A new policy endorsing the use of warning shots by police to de-escalate potentially deadly confrontations is driving a rift among some law enforcement leaders who believe the practice only heightens risk and should be abandoned, reported the USA Today.
The controversial issue broke into the open during a weekend gathering of the nation’s police chiefs in Philadelphia where some officials called for removing the provision allowing for warning shots contained in the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force.
The policy paper was approved earlier this month by a coalition of police groups, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest society of top law enforcement officials in the country.
"I'll be real candid, I think it's a stupid idea," said James Varrone, assistant police chief in Wilmington, N.C., who first raised the matter Sunday at a law enforcement town hall event staged to coincide with the IACP conference. "I thought the idea of warning shots and the dangers posed by such a policy went away decades ago or longer than I have been in law enforcement – and that's been 31 years.''
Varrone's assessment was effectively endorsed by hundreds of law enforcement colleagues who, when asked whether they supported such a policy, sat silent during the discussion sponsored by the Police Executive Research Forum, a D.C.-based law enforcement think tank.
"We have had enough people killed or injured as bystanders over the years by errant gunfire without endorsing a strategy like this for police," said Darrel Stephens, the outgoing executive director of the Major City Chiefs Association, which represents the 59 largest police departments in the United States.
Of the criticisms raised by other police groups regarding the policy, Pasco said: "You could nit-pick any kind of document like this. This is a statement of best practices."
The policy is not binding on any law enforcement agency, as departments adopt their own guidelines on the use of deadly force. But some officials said the warning-shot option could dangerously cloud officers' responses to the most difficult question they face on the job: when to shoot?
For that reason and for the safety of third parties, Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said warning shots--as an option for officers--have been banned by most department for decades.
"There has never been any real discussion at all in terms of change," Wexler said. "It's been an established policy for the better part of 40 years that warning shots are prohibited."
Stephen Davis, deputy police commissioner for the New York Police Department, said extreme density in cities like New York are strong arguments against such a policy.
"When you fire a shot, that bullet has to come down somewhere," Davis said. "The downside of policy like this greatly outweighs any benefit, especially in New York."
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