Great Math Mystery

Ron Adam ron3200 at
Fri Apr 17 20:16:48 CEST 2015

On 04/17/2015 11:03 AM, Steven D'Aprano wrote:
> On Fri, 17 Apr 2015 07:47 pm, Fetchinson . wrote:
>>>> >>>In an altercation with the police, complying with their orders greatly
>>>> >>>increases your chances of survival.
>>> >>
>>> >>Ah, the definition of a police state: where ordinary people, whether
>>> >>breaking the law or not, are forced by fear of death to obey the police
>>> >>at all times, whether the police are acting legally or not.
>> >
>> >I think you are grossly mischaracterizing that sentence of the OP. He
>> >simply makes an observation: in an altercation with the police,
>> >complying with their orders greatly increases your chances of
>> >survival. Is this observation/statement true or false? Based on
>> >empirical data from the past 50 years (in the US and elsewhere) I'd
>> >say it's true by a huge margin.
> Which is*exactly my point*.
> "Failure to obey arbitrary commands from random police officers, whether
> legally justified or not, may carry the penalty of summary execution at the
> discretion of the officer" is a defining characteristic of police states.

This is but one subset of the possibilities that could lead to the same 
valid advise.

Keep in mind that many officers are citizens too, at least where I live, 
who have jobs that put them in extremely dangerous situations fairly often. 
  Taking too long to rationally think about a situation could mean the 
police officer is shot instead of the criminal with a gun.

There are some combinations of conditions that will result in a certain 
percentage of outcomes of a certain kind.  I think the original statement 
(Quite possibly from a fortune cookie program.) recognises that concept (as 
well as yours.)  Take a thousand officers, each who respond to a thousand 
calls a year, and there will be a few (very tragic) mistakes.  (and 
hopefully many more fortunate interventions.)  We can maybe shift the 
proportion of mistakes vs interventions, but I don't see how training 
officers to shoot after being shot is a good idea.  We will likely need to 
pay a whole lot more to get people to take those jobs.

Of course it does not excuse willing abuse of authority. Most cases of 
police power abuse here are more likely to be related to an individual 
officers state of mind and/or motives at the time rather than being due to 
instructions higher up.

Possibly there is a way to use Python and statistics to calculate some of 
these values.  With data of course...

    Number of officers.
    number of responses.
    Percent of responses where suspects have deadly weapons.
    Percent of incorrect judgements within some critical time frame
       by people in safe conditions.
    Percentage of incorrect judgements of people in dangerous conditions.
    Percentage of incorrect judgements of people in safe, but perceived
       dangerousness conditions.. etc...

Would be possible to calculate a norm or average from that kind of info?

It is also the type of number people don't want to know about or discuss.


> I made no comment on the OP's intention for making that statement. Perhaps
> he was making an ironic comment on the state of US law enforcement; perhaps
> he thinks he is being genuinely helpful; perhaps this is his way of mocking
> those killed. I don't know. Whether he is a fascist who thinks police
> states are wonderful, or a liberal who thinks they are terrible, he
> described a police state. Whether he knew it at the time or not.

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