Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Public Pressure

From the Daily Breeze:

LAPD chief seeks changes in rules for police firearm use


Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton on Friday proposed a new use of deadly force policy that would ban officers from firing at moving vehicles. The proposal was given to the civilian Police Commission for its review less than a week after the controversial killing of a 13-year-old boy police said was driving a stolen car. The revised policy prohibits officers from firing at a moving vehicle "unless the officer or another person is being threatened with deadly force by means other than the moving vehicle," Bratton said in a memo to police commissioners. He asked that the commission approve the policy Tuesday at its next meeting. Police departments in major cities, including Boston, Cincinnati and Detroit, have adopted similar restrictions in recent year.

Bratton said a year ago he was considering revising the department policy after officers killed a suspected burglar in a confrontation broadcast live on local TV.Nicholas Hans Killinger, 23, was shot 10 times as his vehicle slowly rolled backward into police patrol cars that had closed in on him following a 90-minute pursuit. The shooting policy again came under intense scrutiny following the Sunday shooting of Devin Brown after a pursuit in South Los Angeles. The shooting occurred about 4 a.m. after the 13-year-old crashed a 1990 Toyota Camry that was reported stolen onto a sidewalk. A 14-year-old boy who was a passenger in the car ran from the scene and the Camry then backed into and damaged a patrol car. Officer Steven Garcia, 31, a nine-year veteran, fired 10 rounds toward the vehicle. Brown was struck and died at the scene.

After the shooting, Bratton said a revised policy would be presented to the Police Commission in 30 to 45 days, but the matter was put on a fast track under pressure from Mayor James Hahn and community leaders. The proposed policy would require that officers in the path of a vehicle should move out of its path instead of firing at it. Among the reasons given for revising the policy was that bullets are "extremely unlikely" to stop a moving vehicle, gunfire could miss the intended target or ricochet into innocent people, and the vehicle could crash and hurt others if the driver is shot.

Bob Baker, president of the local police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he opposes changing the existing policy. Current policy generally prohibits firing at a moving vehicle, but allows using deadly force as a last resort. "You can't legislate what is going to happen in the streets. Our work is highly unpredictable and usually dictated by the actions of suspects," Baker said. "You can't take away all discretion from a police officer to try and save a community member's life or his own life or his partner's life." Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina, said the proposed policy would save lives.

I heard Chief Bratton being interviewed on the radio this morning and he says that the new policy will allow officers to fire at a moving vehicle if they can justify it. Well, isn't that always the case?

Unless I misunderstood my use of force training (and I'll have you know I got 100% on the test), you always have to be able to articulate why you used the force you did. The policy also states that you should move out of the way rather than shoot. Well, current rules of use of force dictate that we must exhaust other alternatives before shooting. That would mean that under current policy, if you could move out of the way safely, you should. So basically this policy does very little besides assauge the rage of the community. Just what we need. More ink and paper wasted on making an unreasonable community happy.

What happens when the community gets mad that a thirteen year old firing at cops gets dumped? Are we going to make a policy that redefines handguns as non-deadly weapons? That may sound silly, but you never know these days...


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