Written by Ting-Yi Bai.
Image credit: 內政部警政署「106年第一次署務會議」by 總統府/ Flickr, license: CC BY 2.0.
In August 2020, the murder of two police officers shocked Taiwanese society. The police officers, Tu Ming-Cheng, and Cao Ruei-Jie, investigated larceny after receiving a report that a stolen motor had been seen near Chikan Tower in Tainan. While searching for the suspect separately, Tu Ming-Cheng was suddenly attacked by the inmate Lin Xin-Wu, who had escaped from Mingde Minimum-Security Prison. Cao Ruei-Jie was also stabbed after failing to halt the culprit. Both died in the end.
Regarding order and security, Taiwan has been ranked top globally. Taiwan ranks third in the world with a score of 84.1 on the Numbeo-published 2022 Crime Index, which is based on the polls of Numbeo visitors’ perceptions. Perhaps this is why people were terrified when they learned that the suspect Lin Xin-Wu had assassinated two police officers one by one.
Even though this incident is not related to the police’s right to use guns, most people blame the tragedy on unfriendly conditions for the police. There is a widespread belief that if police officers deal with crimes with guns, they will be prosecuted, and the court will sentence them to prison or order them to pay a large amount of damages. As a result, the police are reluctant to use guns while being on duty.
In response to the opinion, the Minister of the Interior advised the police to “use guns with confidence.” The Legislative Yuan also amended the “Act Governing the Use of Police Weapons” on September 30, 2022, granting the police more discretion in using weapons, particularly “police firearms.” However, the issue remained unresolved even after the amendment.
In the Absence of Clear Guidelines and Proper Training
The State’s stance on officials’ use of force is unclear. The administration does not have a guideline on which the police should preferentially use weapons. Whenever there is a critical criminal case, the police units encourage police officers to use firearms if necessary. However, they would interpret it as individual officers’ culpability if there is a dispute over weapons abuse. Without national-level guidelines, there is no coherence when the police are educated and trained. Moreover, the principles continue to change with random social disputes.
Since Taiwan’s public safety is steady and great, the police do not need to be concerned about the use of firearms most of the time. However, this makes police officers lack experience and confidence in using firearms. With regards to this issue, how can we ensure that the police use weapons lawfully at the enforcement scene while also protecting their own and others’ safety?
The non-governmental organization “Taiwan Police Union” has suggested that the Executive Yuan should, like several states in the United States, formulate a “Use of Force Policy” as guidelines for the use of force by police officers and the primary program of education and training. As long as there are national-level guidelines for the use of force, the legislative basis for the legality of the use of weapons would be established. In addition, fundamental principles of education and training could also be developed, minimizing the uncertainty in firearms.
Furthermore, regarding the use of firearms, police education and training are insufficient to cope with unpredictable enforcement situations.
In the past, shooting training emphasized accuracy standing at a fixed point. Even though posture-changing shooting and marching dynamic shooting were introduced later, none of these simulations considered the actual circumstances that the police would face in reality.
In recent years, the National Police Agency, and the Central Police University have constructed “shooting ranges with scenario-based simulation training.” Although the shooting ranges are equipped with wraparound screen systems to imitate actual conditions that the police may experience on duty, they do not provide live ammunition. Moreover, the number of ranges is not adequate for all police officers to receive proper training.
Apart from the aspects above, the provisions under the “Act Governing the Use of Police Weapons” are outdated, vague, ambiguous, and even contradictory.
According to the Act, the police are allowed to use their guns under certain circumstances, but it is also urged that they should only do so “in an emergency.” The Act further mandates that, unless “the situation is so imminent,” police personnel must avoid injuring peoples’ fatal organs when using guns.
If a police officer urgently needs firearms while on duty, such a circumstance is theoretically an “emergent” situation. Does this imply that the police have no obligation to avoid the use of lethal force or that they may wilfully kill the suspects, given that this condition not only satisfies the police’s urgent requirement to use firearms but is also legally permissible due to the emergency circumstances? This scenario obviously does not comply with the principle of proportionality in judicial practice, although it might be used to justify the use of firearms.
Although the Legislative Yuan amended the Act to allow the police to use firearms if suspects or perpetrators pose a danger to lives or people’s bodies while on duty, this did not resolve the issue. The amendment may merely add other nonsense regulations because it opposes the current principles of police education and training. Not only does this not fix the issue, but it also causes further problems. For instance, if perpetrators kidnap a victim in front of the police, police officers cannot fire directly since the perpetrators do not pose a danger to the victim’s life or body but to his right to free movement.
In conclusion, it is quite difficult for the police to master firearms and for judges to follow clear guidelines when determining whether the police’s use of weapons is legitimate. As stated before, this is due to a lack of policy for firearms use, appropriate teaching materials, consistent training principles, and comprehensive legislation. Even the recent amendment did not address complicated concerns. While most of the controversies involving the use of police weapons are not rooted in the courts but rather in administration and legislation, the relevant authorities should act as soon as possible before the next tragedy occurs.
Ting-Yi Bai is a Plain Law Movement Research Fellow. Since public opinion is controlled by nonsense, he argues that institute design, policy formation, and public sector behaviour must be founded on considerable legitimacy and empirical study. He believes that Taiwan’s envisioned community and rationality would lead to the dissolution of feudal social systems by emphasising the civic duty engendered by freedom.
This article was published as part of a special issue on ‘Farewell 2022 and Welcome 2023’.
I would think that Taiwan had better training for its police officers compared to the terrible training that American cops get. With the crime rate so low in Taiwan, you think that cops would have more time off from patrolling the streets or doing detective work, to practice with their firearms.