Last week the L.A. Times carried a story, “Police in six Southern California counties have shot more than 2,000 suspects since 2004.
Only one officer was prosecuted – he was acquitted (http://graphics.latimes.com/
The ‘one’ officer, was acquitted after a trial arising from his 2006 shooting of Elio Carrion. Officer Ivory Webb was black. The victim was Hispanic. A bystander captured the incident on video. The issue was, as it should always be, about the decision to use deadly force. What is within the law and was it within policy and training? Officer Webb’s attorney sang the same self-serving tune, “the deputy feared Carrion might have been reaching for a weapon as he rose to his feet.” The problem is, there was NO weapon!
Further excerpts from the story include; Prosecutors decline to file charges… when they would have to convince a jury that the officers did not legitimately fear for their lives when they pulled the trigger… The criminal justice system is “highly deferential” to the judgments made by officers in the field because they are sometimes forced to make split-second life or death decisions. Officers CAN’T be held criminally responsible even if they misjudge a threat — confusing a cellphone for a gun is common, for example — so long as they acted on reasonable and honest convictions… the law provides huge cover for the police in these situations,” The shootings might be ‘awful but lawful.’
The Washington Post also presented details surrounding 990 people who died from police shootings in 2015 (https://www.washingtonpost.
From coast-to-coast, police chiefs are taking unprecedented steps to hold officers accountable for questionable or ‘bad’ shootings. NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck are two of the most high profile chiefs taking action. Many other departments are revising their use of force policies and providing new training to use restraint and deescalate.
The RULES are about to change for the police. The writing is on the wall. This is ‘wake up’ time for law enforcement. Any officer who has ‘situational awareness’ realizes the intense scrutiny on police use of deadly force. Any officer who understands the ‘OODA Loop’ (created by an Air Force Colonel) and an acronym for, ‘Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act’ also should realize change has arrived. In order for officers to survive (both physical safety and career longevity) they better observe what is happening with public trust, orient themselves to the studies and recommendations that are forthcoming, decide if they will COMPLY with the changes, and then act accordingly.
This is really not that much different than when a major change in a sport occurs. When the three-point shot in basketball was implemented, people adjusted to it. More recently, football changed the distance on an extra point kick and new overtime rules were put into place. It was the job of the coaches (i.e., trainers) to teach the players (officers) and to come up with new strategies to be successful. Police ‘lesson plans’ will need to be modified and focused on SAVING MORE LIVES — not protecting only the officers.
Police have adjusted to changes on vehicular pursuits. Many departments no longer allow pursuits based on traffic violations or property crimes. The finest and most progressive departments have also already adjusted (placed restrictions) on foot pursuits. Quality departments do not allow shots to be fired at or from moving vehicles.
Why all of these RESTRICTIONS? Too many deaths were occurring when a wreck ends a vehicular pursuit. Many of those who died were ‘innocent’ and some have even been family members of police officers. Fatalities were also occurring at the end of foot pursuits and it was way too easy for cops to say they thought they were going to be run over instead of staying out of the way.
Once the leaders in police departments (or the courts, or the state laws) change the rules the ‘officers’ will have the obligation to FOLLOW COMMANDS! “If the suspect had simply ‘followed commands’ I wouldn’t have had to shoot.” There has never been a death penalty for failing to follow the commands of a police officer. There should be a death penalty (to careers) if officer are going to remain defiant and refuse to acknowledge the immediate need for change and follow the rules (policies and procedures) that their agencies implement. The new rules of engagement will be more RESTRICTIVE and present more danger to the officers but this is outweighed by the potential to save more
Police frequently explain, “I just knew in my heart that he had a gun” or, “I just knew he was going to enter the home and kill everyone inside — I had to stop him.” This is all reasonable when there is an armed adversary or intruder but NOT when police were wrong. Many law -abiding Americans are now open-carry advocates and WILL be armed when the police contact with them. If police gun down these people, due to conflicting commands or other avoidable confusion, they can expect to see even 2nd Amendment supporters join in the call for more restraint and reason.
Don’t forget Eric Scott was gunned down at Costco in Las Vegas. Metro vilified him and provided chemical analysis to show he was using pain-killers. What an irony; I’ve heard that several Metro administrators were going to work (armed) at the same time and were
also using prescription pain-killers. Thank goodness they didn’t visit Costco.
The Police Executive Research Forum has made some recommendations that are receiving plenty of criticism and resistance. Cops know how to tear apart any critics of the status quo and they are doing it with a vengeance. They cite the ‘21 foot rule’ and the Tennessee v. Garner case, and the Blair Reaction Time Study to fight any discussion of more restraint. They are very capable of finding support for their position but people are DYING who do not need to die! It is easy to do what is popular and to be a police apologist. It can be hazardous to confront the facts but you must admit that you have a problem before you can fix it.
Eleven officers have already been killed this year. I understand the intense emotions but there is no ‘green light’ (to shoot) simply because of bare fear! Mistake of fact shootings must be met with consequences — at times even criminal consequences? “If prosecutors were to conclude a shooting was unjustified, the most likely charges would include assault or manslaughter, which would require the D.A.’s office to prove that an officer acted with reckless disregard for human life. Police leaders can impose departmental discipline, ranging from reprimand to dismissal, if a shooting is found to have violated policy. If they impose discipline it needs to be conveyed to the public.
Will our police be INVETERATE and become even more entrenched or will they really start internalizing that they are now being called on to take reasonable risks to save lives? ‘Window dressing’ policies and national acclaim (for pretending) is not true reform. Metro’s Office of Internal Oversight has a huge backlog and continuing delays deny the opportunity to learn lessons and improve. Metro can be champions for change or they can continue to be perceived as a pack of chumps.
Norm Jahn served with the LVMPD for over 21 years and achieved the rank of lieutenant. He also served as a police chief in Wisconsin for over three years. Jahn has been a university professor and also taught in the criminal justice program at the College of Southern Nevada for over a decade.