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HomeCRIMEHow should police deal with armed criminals?

How should police deal with armed criminals?

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“The use of force is a last resort, not a first option. If a police officer has to use force, it should be done with restraint and with the goal of protecting themselves and others from harm. When dealing with armed criminals, the police must be cautious, strategic, and well-trained in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life and ensure the safety of all involved”

“To serve and protect.” This is a commonly cited quote associated with the role and responsibility of police officers, which emphasizes their duty to safeguard the public and maintain law and order.

Even highly educated People often harbor a hopelessly wrong misconception about how police must deal with armed and dangerous criminals. Their notions in this regard are quite often formed and shaped by the unrealistic nonsense they have been watching in ridiculous films of Bollywood-Tollywood-Kollywood in which the hero cops are generally shown as martial artists infinitely better than Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Scott Adkins, and Michael Jay White all rolled into one. Influenced at a subconscious level by such onscreen stupidities, people actually start believing that our real-life cops too must also be able to control the bad guys with some mysterious techniques without resorting to the ‘crude and brutal’ beating by police lathis. And, if they are not able to do so, they must be both incompetent and insensitive to human rights concerns.  

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The Kalburagi, Karnataka Incident

Earlier this month, there was an incident in Kalburagi, Karnataka, the video of which became viral. As reported by the Hindustan Times, one Mohammed Fazal Jafar, 28, a fruit vendor, was roaming around in a market in the night at about 9 p.m. with a knife in his hand. Police said they received a call that a man was threatening to attack locals and shopkeepers and that he was carrying a knife and a sword.

In the video, it can be seen that a crowd had gathered around him in a circle but was keeping a very safe distance, with no one daring to go anywhere near him. The video shows cops approaching the man and asking him to put down the knife. However, as he threatened to attack and moved menacingly, an officer fired thrice from his handgun. The first shot fired by PSI Waheed Kotwal was in the air as a warning, and the next two were fired at him with the second shot hitting him in the left leg. Then the fallen man was beaten up with lathis before being taken to hospital. The officer took great care to shoot him in the leg only and I commended the police for that on Twitter.

In this incident also, as in many other incidents involving police use of force, his family members claim that he has a wife and a child to support and that he is mentally challenged, mentally ill, mentally unstable, or whatever. They say that he was under treatment but had escaped from the hospital! They also say that the police could have arrested him without shooting. This is obviously a post facto cooked-up story to garner undue sympathy, and is as weak as could be expected from people coming from that background. If the man was really mentally ill and violent and had escaped from the hospital, there was every reason in the world that his family should have kept him chained at home. By God, they could not let loose a mentally ill and armed man on the streets who could have murdered several people and then claim mercy for him! This is ridiculous. 

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In my considered opinion, the PSI deserves to be officially commended first for having the nerve to shoot at a man in full public view, and second for taking care to shoot him in the leg so that the wound was not likely to be fatal.

The Delhi Incident of a Man-Wielding Kirpan Attacking Police

In 2019, there was a much-publicized incident in Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi where a Sikh auto driver was beaten up by the police. You can google the incident and you would find that most of the websites focus only on one aspect, namely, police brutality.

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Even the Delhi High Court called it “evidence of police brutality” and how a uniformed force ought not to act—several cops were punished departmentally. Most of the websites, in their obvious attempt to not miss an opportunity to malign the police for cheap popularity, deliberately chose to not point out the fact that it was the driver who had attacked the police first with his Kirpan. This maligning of the police was partly responsible for the violent protests that ensued in which at least 12 people, including an ACP, were injured.

A Times of India report (June 17, 2019) did mention that the Sikh driver had crashed into the police van and had an argument. The driver in turn attacked the police personnel with Kirpan he had with him, following which he was finally overpowered and beaten up. Police claimed eight of their personnel were injured in the incident. The Tribune (June 20, 2019) reported that video clips of a brawl between driver Sarabjeet Singh and policemen had gone viral on social media. In one such clip, Sarabjeet was seen chasing policemen with a sword, while in another; policemen were seen thrashing him and his son with lathis. Most media outlets chose to show only that video or that much video in which he was being beaten up.

What Could The Police Do In Such Situations?

Let me ask a simple question. What I am, as a cop, supposed to do if I am attacked by a man wielding a sword, Kirpan, knife, axe, or any other sharp-edged weapon, or a firearm?

It is important to mention that in the Delhi incident, the sword/Kirpan-wielding man could be overpowered only after one unarmed cop (wearing a white half-shirt and not in uniform) mustered courage and pinned his arms from the rear. This particular aspect can be seen clearly in the video uploaded on the site of Aajtak (June 18, 2019). Such an opportunity may not present itself all the time. In fact, before he was grabbed, the terrified cops can actually be seen running away in the face of the Kirpan-wielding man. Suppose the police did not have such a courageous man at that moment. Suppose the location and the situation did not permit approaching him from the rear. Suppose his rear had been covered by another armed assailant.

Interestingly, even in the petition filed before the HC through an advocate Seema Singhal, it is stated, “Assuming without admitting that Sarabjeet Singh had taken out his Kirpan to attack the policemen, they should have used reasonable force to make him drop the Kirpan rather than hitting him and his minor son mercilessly.” Although not admitting the fact of having drawn the Kirpan blows automatically in the face of the videos available, she should be asked about the mechanics of applying the so-called ‘reasonable force’ she is advocating that would have made the assailant ‘drop the Kirpan rather than hitting him’. Well, Ma’am, please do teach me the secret technique of using ‘reasonable force to make someone drop his sword’—in spite of my over three decades of experience in combat, I am willing to learn and apply. This is plain and simple, unadulterated nonsense by those who do not have the faintest idea of dealing with an armed and dangerous man.

Maharashtra: Cases of policemen being attacked on the rise Pic: DNA

Unfortunately, public discourse has been hijacked and public perception distorted by such ignoramuses. For their edification, I must inform them that all the so-called knife-disarming techniques marketed by fraud martial artists have been proven to be utterly farcical in the extremely scientific and elaborate combat program of the US Marines—give me a knife and I promise I will kill the man trying those stupid techniques.    

The bleeding hearts must also note that drawing a deadly weapon on the police is a serious offense. In any case, as the Delhi police informed, Sarabjeet has a history of assault and disruption of public order. He had been booked in three cases of disrupting public order since 2006, the latest one in April 2019 when he allegedly thrashed a sewadar of Bangla Sahib Gurdwara and was arrested.

People Must Be Made To Understand the Difficulties of Police Work

A female constable being assaulted by protestors in Bhubaneshwar Pic Firstpost

The beating started after Sarabjeet was overpowered. However, let me ask all those ladies and gentlemen who had pounced on the police to criticize it, how in the world the cops were supposed to overpower him in the first place? Please let me know of any secret, failsafe martial arts technique that you claim to know for dealing with an armed man, demonstrate it under realistic conditions and then I will argue for its mandatory inclusion in police training. It is easy for journalists and activists sitting in AC rooms to give advice on anything and everything. Do not forget that the average cop has passed his physical proficiency test only at the time of his recruitment and basic training. Since then, such is the pressure of duty that he does not get time even for basic exercises, which other citizens do.

His food habits are unhealthy and erratic as he does not have the luxury of eating home-cooked food every time. He has seen martial arts only in films and has no idea of a punch or a kick. He has never ‘tasted’ a single punch on his jaw and would probably be knocked out cold if he were to be socked. In fact, as I had argued earlier, he is not even supposed to indulge in trading punches with a man or grapple with him because he would be at a distinct disadvantage there. The opponent may be heavier and could have more experience in actual fighting than the poor cop.

If You Think Cops Must Use Martial Arts, It Is Nonsense

Fighting in real life is vastly different from reel fights. In the US Marines, where they developed their own fighting system called the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, they make it very clear to the soldiers that, even after great proficiency in the program, they must not expect to come out of a fight with an armed opponent unscathed. Some damage and some injuries are inevitable—the object of the training is essentially to increase their chances of survival, which is all that can be reasonably expected.

Pic: Indian Express

In real life, there are no bloodless fights! It is only in cheap Bollywood-Tollywood-Kollywood entertainers that unarmed onscreen heroes manage to beat to a pulp or even kill two dozen goons armed with deadly weapons like machetes/Veech Aruval without getting their shirts ruffled! We cannot risk our cops getting into fights. We have limited strength of cops for myriad statutory duties and we cannot afford attrition in our ranks because of injuries or deaths. It takes long to first recruit and then train men, and great public resources are spent on that—they cannot be wasted just like that. Above all, cops too have families comprising wives, children, and parents to support.

Professional Solutions to the Problem of Facing Armed Criminals

First, the Correct Choice of Firearm

If you watch the Karnataka video carefully, you would find that even from a distance of a couple of yards, which is technically known as the point-blank range, the cop was obliged to shoot twice to score a hit on Jafar’s leg. Now, given the fact that not every cop is a natural shooter, nor do they generally get adequate firing practice because of their preoccupation with a thousand mandatory tasks in a police station, they can be pardoned for missing the target in the first shot.

Police surrounding the accused in Kalburagi before shooting and injuring him Pic: India Today

The solution in the Indian context is that instead of a handgun (that is, pistol or revolver) they should have fired from the Government approved (and already issued in large numbers to the CRPF and BSF, etc.) 12-bore pump action shotgun manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board.

Recoil Magazine

While pistols, revolvers, and rifles fire single bullets, which demand accurate aiming, the shotgun fires small lead pellets. These pellets spread out in a circle and thus one’s aim need not be very accurate. Since the energy of the propellant is divided amongst those hundreds of pellets, their penetration in human flesh is far less than that of a single bullet and hence their lethality is greatly reduced. Moreover, one can select the size of the pellets at will by choosing from a large selection to suit different requirements. 

In the USA, cops routinely carry the pistol on their bodies but keep the shotgun in the police vehicle. It can be taken out on an instant’s notice, should the situation warrant so. In one of my earlier articles “To kill or get killed: a police officer’s dilemma”, written in the wake of the martyrdom of Delhi police ASI Shambhu Dayal who was repeatedly stabbed by a criminal he had been arrested, I had suggested that for routine duties the cops must be made to carry the OFB .22 revolver for self-protection. The 12-bore pump action shotgun suggested here will complement the .22 revolver—one on the body, the other in the vehicle, as they do in the USA.

Why the Polycarbonate Pipe Police Lathi Is Useless?

To all those people who criticize the police for beating up a downed (Kalburagi, Karnataka) or arms-pinned (Mukherjee Nagar, Delhi) man with lathis, I must pity their ignorance. Pray, what is the reason to believe that an armed criminal has only that weapon on his person, which could be seen from outside? Why there is every chance that he could have some more weapons concealed? In the killing of Delhi police ASI Shambhu Dayal, the assailant struck him repeatedly with a knife that he had concealed. Who can guarantee that a man who is lawless enough to carry a sharp-edged weapon on his person would not be carrying a firearm also in his pocket?

Do such people have any idea of how abundant illicit firearms are in the country? Although having been the highest-ranking IPS officer myself, I have my own sources of information; however, for the satisfaction of some skeptics, I would prefer to quote sources other than mine.

The Times of India carried out a study for an editorial in July 2020. They reckoned that there are about 61 million illicit firearms in India—nearly 86% of all the guns in the country are illegal, the stringent Arms Act notwithstanding. Tarique Anwar carried out an investigation for First Post in which he found that single shot 12 bore country-made handguns are available for as cheap as Rs. 1,500. Tara Kartha estimates the minimum price in the same bracket at about Rs. 2,500. Illicit firearms are manufactured in hundreds of underground factories in Munger (Bihar); Malda, Howrah (WB); parts of Jharkhand; Dharmpuri, Theni (TN); Mirzapur-Bardah (UP-Bihar); Daulatpur and Baisar (Bihar); and Bamhaur (Azamgarh, UP), etc. places.

In combat, there is a vital concept called keeping a safe distance or a stand-off distance. You see, even after Jafar fell down, having been shot in his leg, you must not forget that his hands were still unharmed. He could have still slashed with his knives or worst, could throw them. Perhaps readers ought to know more about “throwing knives” or “throwing of any knife”, both of which are very dangerous—in fact, more than stabbing with knives because the assailant can attack you from a safe distance and with greater force.  

Therefore, unsavory though it may seem, it is absolutely vital that even after a criminal has been shot in the leg or elsewhere, cops must not rush to him to grab him. It is a big No, No! He could have a concealed firearm or any other weapon on his person and he could still attack you. You must approach him with two considerations in mind. First, you must keep as much distance from him as possible. Second, his hands must be disabled. Can anyone tell me a single reason why I, as a cop, should run the risk of getting slashed, stabbed, or shot by a criminal who is down? Go through the records of police throughout the world and you would find hundreds of such instances when cops were thus caught unawares with serious consequences.

For both these considerations, the standard issue of meter-long polycarbonate pipe police lathi is a miserable failure. This stupid implement was inducted without any professional research because, at some point in time, some ignorant officer in position was overcome by an unnatural aversion to the old bamboo lathi. In a fit of liberalism, it was argued that the bamboo lathi could break bones and that was thought to be ‘brutal’—never mind that it was used literally for hundreds, if not thousands of years! Hence a plastic pipe was introduced which, being flexible, would absorb most of the impact energy, and the hurt it would cause would only be superficial. Never in the history of mankind has a greater stupidity been imposed upon the policemen. Since violent people all over the country customarily use heavy bamboo lathis, wooden poles, oars, spears, axes, swords, battle axes (parashu/farsa), and similar other heavy wooden/metal implements, the polycarbonate pipe becomes a laughing stock before them.


Also Read: Can public bully the police?

That is why the police must use six feet or so long strong bamboo lathi to give a vital stand-off or safe distance from the criminal. Moreover, a single strike from this on the arm will render the arm ineffective whereas even scores of strikes from the polycarbonate pipe would not deter a charged-up man from attacking further. If you see the Karnataka video carefully, you would notice that one cop is indeed using a long, branch of a tree sort of thing in his hands and he strikes the man first. My contention is why use such unreliable, poor improvisations when you could use a proper bamboo lathi which police in India anyway used for centuries? Our average cop can easily wield the bamboo lathi because wielding it comes naturally to all humans—it does not require any special training. 

If you do not disable the criminal’s arms, you would still be leaving him with the capacity and capability to attack further with his hands and injure or kill you. This is a professional necessity and misplaced notions of calling them brutality must be dismissed. Tomorrow, I do not want a cop to be killed by a man who was down but could still use his hands!

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr. N. C. Asthana, IPS (Retd) is a former DGP of Kerala and ADG BSF/CRPF. Of the 51 books that he has authored, 20 are on terrorism, counter-terrorism, defense, strategic studies, military science, and internal security, etc. They have been reviewed at very high levels in the world and are regularly cited for authority in the research works at some of the most prestigious professional institutions of the world such as the US Army Command & General Staff College and Frunze Military Academy, Russia. The views expressed are his own.


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