As a former police officer, I know there are a lot of good cops all across this country. With that said, over the past few years we’ve seen a number of police officers who’ve been involved in some questionable shootings.
In November 2014, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed after police were called about reports that he had a gun in a playground in Cleveland. The shooting and outcome caused racial tension throughout the country.
Then this past September, a white female officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in Tulsa. Officer Betty Shelby shot Terence Crutcher after he was not responding to commands and was walking away from her with his hands up. She has been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
And last July, a man was shot in Minnesota when, police say, he reached for something. His girlfriend captured most of it live on Facebook, and said he was licensed to carry a gun and was reaching for his ID.
Many people say the reasons we’re seeing more of these shootings are because of cell phones. But what seems to be going wrong – is it racial issues or bad training, or is it a lack of respect?
We brought in a team of law enforcement experts to try to go over, as closely as possible, the Cleveland police shooting that left an innocent 12-year-old dead. We wanted to try to find out what went wrong in this case, and what cops could have done differently.
Here are their opinions as we recreated the shooting, two years after it happened.
Our first scenario dealt with the Cleveland case. Two officers respond to a call about a man with a gun. We wanted to reenact this scenario with our team of experts, so we asked retired FBI special agent Oscar Westerfield and retired captain Cal Denny of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to watch the reenactment and give us an assessment.
The officer in the passenger seat jumps from the patrol unit and fires immediately, shooting and killing the young boy.
“What’s the first thing that popped out at you and concerns you?”
“Proximity,” said Denny.
“Too close. Way too close,” agreed Westerfield.
Both law enforcement veterans say the officer should not have pulled up directly to the suspect. That placed the two-man unit in a compromising position.
“You don’t have a lot of space to do your decision making. And you can come up with a really bad decision.”
“He not only put his partner in danger,” Denny said. “But if that had been an active shooter and he turned around and started shooting, not only do we have to be accountable for the officers who were already in the line of fire, but what about the projectiles that were fired?
“Where did they go in the neighborhood? Somebody else could’ve been shot.”
“Do you think this is a training issue?” we asked.
“No question about it. Absolutely.”
In the next reenactment, we approached the suspect at the scene differently, at a much safer distance.
“Get down on the ground! Drop the gun! Turn around!” we directed the suspect.
In this case, the suspect was apprehended without incident, thanks largely to the different approach taken by officers.
The Cleveland shooting, in which the first approach was used, was investigated and deemed justifiable by prosecutors. The city of Cleveland ended up paying the family of Tamir Rice millions of dollars.
In the end, though, the issue of additional training should be addressed by the police department to hopefully prevent another tragedy like this from happening again.
Wednesday night, we look at the case of the unarmed man in Tulsa who was shot and killed by an officer.