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Why officers are firing what may appear to be an excessive number of bullets at suspects: NPR


Demonstrators clashed with officers outside Akron City Hall on Sunday as they protested the fatal shooting of Jayland Walker by police.

Matthew Hatcher/AFP via Getty Images


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Why officers are firing what may appear to be an excessive number of bullets at suspects: NPR

Demonstrators clashed with officers outside Akron City Hall on Sunday as they protested the fatal shooting of Jayland Walker by police.

Matthew Hatcher/AFP via Getty Images

Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old black man who was unarmed when he was killed by police in Akron, Ohio, last week, has been shot at least 60 times, authorities said during over the weekend, when they posted body camera footage of the shooting.

The large number of bullets fired by no less than eight officers involved in the shooting has sparked fresh questions from politicians and activists who are critical of what they see as excessive use of force by police.

Law enforcement and police legal experts who viewed body camera footage of the shooting say the officers’ response reflected standard police training.

“Officers are trained to shoot until the threat they perceive, and or reasonably believe exists, is over,” said Lance LoRusso, a lawyer who specializes in use-of-force cases.

But other experts warn that US police training lags behind other countries when it comes to including the psychological and physiological aspects of the use of force.

Police shoot until perceived threat no longer exists

Stephen Mylett, Akron’s police chief, said so during Sunday’s press conference, when he answered questions about whether there are police protocols in place for situations in which multiple officers shoot a suspect and the number of bullets to be fired.

While the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing, Mylett said officers have independently said they perceived such a threat.

What started as a routine traffic stop turned into a public safety issue, police said, when a shot appeared to be fired from Walker’s vehicle during the chase. Although authorities said Walker left his gun behind when he got out of his car to flee on foot, officers said after a failed attempt to use tasers they feared the suspect might preparing to fire when they fired their guns.

Mylett said he didn’t know how many shots had been fired at Walker, but he said he expected the number to be “high.”

Legally, the number of shots doesn’t matter in such cases, LoRusso noted. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that under the Fourth Amendment, “if officers are justified in shooting a suspect in order to end a serious threat to public safety, they need not arrest to shoot until the threat is over”. It is up to the courts to decide whether the officers’ assessment of the threat was reasonable.

The police are not trained to shoot to hurt

High bullet counts and the deadly consequences that often result from use-of-force scenarios come down to marksmanship, says Plumas County, Calif., deputy sheriff Edward Obayashi.

“Despite what Hollywood describes, as lethal weapon, dirty harry and all these other movies and TV shows, there’s no cop that comes close to that kind of shooting skill,” Obayashi said.

Add to that a moving target, poorly lit environments and rapidly changing circumstances, says LoRusso, “aiming for the largest target available is the surest method of avoiding hitting unintended targets.”

Legally speaking, the lawyer said, there is no difference between shooting a suspect in the thigh rather than in the chest.

“Shooting a person, in any part of the body, is the same level of force – deadly force – and must be justified under state law,” he said. , adding that either shooting carries the same degree of risk of “serious bodily injury or death,” which is the standard to justify the use of deadly force.

Under stress, the human body cannot tell right from wrong

Many officers today are armed with semi-automatic weapons capable of unloading an entire magazine – usually around 15 or 17 rounds – in seconds, said Obayashi, who also works as a use-of-force consultant. for law enforcement.

That means an unwarranted number of bullets can be fired in quick succession just as an officer realizes it’s time to stop firing, he said.

“It’s going to take another period of time for your vision to then transmit a signal to the brain saying, ‘Oh, OK, the threat is over. I will stop shooting. “”

The physiological response cannot be underestimated, said Maria “Maki” Haberfeld, professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“Unfortunately the adrenaline, the stress, they take over and it just can’t be explained clinically in terms of what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said.

One of the physiological effects of stress is the inability to see properly, she says.

“Peripheral vision is impaired by up to 70%,” she said, “which basically impacts the perception of how many bullets actually hit the suspect. So they really don’t know if they hit the mark.”

Add more officers to the fold and the number of bullets fired increases exponentially.

Haberfeld says that, generally speaking, police training in the United States lags behind other countries when it comes to addressing the physiological components in use-of-force situations.

Although the proper use of force can be taught to officers in about 17 weeks, she said, “it’s something that takes months and months of training, and they just don’t get it.”

Haberfeld says she spent a lot of time studying European police forces, forming universities and academies. Finland and Norway, she said, are exemplary models that offer three to four years of training that includes, “not just the tactical use, it’s also the psychological and emotional aspects of using strength”.

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