Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why Are Police Shootings of Innocents on the Rise?

The American Prospect asks this question and suggests more funding for firearms and situational simulation training couldn't hurt. The article begins:

In New York City, police mistakes get played out on a big stage. In September, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) performance was caught on camera in crowded Times Square when two officers shot at an unarmed suspect, missed him, and hit two bystanders instead. The man had been lurching in and out of traffic, ignoring police commands to stop, and at one point pulled his hand out of his pants as if he had a gun, according to a report in The New York Times.

It was the latest in the department’s two-year run of an unusually high number of unintentional shootings of innocents. Last August, police wounded nine bystanders while unloading 16 rounds at a suspect who’d just shot a co-worker on the street near the Empire State Building. In separate cases last year, cops wounded four other bystanders.

Gun battles and shoot-don’t-shoot decisions can be appallingly hard for even experienced cops to handle well. Low light, suspects in motion, and combat stress all affect accuracy and judgment. Criminologist David Klinger of the University of Missouri-St. Louis tells the story of a SWAT officer involved in an early-morning arrest of four suspects driving a van. When one of them raised a pistol, the officer fired several rounds from almost point-blank range—three or four feet away. One of the bullets missed completely, hitting a second suspect, and the rest hit the first suspect in his extremities instead of his chest, where the officer had been aiming.

In those adrenaline-filled encounters, good training more often than not makes the difference. Practicing realistic simulations of live fire allows cops to make better decisions and hit what they’re shooting at. In many jurisdictions, however, they aren’t getting enough or the right kind of weapons training, in part because of cuts to police-training budgets. That puts both bystanders and sometimes police in the line of fire, and local governments on the hook for big payouts.

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