Sunday, October 10, 2004


This Eskimo village sits on the edge of the continent, part shantytown, part suburb, part Wild West. One can't go farther west without stepping into the Bering Sea - and just beyond, onto the frosty eastern tip of Siberia. No roads lead to Hooper Bay, which is why the modern world has taken its time coming here, and then only in spots. Clusters of plywood shacks stand a short distance from subdivisions of lookalike modular homes. There's no running water, but lots of VCRs and satellite dishes, and computers hooked up to the Internet.

One of the more curious aspects of life here has to do with firearms. Every household has an assortment of rifles and shotguns. When people are hungry, they go out and shoot something, like a walrus in the surf. Every adult has legal access to guns - except the police. The elders won't allow it. The policy - some would call it an edict - isn't written anywhere in the town's municipal code. It has simply been spoken by the gray-haired men and women with faces like carved driftwood who believe that armed officers would only create more trouble.

Hooper Bay is the only known municipality in the United States that prohibits officers from carrying firearms. Police Chief James Hoelscher wants to change that. For the past two years, the chief, half-Eskimo, has tried to convince leaders that a growing town of 1,200 needs a modern police department. "It's been like pedaling backwards going uphill," says Hoelscher, 28. He has a deep voice and friendly dark eyes that can turn intimidating in an instant. "They [town leaders] think we're still in the days of dog sleds and harpoons."

The debate ebbs and flows in town meetings and wherever else it happens to come up, like the lobby of the post office or the checkout line at the grocery store. It is a passionate, disjointed conflict that signals the larger phenomenon of a traditional people facing the pressures of the modern world, the old confronted by the new. The two sides are divided according to how they view their community. Those in favor of arming the nine police officers tend to see Hooper Bay as an American town; those against view it as an Eskimo village. "There are many ways to deal with dangerous situations," says City Administrator Raphael Murran. "If the police had guns, somebody might get shot. Somebody might get killed. Then there would be real trouble."

More here.


An independent report has condemned the tardy police response to a bloodbath at a family barbecue in Oxfordshire, England, in June 2004. Stuart Horgan ran riot with a shotgun, shooting his ex-wife, and her sister and mother - the sisters both died from their wounds; their mother remains in hospital. But police officers and an ambulance crew refused to enter the house, saying that there was a chance that the gunman could still be at large. Neighbours were left to comfort the victims for an hour-and-a-half, until paramedics finally arrived. Police concerns about their own health'n'safety means that they hold back on one of the few occasions when they might be quite useful.

Meanwhile, home secretary David Blunkett has said that the police 'need a public image boost' - telling them that they have to be better at answering telephones and dealing with the public. So call your local police station for a chat and expect an impeccable standard of service. But should you ever face the barrel of a gun, it seems that you're on your own.

From "Spiked"

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