 pm

This goes back to my remark about the vapidity of the “if just one life” notion.

Ahh, but isn’t just one life, but quite a few actually. If we did become more like Germany in terms of gun violence, and especially so on the part of the police, it would be dozens of lives saved, and even more that are not terrorized.

Societies are not simple systems but complex ones. You can’t select features from them like ordering from a menu. It’s all or nothing.

Which is where the problem is. Should we want to be more like Germany in regards to gun violence and police shootings? Absolutely. How do we get there? Bets the Hell out of me. We might not even be able to.

Is it any wonder that our police forces imitate the military? That’s the model the men and women in it understand.

Hmmm I wonder. Interesting post by Radley Balko,

More Militarized than the Military

I am a US Army officer, currently serving in Afghanistan. My first thought on reading this story is this: Most American police SWAT teams probably have fewer restrictions on conducting forced entry raids than do US forces in Afghanistan.

For our troops over here to conduct any kind of forced entry, day or night, they have to meet one of two conditions: have a bad guy (or guys) inside actively shooting at them; or obtain permission from a 2-star general, who must be convinced by available intelligence (evidence) that the person or persons they’re after is present at the location, and that it’s too dangerous to try less coercive methods. The general can be pretty tough to convince, too. (I’m a staff liason, and one of my jobs is to present these briefings to obtain the required permission.)

Generally, our troops, including the special ops guys, use what we call “cordon and knock”: they set up a perimeter around the target location to keep people from moving in or out,and then announce their presence and give the target an opportunity to surrender. In the majority of cases, even if the perimeter is established at night, the call out or knock on the gate doesn’t happen until after the sun comes up.

Oh, and all of the bad guys we’re going after are closely tied to killing and maiming people.

What might be amazing to American cops is that the vast majority of our targets surrender when called out.

I don’t have a clear picture of the resources available to most police departments, but even so, I don’t see any reason why they can’t use similar methods.

Maybe they surrender because the military has an even bigger arsenal, but I doubt it. Sounds like the military uses only the amount of force necessary to do the job.

And in reading many of the no-knock fiascoes that Radley reports many times after a wrong door raid, the cops will go to the right house, sometimes right next door, and knock. Wait. Ask for the person they were there to arrest. Take him into custody. No violence, no dynamic entry, very little danger to any involved.

And there is this part,

There’s a telling scene related to all of this in Evan Wright’s terrific book Generation Kill. Wright was embedded with an elite U.S. Marine unit in Iraq. Throughout his time with the unit, Wright documents the extraordinary precautions the unit takes to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, and the real heartbreak the soldiers feel when they do inadvertently kill a civilian. About 3/4 through the book, Wright explains how the full-time Marines were getting increasingly irritated with a reserve unit traveling with them. The reserve unit was mostly made up people who in their civilians lives were law enforcement, “from LAPD cops to DEA agents to air marshalls,” and were acting like idiot renegades. Wright quotes a gunnery sargeant who traveled with the reserve unit:

“Some of the cops in Delta started doing this cowboy stuff. They put cattle horns on their Humvees. They’d roll into these hamlets, doing shows of force—kicking down doors, doing sweeps—just for the fuck of it. There was this little clique of them. Their ringleader was this beat cop…He’s like five feet tall, talks like Joe Friday and everybody calls him ‘Napoleon.’”

And, lets not forget that part of the reason for 3 AM no-knock raids…extremely violent and terrifying raids…is….wait for it….wait….evidence preservation. Lives are put at stake simply so that people can’t try and flush their stash down the toilet.

But hey, keeping drugs illegal, that’s important.

Andy January 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Also rarely mentioned were the forced movements (aka “ethnic cleansing”) of millions of people at the end of WWII. The effect was to create homogeneous states with more distinct borders than previously existed in an effort to prevent wars to protect ethnic minorities in another country.

steve January 21, 2013 at 6:43 pm

“Societies are not simple systems but complex ones. You can’t select features from them like ordering from a menu. It’s all or nothing.”

I think all or nothing is incorrect. Other countries import and adopt selected parts of our culture. They often change things to fit their particular needs/abilities. Note that our police force has had to change to get to where they are now. SWAT teams and no knock raids are relatively new. Police teams owning mini Strykers was not the norm 30 years ago. So, given the high number of guns in our society, I think the police need to be armed and they will probably shoot more often here in the US. But, maybe they could learn to stop automatically shooting our dogs or accept not netting some drugs in a raid in return for not killing people.

While we are a unique culture, I do not think we are uniquely incapable of learning form other peoples.

Steve

Dave Schuler January 21, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Other countries import and adopt selected parts of our culture.

With all sorts of unforeseen secondary effects. The Soviets imported blue jeans and the Beatles (actually they were smuggled in, unofficial importation). They also got dissatisfaction with the ability of the Soviet economy to provide consumer goods for its citizens, paving the way for its collapse.

Icepick January 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm

“Do we really want to be more like Germany?”

Setting aside the ethical issues, sure why the fuck not? Our porn is going to get a lot nastier, though. We’re going to have to bleach out most of the black population, Michael Jackson-style. Not sure what we can do with all the Mexicans, though. Perhaps re-brand them as Turks?

Icepick January 21, 2013 at 7:25 pm

We’re going to have to bleach out most of the black population, Michael Jackson-style.

What, you thought I meant something else?

steve January 21, 2013 at 8:48 pm

“With all sorts of unforeseen secondary effects.”

Been reading Burke again? This argument is true for essentially all change. We could just stay the way we are. That is also a choice, and it appears to be the one favored by those who reject all possible solutions. If the current situation is considered untenable, then we need to take the risk inherent with change.

Steve

TastyBits January 22, 2013 at 12:11 pm

@Steve Verdon

I have been making the point that there are dead Soldiers and Marines because they could not open fire when they thought the guy in the car has a knife, and this is in a designated combat zone. My solution was to prosecute the cops for homicide. The problem would be solved with a few convictions.

I was informed that being a policeman is dangerous, and my response is being a bus driver is not. The solution is to quit being a policeman and become a bus driver.

Actually, policemen are the only people allowed to shot people indiscriminately. If George Zimmerman were a cop, would anybody know about the case? No!

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