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The decision not to issue handguns or firearms to Community Supervision Officers or CSO requires serious contemplation on the part of the policymakers. The decision to disarm CSOs should go beyond the need to reduce cost and manage resources at an optimum level. It is imperative to look at the big picture and develop a strategy that ensures the safety of the parolees, CSOs, and the members of the community. It is imperative to understand that the decision not to arm CSOs is a part of a solution to enhance the success of the town or city when it comes to reducing crime, preventing gun-related violence, and creating an environment that is more conducive to rehabilitation and restorative justice.
Before going any further, it is important to establish certain conditions. It is prudent to disarm CSOs provided that the following assumptions and conditions hold. First, CSOs are not deployed to a high-crime rate area of the city. It is possible to determine the confidence level that enables the deployment of unarmed CSOs based on the concentration of parolees, ex-convicts, and absconders in the said district or community. For example, in a recent survey, it was discovered that out of the 5 million persons under the management of CSOs, around a quarter of a million are considered absconders or parolees that are no longer in compliance with specific legal requirements (Barton-Bellessa 1). Thus, these people are not going to appreciate the presence of a CSO that is hot after their trial and may resort to the use of violence to prevent incarceration. If the percentage of absconders reaches a maximum level, it is not prudent to disarm CSOs. Second, it is not wise to implement this measure in an area with a recorded high incidence of gun-related violence.
Impractical Use of Resources: Time and Money
The conditions discussed earlier were made to ensure the safety of the officer. However, one can make the argument that even in the most deplorable conditions, such as, areas with a high crime rate and gun-related violence, the presence of armed CSOs is not a deterrent to crime or foster an environment that induces parolees or ex-convicts to walk the path that leads to rehabilitation and restoration.
The presence of an armed CSO in a crime hotspot only increases the tension and the probability that someone may get hurt, and it is not a stretch to imagine that the one on the receiving end of a deadly gunfight is ill-prepared CSO. It has to be made clear that a CSOs primary duty is not to take down armed criminals in the same way that a SWAT team member is trained to do.
A CSO is expected to inspire confidence to help ex-convicts and parolees to choose law and order rather than a life of crime. Thus, CSOs focus their attention and their energy in this capacity. They do not train like elite strike force units. This is a problematic realization, especially if one will consider the fact that the majority of gun-related violence or “law enforcement shootings occur at extremely close distances” (Spaulding 193). More than half of it occurs at a distance of 6 feet (Spaulding 193). This is a critical issue because most law enforcement officers and CSOs are not trained to handle close-quarter shooting (Spaulding 193). In other words, to prepare CSOs for real-life eventualities, they must go through a different kind of training, and education protocol that resembles the kind of muscle memory and skills acquisition process seen in special forces schools.
It is an expensive proposition to prepare CSOs to handle tough situations involving hard-core criminals and parolees with a proclivity to use firearms when they are under stressful situations. In these cases, it is best to send unarmed CSOs with the assistance of highly-trained police officers, such as those with prior training in hostage negotiations. In an ideal scenario, the support team are sharpshooters and able to handle the difficulties created by close-quarter combat.
It is indeed a waste of time and other resources to arm CSOs, especially if their primary responsibility is to diffuse tension and create an environment that encourages the transformation of lawbreakers into law-abiding citizens. Thus, it is a waste of time to train them to use firearms. It is also a waste of time to observe and follow the rules and regulations associated with gun ownership. In other words, the use of firearms triggers a ripple effect that gives rise to inefficient resource allocation.
Arming CSOs with handguns forces them to consider the said deadly weapons as the primary tool to help them get out of stressful situations or neutralize a perceived threat. It does not require a social scientist to figure out the root cause of police fatalities involving mistaken identity or excessive use of force (Hand 50). For example, if a CSO feels threatened or wants to stop a mentally disturbed parolee from taking another step forward, he or she may be forced to shoot the subject’s lower extremities. The shot was meant to discourage aggression, however, no one can predict all the variables, and it is just as easy for the CSO to hit a nerve or a critical vein causing death through excessive blood loss (Ataria et al. 318).
In a best-case scenario, the shooter is not off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility and accountability for shooting another human being. However, in a fatal shooting incident, CSOs are subjected to a stringent process designed to establish the need to shoot for the sake of self-defense or ferret out the truth when it comes to the use of excessive force (Hand 49). It is therefore prudent to use non-lethal weapons and tools like maces, stun guns, and taser guns. The use of similar devices creates a larger margin for error in dealing with life-threatening situations and ensuring the safety of CSOs.
It is one thing to shoot paper targets, and it is quite another to shoot and kill another human being. It is impossible to prepare the average CSO for such a traumatic event (Ataria et al. 317). Thus, it takes a personal toll on CSO’s every time they discharge a weapon. They are even subjected to greater psychological stress when they kill someone in the line of duty.
Examining the issue of arming CSOs from different points of view reveals more harm than good for the community, the parolees, and the CSOs themselves. They do not need firearms to accomplish their goal of reforming offenders and transforming them into law-abiding citizens. Arming CSOs with handguns forces them to consider it as the primary tool when they are under threat or in a stressful situation. As mentioned earlier, it is not prudent to send unarmed CSOs to areas with high crime rates and high incidence of gun-related violence. A better alternative is to support CSOs with law enforcement officers equipped with special skills in handling close-quarter shooting. In less dangerous locations, the best way to empower CSOs is to provide them with non-lethal tools like maces, stun guns, and taser guns.
Ataria, Yochai, et al. Interdisciplinary handbook of trauma and culture. New York, NY: Springer, 2016.
Barton-Bellessa, Shannon. Encyclopedia of Community Corrections. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2012.
Hand, Carol. Gun control and the second amendment. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Publishing, 2017.
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Spaulding, Dave. Handgun combatives. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Publications, 2011.