To take a life, or not to take a life… that is the question

I receive a text from my neighbour. She had 6 battery chickens and they had lived long and finally, happy lives in her back garden and only one was left. This chicken was not looking her best and my neighbour asked me if I could ‘despatch’ this chicken humanly.

This I admit caught me by surprise. I had never done such a thing before. Maybe an injured deer at the side of the road with the assistance of a Glock 9mm pistol at work, but this really doesn’t fit into that category!  Surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to just ring its neck?

So I did what you usually do in these times of apprehension, and Googled it. I’m ahead of you with choking the chicken jibes and can say I was careful with the search criteria, and this was strictly on my own phone of course.  Unfortunately, it didn’t  alleviate my concerns and despatching a lowly chicken was going to take some very personal chicken to human contact. It was 30 years since I used to climb out of my bedroom window at 3am on school days to hunt rabbits with my friend and his lurchers, and not only had I forgotten the skill, but I had lost the will to despatch such animals.

Then it made me wonder, what made me so certain that if the time came I could shoot when I needed to, when I was struggling to see if I could kill a mere potential Sunday dinner?  Well I know why I have been so certain and that’s because this was a defenceless animal, and I love animals, and where it comes to the tricky subject of shooting a human, although I love humans too, some of them at least, it falls within the cliché of training. Its cheesy I know, but the training kicks in, and it would only occur when entirely necessary to save life and when all other efforts had failed. In other words, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an angry bear willing to rip my throat out when there was nothing between me and it.  I also wouldn’t hesitate if it was raging towards a family of 4 having a picnic.

I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had to shoot anyone in my service so far. It came close twice. If they had raised the gun, that would have been it. Finger on trigger, red dot on torso, shouting demands, and the weapon was tossed to the side.  A 10 year stint in jail instead of a funeral.  Not a hint of hesitation, just a simple choice, with huge ramifications.

You see, if it’s them or me, then its them. If it’s them or another, then it’s them. That’s simple, but its weighted with a huge cost. I’ll be honest, if it’s a dangerous criminal such as a terrorist, it’s easier. It was their decision, they put someone else in fear for their lives, or maybe they already have taken a life, and if the assailant is shot by police preventing further loss of life, the public applaud, the press applaud, every ones a hero, but in real life, many of the cases I go to in my part of the world consist of people suffering from mental health. That’s not so good, nobody’s a hero, anything but, and it’s there for the grace of God go we as with a terrible illnesses such as schizophrenia for example, it could be us or our loved ones standing there.  It’s simply tragic.

And that is the feeling in the firearms unit when faced with these sad circumstances. That is why so much of the training is about not forcing a reaction. Early negotiation, good hard cover, giving time and space if, and only if, safe to do so. Anything, to negate having to pull that trigger on that person who is not themselves, who is acting irrationally for that moment, who with time and space, can be negotiated down. Believe me no officer enjoys these circumstances, and those forced into a shooting live with it in their minds for ever after, knowing they couldn’t risk the benefit of the doubt  by gambling with their lives or others around them.  The matter of the inquest or court case is a huge burden on any officer, for which they receive no compensation. They take up the mantle, and take on the responsibility that so few others are prepared to take. For nothing, for no financial reward, but for the teamwork and challenge that faces them from day to day.

The training cuts in, it’s the bit that is automatic. You see, gunman may try it on against another gang, because their oppositions skills are few, the other gang may miss with their firearm, they may not have a genuine loaded firearm, they may just crack and run away, but against armed police I’ve seen the toughest criminals crack.  Why? Well because they know armed police are professional, have the best up to date training, they have discipline and if necessary, they most definitely will use their firearms.  That’s the difference, and that’s what keeps the good people of Britain relatively safe with minimal armed officers.  That’s why with 12,000 firearms related incidents in England and Wales in the past 12 months, there were no police fatal shootings.

And the chicken?  It’s not a happy ending I’m afraid, but he’s at peace.  The neighbour took my suggestion and got the rabbiter neighbour to do it instead, and I know he’d have done a far more professional job than I would have done.

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5 thoughts on “To take a life, or not to take a life… that is the question

  1. Fantastic blog. I’m pleased the chicken was respectfully dispatched !! I am of course very pleased to read that you have not (thankfully) had to shoot anyone. I totally respect your professionalism and am very happy and grateful to know you will protect us (the public) no matter what … Thank you very much.

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  2. Factually incorrect…there was one fatal police shooting within the last year.
    Apart from that a good honest account of the issues faced by firearms officers

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  3. I presume you’re referring to the Islington shooting of Dean Joseph, ‘Anonymous’. As it’s now September 10th, the police haven’t fired a shot in 1 year and 5 days so that’s a bonus hey 👍🏼

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