There was a shootout in Lincoln on Saturday. Not a “shooting,” but a literal shootout, during a car chase, and exactly zero of the “heroes” involved deserves an Oscar for their performance.
It started simply enough. There was a mid-morning robbery at a hotel near the interstate in NW Lincoln. Police were called to the scene and began taking a report. It’s unclear how much was stolen, but no one was injured. While giving a report, the victim of the crime was notified that a credit card of theirs was being used at several locations in Lincoln. One can only assume that since the victim was notified, bank fraud software already shut that down and the losses stopped at that point. There were no reports of anyone threatened or injured at any of the businesses where the thieves were shopping.
So at this point, it’s a violation and a huge inconvenience for the victim. Whichever banks the cards were from would have to submit claims to their insurance to cover the losses. It would be nice to catch the thieves and have some restitution.
But it’s money. It’s just money. And it’s fixable.
But wait! Then the car the thieves are driving is spotted. The car turns out to be stolen from someone in Wyoming. We may add this to the thieves’ tally of property and money stolen from victims, but, again, we know of zero people who were hurt in this crime spree so far.
So next, law enforcement attempts to bring them in. The thieves do not want to surrender, and attempt to flee. Now the cops have a choice to make: Do they engage in a pursuit for some credit cards that are surely already canceled and a car that is likely not in any condition the rightful owner would want it in? Why yes. Yes, they do.
The state patrol chose to escalate this from property crime to a potentially dangerous situation for all those on the road. In fact, according to a five-year-old report by USA today, more than five thousand innocent bystanders have been killed during police chases.
Here in Lincoln, in classic stupid-criminal-one-upmanship, the pursued criminals began shooting at police cars next. The police again had a choice to make and they weren’t going to allow this behavior to pass without retaliation. Again, they choose escalation.
Lincoln police joins the pursuit and one officer crashes into the criminals’ car under an overpass. Criminals are shooting, law enforcement from two agencies are returning fire. It’s a regular OK Corral on 56th Street.
In the end, one criminal is dead. One has life-threatening injuries and it’s unclear if they will pull through. At least one officer is hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
But, let’s fathom for a moment that nobody cares about criminals and whether they live. Fine. Car theft is a felony but isn’t a capital offense anywhere in this country. Yes, the criminals started it, and yes, they could have stopped. But had murder been in their plan, they would have started firing that gun at any of their previous victims.
They didn’t attempt to hurt anyone until after they were cornered.
The real question in this mess is how much all this “look-how-big-my-appendage-is” masquerading as heroism actually cost all of us. The hard cost alone is enough to boggle the mind. Wrecked police cars, bullet holes everywhere, trauma surgery to attempt to save the criminals, therapy for the PTSD that is likely to follow officers involved, the list goes on and on. But what about the human cost? One, possibly two lives have ended, and the risk to anyone in the area is near immeasurable, including that to all of the involved officers. In addition, there is an actual injury of one involved officer. The cost is high.
It is long past time to examine policies to ensure we can hold property criminals accountable without so much death and destruction.
Taxpayers need the fiscal note on this action movie sequence – which is surely 10 times the value of whatever was stolen – and we need to think hard about strategies of police reform that preserve property, public expenses, and first and foremost, human life through modern de-escalation, not Old West tactics.