The BBC has a story this week about a police raid on a man firing a shotgun that led to his death. Unfortunately, in the United States, that is all too common a story. However, there was one fact in the story that stood out: this was the first such killing by police in the recorded history of Iceland. I am not sure how to verify this fact but even if it were only the 100th in history it would astonishing.
The shooting took place in the east of Reykjavik when police responded to a man firing a shotgun in his apartment. When police arrived, he refused to surrender and led police to fire repeated canisters of tear gas into the apartment. However, the 59-year-old refused to give up, refused to speak with police, and then fired at police entering the apartment. Two members of the special forces were injured by his shotgun, including one in the face.
Icelandic police chief Haraldur Johannessen immediately went public with his sympathy for the shooter’s family: “Police regret this incident and would like to extend their condolences to the family of the man.” Police officers were given counseling to deal with shock and grief.
Iceland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world but that does not explain the virtual absence of fatalities from police shootings. We have often discussed the concern that lethal force is used in the United States in too many circumstances and, in some cases, with relatively minor threats. (here and here and here and here and here). The Icelandic police clearly view lethal force as an absolutely final measure. One must assume that they have faced the same type of cases with people wielding scissors or knives, but somehow avoided simply shooting the culprits. This is not to say that many officers in this country do not follow the same admirable restraint — we have seen such admirable cases. However, the cases that we discuss on this blog remain troubling in comparison.