According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the city of St. Louis has been wracked with an unusual amount of violence in only the first month of the year as police officers have fired shots in five incidents over 19 days, killing one and wounding four. Of most concern is that several such instances appear to violate the department's own written protocols, although Chief Dan Isom said exceptions are frequently made.
Last year saw less police violence than normal as St. Louis police officers hit suspects with gunfire in 15 incidents during 2011. Officers typically fire between 30 and 40 times a year. Before hearing about the fifth incident of the year, Isom said that he though "Four is a concern." He was quick to point out that it "doesn't mean it's necessarily inappropriate... We look at these shootings on a case-by-case basis."
Isom clarified that the use-of-force policy begins with the following disclaimer: "In exceptional circumstances, violations of the restrictions may be justified by necessity." The procedures generally prohibit firing at or from moving vehicles, or being too quick to pull out a pistol.
Three of this year's five incidents involved shots at moving cars. One was the unintentional wounding of a teenager by an officer's un-holstered pistol during a struggle. The final incident, where a suspect was killed, involved a volley of shots in which three officers together fired almost 100 rounds.
Isom has said investigations regarding each incident are ongoing but that he has personally reviewed footage from several such episodes. "Are there things that could have been done differently? Right now, there's nothing glaring."
Isom says the protocols exist for a reason and officers should usually attempt to follow them to avoid creating unnecessary danger to others. For instance, the rule against shooting at a moving vehicle exists because a driver who is unable to control his vehicle has a much greater chance of injuring others.
Another procedure says that officers may "only draw or exhibit a weapon when he/she has reasonable cause to believe that it may be necessary to use that weapon." This comes from a 2009 study of 112 St. Louis police shootings that occurred between 2003 and 2007. The study, conducted by David Klinger, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist, found that nearly half of all shootings included foot chases and many involved "officers getting too close to suspects while holding their service pistols."
When Klinger conducted the study, the St. Louis PD only conducted monthly, computerized refresher courses regarding deadly force training. Klinger felt this wasn't enough and that reforms needed to be made to ensure police behaved appropriately in dangerous situations. Isom said the department took action, implementing various changes with regard to deadly force training. These changes include more defensive tactics training and an extra firearms qualification day, with scenario-based training.
Hopefully these changes have an effect and reduce the levels of police violence seen thus far in 2012. If you've had a run in with police and find yourself in need of a Missouri criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don't hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
Source: "St. Louis police shootings pit real world against policies," by Christine Byers, published at STLToday.com.
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