Easing gun rules for police is a first step, but challenges lie ahead
By Sean Lin, CNA Editor
At a public cemetery near the intersection of Tainan’s Taijiang Boulevard and Beishanwei 3rd Road on August 22, two policemen, Tu Ming-cheng (凃明誠), 36, and Tsao Jui-chieh (曹瑞傑), 27 years old, were stabbed to death by wanted fugitive Lin Hsin-wu (林信吾) while searching for a stolen scooter.
Lin, a prisoner released from Mingde Minimum Security Prison after fleeing his day release on August 14, stabbed Tu with a switchblade knife, prompting the officer to retaliate by deploying pepper spray . You were stabbed a total of 17 times in the Fatal Encounter.
The unarmed Tsao, who later arrived at the scene in a police car, was stabbed 38 times when he exited the vehicle after Lin, now in possession of Tu’s gun, fired six shots. fire on Tsao’s car.
Why didn’t you shoot first?
The lethal force debate
In the public autopsy that followed, the way a knife-wielding Lin managed to disarm and murder Tu and Tsao when confronted by a policeman carrying a gun drew particular attention. of the Taiwanese government.
In its first session after the summer recess, the Legislative Assembly on September 30 passed revised draft amendments to the law governing the use of police weapons, introducing new provisions on when police can “fire straight” without firing a warning shot first.
The amendments, which turned existing internal police guidelines into law, were first mooted following public outrage over the murder of 24-year-old railroad policeman Lee Cheng-han (李承翰) by a disgruntled train passenger at Chiayi Station in 2019. .
Hsu Fu-shen (許福生), a police professor in the Administration Department of Central Police University, told CNA that officers are often intimidated to shoot suspects directly under existing provisions. .
Codifying guidelines issued by the National Police Agency (NPA) in 2016, Hsu said officers would no longer hesitate to use their weapons in life-and-death situations.
According to Hsu, this added layer of legal protection would help reduce the chances that police officers will be convicted or receive disproportionate penalties for misjudgments.
NPA chief Huang Ming-chao (黃明昭) also backed the amendment to the law, saying it now makes it clear to police and the public when lethal force can be used.
However, Hsiao Jen-hao (蕭仁豪), a serving police officer and permanent director of the Taiwan Association for the Advancement of Police Rights, believes that enacting the guidelines into law puts officers in legal danger.
With the specific scenarios in which police can ignore a warning shot and shoot directly at now legally defined suspects, courts will have limited room for interpretation when reviewing officers’ use of firearms, he told CNA.
“The amendment defined situations in which officers ‘could’ fire their weapons directly, does that mean we can no longer fire directly in other situations?”
He said the only thing the amendment achieved was to highlight the NPA’s incompetence in training officers on the guidelines for the past six years.
Alex Weng (翁偉仁), a lawyer and former prosecutor, said the drafting of the guidelines law could cloud officers’ judgment on whether to fire their weapons in dangerous situations involving suspects.
“By the time they have gone through all the legal requirements in their heads, the suspects will have already fled,” he said.
According to Weng, the NPA missed the point by including all four scenarios, which does little to reassure police officers who are deciding whether or not to fire their weapons.
“It is a mistake that the police are afraid to use their weapons. They are afraid of the potential legal consequences,” he said.
Weng said the amendments, which he described as an “empty gesture” in their current form, should be redrafted to grant officers using justified lethal force immunity from prosecution, or at the very least legal advice free and a full subsidy of legal fees.
Despite criticism, the Home Office argued that the amended law would shield police officers from the burden of prosecution as it now stipulates that state compensation must first be sought in cases where officers are charged of having violated the rules of use of police weapons and violated the rights of the people.
The ministry noted that prioritizing state compensation would save officers from having to immediately face litigation, although that does not mean officers are now immune from criminal prosecution, and People can always file a civil suit against agents if negotiations over the state’s compensation amount fail.
Training and manpower
For Hsiao, insufficient manpower and lack of proper training are more to blame for Tu and Tsao’s deaths than the legal issues surrounding the use of force.
Hsiao said officers often underestimated the danger of confronting suspects without proper backup, much like Tu did when he confronted Lin.
Additionally, Hsiao said that the fact that Tsao was tasked with traffic-related duties when asked to be Tu’s replacement indicated a shortage of manpower in the local police.
As of August 2019, Tainan’s agent-resident ratio ranked fifth among Taiwan’s 22 administrative regions with one agent per 461 people, after New Taipei (530), Taoyuan (517), Hsinchu County (514) and Hsinchu City (466), according to the latest statistics released by the Ministry of Interior.
With the collective wisdom “seriously lacking” in Taiwan’s law enforcement sector, Hsiao said the NPA should compile a reference similar to the FBI’s data collection on law enforcement officers killed and assaulted (LEOKA ).
According to Hsiao, such a database would help officers make better judgments in life-threatening situations.
Additionally, he said, officers could benefit from immersive augmented reality police training systems that can simulate a wide range of situations.
Hsiao said the systems, which some local police forces have already acquired, would better prepare officers for tense situations that require them to make split-second decisions.