Matthew T. Mangino
March 27, 2015
A Pennsylvania police officer has been charged with murder in the death of a man who sped away after the officer noticed he had an expired inspection sticker on his vehicle. When the officer caught up with the man he attempted to flee on foot.
The officer used a stun gun knocking the suspect to the ground. She then shot him twice as he lay face down. The incident was recorded by a camera activated on the officer’s stun gun.
The arrest of a police officer as a result of a shooting in the line of duty is extremely rare. Families in Ferguson, Cleveland and communities too numerous to mention can attest to that phenomenon.
A little way down the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Philadelphia city officials are dealing with a pervasive problem of police-related shootings. Philadelphia police shot 394 people between 2007 and 2013. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, police data indicates that 540 officers fired their guns in 364 incidents. Sixty-eight officers were involved in more than one shooting — of those, 12 shot three people each, while another three shot four people each.
If those statistics aren’t alarming enough, consider that police-involved shootings are largely under reported. In February, FBI Director James Comey admitted during a speech at Georgetown University that, “It’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police in this country — last week, last year, the last decade.”
Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and noted author, compiled his own statistics for police-related shootings in 2011. Why no national database of police-involved shooting? Fisher contends, “The answer is simple: they don’t want us to know. Why? Because police shoot a lot more people than we think.”
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) confirmed that the government’s own data on police involved deaths have been off for more than a decade — by more than 100 percent.
The report estimates that there were “an average of 928 law enforcement homicides per year” from 2003 through 2011 — which means, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that previous yearly tallies by the BJS and the FBI included fewer than half of all such deaths.
More alarming is that a significant number of victims of police-reported shootings are mentally ill. A joint report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs Association — Justifiable Homicides by Law Enforcement: What is the Role of Mental Illness? — noted that “Although no national data is collected, multiple informal studies and accounts support the conclusion that “at least half of the people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”
The public has no hard data on the number of police-involved shootings, and as many as one in two of those killings may have been prevented by adequate police training and education.
Just this week the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that has the potential to insure that much needed training and education is mandated. The case, Sheehan v. San Francisco, could settle the extent to which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) serves as a check on police officers’ interactions with people with mental illnesses.
Teresa Sheehan was mentally ill, in her 50s, overweight, and in her own home wielding a knife when she was shot five times by San Francisco Police.
The ADA requires local governments to provide “reasonable accommodations” to individuals with disabilities, and according to Slate, courts have interpreted that guarantee to include arrests — that is, police should take into account a person’s disabilities when taking them into custody.
The ADA has done wonders to protect men and women in the workplace and disabled consumers. Can this be the catalyst to help cut down on police-involved shootings?
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
Visit the Column