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Newspapers, TV, MediaPolice Tactics Debated by Police veteran Reginald Allard,Jr. an authority on law enforcement procedures and practices, speaks with Harry Smith & Hannah Storm about recent surveillance videos that show excessive force being used during arrests.
Local Newspapers11 Years of Police Gunfire, in Painstaking Detail May 8, 2008 By AL BAKER http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/nyregion/08nypd.html?pagewanted=1
New York City police officers fire their weapons far less often than they did a decade ago, a statistic that has dropped along with the crime rate. But when they do fire, even at an armed suspect, there is often no one returning fire at the officers. Officers hit their targets roughly 34 percent of the time. When they fire at dogs, roughly 55 percent of shots hit home. Most of their targets are pit bulls, with a smattering of Rottweilers and German shepherds. Officers’ guns go off unintentionally or by accident for a variety of reasons: wrestling with suspects, cleaning the weapons, leaning on holsters — even once, in 1996, when a gun was put in an oven for safekeeping. While the drop in police shootings was already clear, the details were among the myriad facts included in 11 years’ worth of annual New York Police Department firearms-discharge reports that were, without fanfare, handed over to the City Council this week and earlier to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Both groups have been examining the department’s methods of stopping and arresting suspects, sometimes for possession of illegal guns. The reports cover the years 1996 to 2006, and are used as a training tool and to help officials develop “lesson plans.” “Patterns and possible hazards are identified” from the statistics, the report adds. Over all, the numbers show that the department’s use of deadly force has decreased along with the city’s historic drop in crime, and the drop in threats against police officers. Picked apart closely, the reports provide a remarkable portrait of how the nation’s largest police force, with 36,000 officers, uses its guns. Every shot, from gunfight to accident to suicide, both on and off-duty, is accounted for. The findings include: 1. The number of bullets fired by officers dropped to 540 in 2006 from 1,292 in 1996 — the first year that the city’s housing, transit and regular patrol forces were merged — with a few years of even lower numbers in between. Police officers opened fire 60 times at people in 2006, down from 147 in 1996. 2. The police fatally shot 13 people in 2006, compared with 30 people a decade before. 3. In 77 percent of all shootings since 1998 when civilians were the targets, police officers were not fired upon, although in some of those cases, the suspects were acting violently: displaying a gun or pointing it at officers, firing at civilians, stabbing or beating someone or hitting officers with autos, the police said. No one fired at officers in two notable cases — the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo and the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell. 4. In such shootings, the total number of shots fired in each situation edged up to 4.7 in 2006. However, the figure is skewed by the 50 shots fired in the Bell case. Excluding that case, the average would be 3.6 shots. 5. The average number of bullets fired by each officer involved in a shooting remained about the same over those 11 years even with a switch to guns that hold more bullets — as did officers’ accuracy, roughly 34 percent. This figure is known in police parlance as the “hit ratio.” “The data shows that the New York City Police Department is the most restrained in the country,” said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. “What these reports don’t show are the thousands of incidents where police were confronted with armed criminals, and they did not return fire.” John C. Cerar, a retired deputy inspector who was the commander of the Police Department’s firearms training section from 1985 to 1994, said the accuracy rate is comparable to that of many other major police departments. In some cases, it is better. In Los Angeles, which has 9,699 officers, the police fired 283 rounds in 2006, hitting their target 77 times, for a hit ratio of 27 percent, said Officer Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman. Last year, they fired 264 rounds, hitting 76 times, for a 29 percent hit ratio, she said. So far this year the hit ratio in Los Angeles is 31 percent, with 74 of 237 bullets fired by officers hitting the target. In the New York reports, the hit ratio of officers who committed suicide with a firearm — and, therefore, hit their target 100 percent of the time — is included when the overall average is calculated, bringing it up. Forty-six police officers committed suicide in the 11 years from 1996 through 2006, an average of four a year. The highest number came in 2003, when seven officers committed suicide. Inspector Cerar credited the department for studying its shootings. “Everything is down, the number of shots fired by officers is down, the number of subjects that we shot is way down,” said Inspector Cerar. “The number of total times when a police officer fires his weapon is down. Statistically, anecdotally, in any way you put it, the New York City Police Department is not a cowboy department.” “Unfortunately,” he continued, “we are human beings who do make mistakes. We make them. There were mistakes in the Diallo and Bell shootings. But that doesn’t make the department murderous.” He added: “We have to make split-second life-and-death decisions and sometimes we make the wrong ones.” As the numbers have changed, so have the reports that have categorized and collected them. Inspector Cerar said that firearms statistics were first seriously compiled by the department beginning in 1971. There is a marked shift in the way the data is presented, beginning in 1998. For instance, the reports in 1996 and 1997 include the race of the officer and the person who was shot, facts that do not appear in the 1998 report. The 1996 and 1997 reports said that 89.4 percent of those shot by the police were black or Hispanic. The racial information has not been included since then. Testifying before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday, Deputy Chief John P. Gerrish downplayed how much understanding could come from releasing details on race. “Every firearms discharge must be judged in light of the unique circumstances in which it occurs, and any conclusion drawn from the purely demographic data involved is fatally flawed,” he said. The individual reports also used to contain information on civilian bystanders unintentionally shot and killed or injured by the police, but that, too, disappeared. In 1996, no civilians were killed by police but five were injured, including one hit by a ricochet. While officers hit their targets about a third of the time over all, far fewer bullets generally found their mark during gunfights. In 1999, only 13 percent of bullets fired during a gunfight were hits. By contrast, in 2006, 30 percent of the shots fired during gunfights were hits, an unusually high percentage. That year, a total of 19 officers fired their weapons in 13 separate gunfights. The 2006 report made it clear that even when officers did all the firing, they often faced a threat. In that year, in 47 shootings when only officers fired, a gun was pointed at them in 26 instances, and in 21 others “subjects were armed with weapons other than firearms.” A parenthetical note breaks those 21 down: 6 cutting instruments, 6 motor vehicles, 4 miscellaneous weapons. Five others used “physical force/furtive movement,” the report said. Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that he considered the five cases citing “physical force/furtive movement” as the police shooting at an unarmed person. He said he counted about five similar cases in every year since 2002. “That the number of shooting incidents is down since 1996 is good for everyone,” Mr. Dunn said. “At the same time, the likelihood that nearly everyone being shot at is black or Latino, and the fact that in most incidents only the police are shooting, raise serious concerns that were highlighted by the Bell and Diallo shootings.” A year after the Bell shooting, the civil liberties group filed a request under the freedom of information law seeking the department’s annual discharge reports, as well as documents on the race of everyone the police fired upon. The department turned over the discharge reports in February, but denied the other request last month. The civil liberties group said it wanted the data to better understand the role of race in police shootings, not as information to back up any lawsuit. The report used to be called the “Firearms Discharge Assault Report.” In 1996, it noted that 76 officers were fired upon, in 42 shootings, and did not return fire. In 1999, the title changed to “Firearms Discharge Report,” and the “assault against officers” category was eliminated. Inspector Cerar said that that data should have continued to be reported. In the 1996 report, there were 22 reasons given for the accidental discharges, including: struggling with a perpetrator (13); tripping, falling, slipping or running (10); unloading or cleaning a gun (7); removing a weapon from its holster (2); attempting to clear a jam (1); an officer startled (1). Officer Aguirre, the spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said it produces an annual Officer Involved Shooting Report that is similar to the one in New York. “We do all the analyses,” she said, “It is quite extensive.” She said that parts of the report are not made public. She said that the chief, William J. Bratton — a former New York police commissioner — instituted a policy under which he receives a report within 72 hours of each shooting about what occurred, with an eye toward making tactical improvements or modifying training.July 18, 1999 To Shoot, Or Not To Shoot? Now, Decide in 2.9 Seconds By SUSAN PEARSALL IT was a test, and the two young police recruits were nervous. Standing in front of an interactive video simulator, laser guns in their holsters, the recruits were patrolling a virtual mall when they suddenly came across a man holding a brick. The recruits drew their guns. ''Drop it, drop it,'' one yelled, and the man put the brick down. ''Get your hands in the air,'' his partner shouted. ''Don't move.'' The suspect dropped into a crouch and reached behind his back for a gun. The recruits yelled, ''Gun!'' and fired. ''Oops,'' said Reginald F. Allard, a training officer at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden. The suspect, he said, was a mason who was bringing a sample brick to a mall client. He also had a legal permit to carry a firearm. ''You shot this subcontractor,'' Mr. Allard said. ''Is that O.K.?'' ''Yes, it is O.K. once he pulls that weapon out,'' offered a recruit. ''He should have done what the officer said and put his hands in the air,'' suggested another. Mr. Allard agreed. ''You can't read the mind, but you read the actions. And the actions are threatening.'' Studies show that police officers rarely fire their guns during their careers, but when Connecticut officers do shoot, and a suspect is killed, investigations have always found the shootings justified. That is, until this year. For the first time, an officer has been charged with murder for the on-duty shooting of an unarmed suspect, charges that have added a new urgency to the training of recruits. On Jan. 19, Scott Smith, a New Milford police officer, was charged with murder after shooting Franklyn Reid in the back at close range in December. Mr. Smith said that Mr. Reid refused to show his hands after a foot chase and made a sudden upward movement, which Mr. Smith perceived as a threat to shoot or stab him. The police have shot and killed suspects four times since then, including a Hartford police officer who killed an unarmed, 14-year-old mugging suspect in April and the incident just last Tuesday when a North Branford police officer killed a woman after a traffic stop when, according to the officer, the woman tried to run him over. Both shootings are under investigation. The Governor's Law Enforcement Council began holding public hearings last month about improving investigations into police shootings. The council, whose chairman is State's Attorney John M. Bailey, will hold more hearings before making recommendations by Sept. 15 to Gov. John G. Rowland. The required reading in Mr. Allard's classes includes the report prepared by Waterbury State's Attorney John A. Connelly, which determined that Mr. Smith's use of force was not justified, legal briefs addressing probable cause issues in the case, and news reports about the Hartford shooting. Mr. Allard said that Connecticut police officers shoot at suspects, on average, in 10 incidents a year, resulting in six homicides. A 1997 study of the Miami Dade Police Department by the University of South Carolina found that officers would fire their weapons about once every 35 or 36 years. As a result of the recent controversies over the shootings in the state, some recruits said they have found themselves second-guessing their judgment. One recruit said his mind raced through the options at each new shooting scenario. ''Should I? Shouldn't I? Is it justified? Is it not justified?'' He worried aloud that hesitation ''is not going to do you any justice in the end.'' With this background, the 39 members of the academy's 273d class recently participated in shoot/don't shoot exercises. Each year, about 340 recruits complete the 17-week basic training program. The base salary for a rookie officer is $30,000 in Hartford and $38,600 in Greenwich. In groups of six or eight at a time, the recruits, most in their early 20's, arrived at the small range house where Mr. Allard operated a $75,000 video simulator, made by Firearms Training Systems in Suwanee, Ga. It is one of four in the state; the others are owned by the state Department of Public Safety and police departments in Stamford and Norwalk, said Steve Higgins, a company spokesman. As a pair of recruits stepped in front of the screen, Mr. Allard turned off the lights and played loud, nerve jangling music. The video explained the recruits were joining a foot patrol in a mall, where robberies and homeless people are common. As they turned a corner, they saw a man sleeping on a bench. ''Sir? Excuse me,'' the first recruit said tentatively. ''Sir?'' As the vagrant startled awake, he rolled off the bench brandishing a foot-long knife and lunged at the on-screen officer. ''Halt, Halt!'' the second recruit barked. An instant later, the recruits drew guns and fired as the vagrant stabbed the screen officer. ''What's 'halt' mean?'' Allard asked. ''Police, don't move,'' he suggested. ''Say it.'' ''When you saw something in his hands, did anyone say anything?'' Allard continued. ''No sir,'' came the embarrassed reply. The replay showed the recruits' reaction time was slow -- 3.733 seconds compared to the average of 2.994 seconds. Worse yet, ''you missed, and your partner's been stabbed,'' Mr. Allard said. Recruits learn they may have two seconds or less to react to a threat. On Jan. 23, East Hartford Officer Brian Aselton was killed by a gunshot to the head shortly after he answered a noise complaint that turned out to be an armed robbery. Later, the two recruits visibly relaxed when they saw their final scenario was a repeat, the subcontractor in the mall. This time the officers didn't shoot so quickly, but the subcontractor did. He shot twice before either recruit returned fire. ''Did you hesitate?'' Mr. Allard asked bluntly. ''Yes, sir,'' the recruit said quietly. ''In between hesitation and overreaction, you have to exercise your judgment,'' Mr. Allard said. As the two recruits sat down, one admitted he was sweating. ''I realize what little time you have to react, how fast you have to decide, and how high the stakes are if you're wrong,'' he said. (Under academy rules, recruits may not give their names to reporters without prior approval from their police chiefs.) ''You have to be suspicious of everyone,'' his partner added. Recruits read state judicial decisions that relate to police searches, probable cause and the use of force. They learn that state statute 53a-22 allows a police officer to use deadly physical force only when necessary ''to defend himself or a third person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force'' or to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon whom the officer believes may cause serious injury to others. Where possible, officers are expected to warn suspects before they shoot. Some say that it is going to take more than training to get the police to respond correctly. ''I don't think any training is going to be sufficient if the officers aren't familiar with the community, the people,'' said Joseph A. Moniz, a Hartford trial lawyer. He represented the family of Malik Jones, a black man shot and killed in 1997 by Robert Flodquist, a white East Haven police officer who was later cleared in the shooting. Mr. Moniz said diverse communities need to hire more minority police officers. ''I think the chances of these things occurring would be reduced,'' he said. Back in the range house, the video simulator showed a man and a woman arguing hotly over ownership of a white, sport utility vehicle after a divorce. When the man slid out of the car, he drew a gun, and the recruits shot him. ''How many times did you shoot?'' Mr. Allard asked. The recruit said four times, but the replay showed six. ''What are you trying to do, cover something up?'' Mr. Allard bellowed. The recruit, shaken, said he made a mistake under stress. ''You are not going to be able to accurately react to field questions subsequent to a kill or be-killed situation,'' Mr. Allard explained. He said that the trauma of a shooting is so great that it may take an officer up to two days to accurately remember what happened. Some calls were resolved without a shot. When two recruits faced a confused woman in a park and asked her for identification, she pulled a gun out of her pocketbook. They yelled, ''Drop the gun,'' and she did. The recruits are not graded on their performance. If an individual makes an error and understands it, ''that's a win,'' Mr. Allard said. ''That's why I repeat the scenarios.'' Toward the end of the day, a female recruit asked Mr. Allard if the class would return to the simulator another day. ''The next time will be the real thing,'' he snapped. ''You don't have any problem with that?'' ''No sir,'' she replied crisply. Then her voice softened, ''Not if I have to.'' Jury: Officer who killed motorist had time to get out of car's way (Hartford-AP, July 15, 2005 9:15 PM) _ A federal jury has found a North Branford police officer who shot a driver to death was wrong to believe he couldn't get out of the way of her car. But the jurors also say Officer Michael Breen was justified in thinking he was in immediate danger when he shot Victoria Cooper as her car sped toward him. It's a verdict that confused North Branford officials but pleased a lawyer for Cooper's family. That attorney, David Rosen, says there's no doubt jurors thought the shooting was not justified. Cooper, a 41-year-old mother of two from West Haven, allegedly drove at Breen after a traffic stop on Route 80 in 1999. She was first a passenger in her boyfriend's car, then got in the driver's seat when he ran away and Breen chased after him. Breen shot twice as Cooper drove at him. Attorney Thomas Gerarde, who represented Breen and North Branford, says he's troubled by the verdict and is continuing to analyze it. He says it seems contradictory that jurors though Breen was in danger but had time to get out of the way. Jurors will decide whether to award damages in September. Split verdict in cop shooting. Jury awards damages to mother of victim in N. Branford case HARTFORD — A federal jury agreed that North Branford police Officer Michael Breen was in danger of serious injury or death when he decided to shoot at motorist Victoria Cooper. However, jurors found unreasonable his contention that he could not safely get out of the way of her vehicle as he fired the shot that killed her. The verdict Friday in U.S. District Court was a partial victory for both sides. The jury’s decision makes Cooper’s mother, Margaret Cowan, who sued Breen and the town after the shooting, eligible for compensatory damages for the loss of Cooper’s life. The amount to be awarded has not yet been determined. Jurors decided that punitive damages, which would have served as punishment for Breen, were not appropriate. Cooper’s relatives hugged outside the courthouse after the verdict, which was reached almost exactly six years after the July 13, 1999, shooting on Route 80 in North Branford. "This family has waited a long time for justice," said David Rosen, the Cooper family’s attorney. "After six years, justice has been served." Rosen, who asserted in the trial that Cooper was trying to leave the scene, not kill Breen, said the shooting never should have happened. "What this jury said plain and simple is that no reasonable police officer should kill someone when they can just avoid any injury by stepping out of the way," Rosen said. Breen’s position in relation to Cooper’s Camaro was a key issue during the trial. Breen shot at the vehicle twice. The first shot hit the vehicle’s hood at a 10-degree angle. The second, fatal shot struck the driver’s side window at a 65- degree angle, shattering it and killing Cooper. The bullet entered her torso on her left side. Rosen argued that the angles of the shots show Breen was off to the side and out of harm’s way. "This is such a poignant, bittersweet moment to have a jury understand that this killing was senseless and unreasonable," Rosen said. "It is satisfying, but it doesn’t bring back Vicki Cooper." Attorney Thomas Gerarde, who represents Breen and the town, said he will evaluate the town’s options over the weekend, and file appropriate motions with the court next week. Gerarde said he is pleased the jury did not award punitive damages, but he called the jury’s responses to the two questions "inconsistent." "How can you be in immediate danger if you can safely get out of the way?" Gerarde said. "Once jurors found that Officer Breen was in immediate danger when he decided to shoot, it seems impossible for him to believe he could have safely gotten out of the way (at the same moment)." Next week, Judge Robert Chatigny will discuss the next steps with attorneys. The lawyers may opt for a continued jury trial on the issue of how much money should be awarded in compensatory damages. They also have the option of asking Chatigny to determine the amount. The next phase of the civil case will focus on evidence about any pain and suffering Cooper endured, the loss of her life and loss of earning capacity, to arrive at the amount of compensatory damages to be awarded. Cooper was initially a passenger in the Camaro when Breen pulled it over. The driver, Steven Guerette, fled on foot after Breen found a packet with cocaine residue in his pocket. Breen pursued, but lost Guerette. Breen claims that Cooper drove at him when he returned to the roadway. Cocaine was found in Cooper’s system following the incident, as well as on her person. Chatigny decided during the trial that jurors would not be made aware of her drug use, as he determined that it would be prejudicial. Cooper, 41, who lived in West Haven, was a waitress and mother of two. Police kill unarmed man who was holding hairbrush NEW: Rev. Al Sharpton's group to hold news conference; autopsy set Police confirm Khiel Coppin, 18, was carrying hairbrush under shirt Police say he ignored orders to halt; cops fired 20 shots, killing Coppin Cops investigating possible history of mental illness November 13, 2007 NEW YORK (CNN) -- Officers shot and killed an 18-year-old man believed to be armed, New York police said Tuesday, but he was only hiding a hairbrush. The Monday night shooting followed a 911 call from the man's mother, said New York Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne. In the 911 recording the son, Khiel Coppin, "can be heard saying I've got a gun, I've got a gun," Browne said. The 911 operator asked the mother if there was a gun involved and she responded "you heard it from his mouth," said Browne. After officers arrived at the mother's apartment, the teen refused to stop as he approached police with a black object in his hand hidden under his shirt, Browne said. Police then fired 20 shots at the man, killing him, said Browne. But he said the man was found unarmed and only carrying a black hairbrush. "The boy didn't have no gun, he had a brush on him," said Andre Wildman, a neighbor who told CNN that he saw the shooting. Another neighbor, Wayne Holder, said police should be required to see a weapon before opening fire on a suspect. "At least see a gun before you start to discharge it," Holder said. Police "don't even have to see it, [if] they think you got one, you're going to get shot." Police said they were investigating whether the teen had a history of mental illness and whether his mother had tried to have him hospitalized earlier Monday. A bystander who said he saw the shooting told CNN affiliate WABC-TV that the man was unarmed. "He dropped the brush," said the bystander, Dyshawn Gibson. "He put his hands up. Police just started firing." An initial police statement given to reporters Monday night said the man was seen earlier pacing around the apartment. "He began screaming from the window at his mother and the police," the police statement said. "At some point, the male climbed out of the window and began crossing the sidewalk toward the police." That's when police began firing, a police spokesman said. The police spokesman said officers were called to the apartment building in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood at about 7 p.m. by Coppin's mother who said she was having a dispute with her son. Man wounded by Milford police at domestic dispute gets probation Apr. 2, 2008 Milford (AP) -- A man who was wounded by Milford police during a heated domestic dispute with his wife last May has been sentenced to two years probation. The plea deal for 37-year-old Roger Cadrin came after he pleaded guilty Tuesday to two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. Police say Cadrin threatened his wife, Lauren, and Sgt. Daniel Sharoh on May 12, 2007 with what looked like a black gun, but was later identified as a fake weapon. He was shot once in the leg by Sharoh after ignoring repeated warnings to drop his weapon. Police were called by Cadrin's wife who told 911 dispatchers that she feared for her life. Police say that Cadrin had a wallboard knife, as well as the fake gun.
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