Shoot to kill policy fundamentally flawed

The recently exposed UK “shoot to kill� policy appears to have been discreetly introduced into anti-terrorist procedures in 2003, after then-Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens sent teams to both Israel and Sri Lanka to study how they dealt with suicide bombers.

On Sunday, Lord Stevens said in the News of the World:

There is only sure way to stop a suicide bomber determined to fulfill his mission: Destroy his brain instantly, utterly. Which means shooting him with devastating power in the head, killing him immediately. Anywhere else and even though they might be dying, they may still be able to force their body to trigger the device

The procedures would remain in place, Sir Ian Blair the current Police Commissioner, insisted:

there is no point in shooting at someone’s chest because that is where the bomb is likely to be.

There is no point in shooting anywhere else if they fall down and detonate it. It is drawn from experience from other countries, including Sri Lanka. The only way to deal with this is to shoot to the head

The policy had been “reviewed and reviewed” for many months and was a national one, not just for London, he said.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, also defended the policy. He said it was essential police were able to deal effectively with the threat of a suicide attack.

That all sounds quite reasonable (especially to me seeing as I am pale skinned, freckled and red-headed!).

However, as Bruce Schneier points out, now that the terrorists know about the shoot to kill policy, all they have to do is change their detonators to explode when someone lets go of the trigger – or as Bruce himself puts it:

This policy is based on the extremely short-sighted assumption that a terrorist needs to push buttons to make a bomb explode. In fact, ever since World War I, the most common type of bomb carried by a person has been the hand grenade. It is entirely conceivable, especially when a shoot-to-kill policy is known to be in effect, that suicide bombers will use the same kind of dead-man’s trigger on their bombs: a detonate that is activated when a button is released, rather than when it is pushed.

Shoot to kill doesn’t increase security – it decreases it – innocent lives are put at further risk as demonstrated so effectively this week. Also, right about now, if I were a mugger/rapist/whatever, I know that any call by me to “Stop, Police” will net me a very compliant victim, thank you very much.

According to reports in the Times and the Guardian, Jean Charles de Menezes the Brazilian shot dead by London Police in the Shoot to Kill incident, was neither wearing a bulky jacket, nor did he vault the ticket barrier. From the Times article:

Vivien Figueiredo, 22, said police told her that he was wearing a lightweight denim jacket and not some bulky coat that could have hidden an explosive belt underneath. Detectives also claimed immediately after the shooting that Mr Menezes had refused to heed shouted warnings by armed police and vaulted the ticket barriers at Stockwell Tube station.

Now police say that he used his travelcard to gain access to the station.

2 thoughts on “Shoot to kill policy fundamentally flawed”

  1. innocent lives are put at further risk as demonstrated so effectively this week.


    Thanks for putting this together Tom, I hadn’t been following much of what was going on.

  2. “a detonate that is activated when a button is released”
    absolutely – the point i would have made, glad others have seen it. This is the point that defeats the logic of ‘Shoot-to-Kill’.
    Apart from the view (which i share)that it’s also wrong in principle, my other main objection to it is that the risk of being killed by a suicide bomber is in fact very low, & i personally would rather take that risk as a traveller on the tube than risk another innocent person being killed by this inhuman policy

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