Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

We’re asking the wrong question about police shootings

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A very strong and good column by Radley Balko on how we are asking the wrong questions. He writes in the Washington Post:

The video below depicts the fatal police shooting of 38-year-old Jason Harrison in Dallas last year. Harrison’s mother had told the police that her son had been making threats, and that he was “bipolar schizo.”

More from the Dallas Morning News:

Police officials have previously said the body camera video backs up the officers’ accounts of self-defense, showing a fast-unfolding event in a tightly confined space. They were protecting themselves, police said.

Dallas police said Monday the department has completed its internal investigation into whether the officers broke any laws. The department did not make a ruling on that issue and instead forwarded the file to the Dallas County district attorney’s office, said police spokesman Lt. Jose Garcia.
Internal investigators are still reviewing the case to see if the officers violated any policies, Garcia said.

The two officers, John Rogers and Andrew Hutchins, are back on full duty and the case is awaiting review by a grand jury. Both officers had been on the force for more than five years at the time of the shooting.

I’d be very surprised if the grand jury indicts these officers. And I’m not sure it should. But the video is a great argument for changing the way we think about killing by police officers. From Eric Garner to Tamir Rice to the countless other shootings and initiations of force to make headlines in recent months, we’ve waited for grand jury investigations to pronounce a shooting legal or illegal, or a DA to pronounce it justified of unjustified, or for an internal investigation to deem it within or outside of a police agency’s policies and procedures.

But I recently spoke on a panel at the University of South Carolina with the former police officer and now law professor Seth Stoughton. He made a point that I think is critical in how we think about these incidents: We shouldn’t be asking if the police actions were legal or within department policy; we should be asking if they were necessary. Or if you’d like to use a word with a bit more urgency behind it, we should ask if they’re acceptable.

Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.

Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?

The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?

From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2015 at 5:10 pm

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