Sunday, September 2, 2012

Controversial police shootings not new to New York City

The Youngstown Vindicator
September 2, 2012

Two New York City police officers opened fire Aug. 24 on a man armed with a .45 caliber handgun who just gunned down a former co-worker near the Empire State Building. In the wake of the fusillade 10 people were shot, one of whom lay dead on a Manhattan street.

The shooting, during morning rush-hour, immediately evoked visions of a series of massacres this summer. In May, a man opened fire in a Seattle cafe killing five and shooting himself. The “Batman” movie theater massacre in Colorado claimed 12 lives, and six worshipers were slain at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

As the fog of the NYC gun battle lifted it became clear that the nine people wounded were shot by the police. Two were dead, the gunman and his initial target, a former co-worker. “It appears that all nine of the victims were struck either by fragments or by bullets fired by police,” Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the Washington Post.

Two NYC police officers fired 16 shots at the gunman — his body had 10 bullet wounds in the chest, arms and legs.

Police shootings

Controversial police shootings are not new to NYC. In 1999, police unloaded 41 shots at Amadou Diallo hitting him 19 times — after Diallo reached into his pocket for his wallet. Police thought he was reaching for a weapon.

Since then, New York has seen fewer killings involving suspects. Although in 2006, Sean Bell, an unarmed bridegroom-to-be was hit by four of 50 shots aimed by police at his vehicle. He was killed.

In April of this year, a man who allegedly killed his 13-year-old half-sister survived a barrage of gunfire from NYC police officers, after pointing his pistol at them. Two police officers fired a total of 84 shots at the suspect hitting him 14 times. According to the New York Daily News, “The police were shooting at the guy from 10 or 15 feet away.”

A few weeks ago, NYC police shot and killed a man they say lunged at them with a knife in a confrontation that began near Times Square and started police officers on a slow-paced foot pursuit that ended with police shooting 12 times near a crowded tourist area.

Should the Empire State Building shooting be cause for alarm? After all the police wounded nine bystanders and missed their target, the gunman, about 40 percent of the time from less than 10 feet away.

Statistics suggest that not only is it not necessarily alarming but actually better than average.

Gunfire hit rate

According to Dick Fairburn author of “Building a Better Gunfighter,” data on the gunfight hit rate of officers from the New York City and Los Angeles Police Departments found that about 25 percent of shots fired by officers hit their intended target.

The shooting outside the Empire State Building was better than average and far better than other noteworthy New York City police shootings.

New York law allows an officer to use physical force only when he or she “reasonably believes such to be necessary” to affect arrest, prevent escape or defend a person or property from harm.

Although not mandated by the FBI, the NYPD closely tracks each police shooting pursuant to Department Order SOP 9. The information is used for training purposes and by all accounts has been effective.

When annual record keeping began in 1971, officers shot and mortally wounded 93 people and another 221 people were injured by police gunfire. In 2009, New York police shot and mortally wounded 12 people and injured 20.

Rare use

In a city of eight million people, NYPD officers rarely use their firearms. Although the wounding of nine innocent bystanders is embarrassing and the spate of recent police shootings in crowded public spaces are disconcerting, as Eugene O’Donnell, a former New York City police officer and professor at John Jay College, told CNN, “New York’s 35,000-officer force remains a worldwide model of firearms restraint and veneration for human life.”

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