Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Police  shootings  that  go  wrong                    

Many years ago in the mid-1950s when I lived in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, there was a police shooting in which a young teenage robber who was running away front the scene of the robbery, was shot in his back and he died from the shooting. The police officer who fired the fatal shot later said publicly, “He deserved to die.” I was shocked at both the shooting and the officer’s response as to what he had done. He wasn’t charged with shooting the young man in his back. 

Recently in Toronto in the province of Ontario in Canada, a young man who was obviously mentally disturbed was shot dead by a police officer while the man was standing at the entrance of a streetcar and the officer was standing next to the sidewalk. The man had a small knife in his hand. While he lay on his belly dying on the floor of the streetcar, another police officer crept up to him and fired a Taser into the dying man’s back. The officer that fired eight bullets into the young man has been charged for killing the young man.

In the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, six unarmed civilians were shot by four police officers – two of them fatally – on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans on September 4, 2005. One of the dead, Ronald Madison, was a 40-year-old mentally disabled man who was shot in the back. Police claimed they opened fire because they thought the victims were shooting at them from the base of the bridge.

In August 2011, four former New Orleans police officers -- Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon – were convicted of civil-rights violations and firearms and other charges in the shootings. A fifth former officer, Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, was convicted of helping to orchestrate a cover-up. The five men were sentenced to long prison terms in April 2012.

These police shootings have to stop. Perhaps if all police officers had body cameras attached to their uniforms and they carried Tasers so that they could use them instead of their hand guns, there would be less questionable police shootings.
Hundreds of citizens filed into New Mexico’s Albuquerque’s City Hall on April 7th 2014 to voice their frustration about a police force they think has lost its way. It was local politics at its rawest. Temporary pallbearers set down in front of the dais a coffin bearing the names of dozens of victims of police shootings. As the nine councillors listened grimly, speaker after speaker expressed their fear of a department that is meant to protect them, or their anger at police killings that seem to go unpunished. Some were well-known activists; others admitted it was their first visit to the chamber. It took over five hours for everyone to have their say.
The fuss was triggered by the release of a recent video that appears to show two police officers killing James Boyd, a homeless man camping illegally in the foothills east of the city. Boyd, a paranoid schizophrenic, is seen threatening to kill the police and wielding knives, but he seems to be turning away from the officers when two of them fire six rounds at him in his back.  Another then unleashes an Alsatian dog on his prostrate body. He died shortly after that.
Police in Albuquerque, which is home to slightly over half a million people, have shot 23 civilians dead since 2010: more than in many comparable cities. No police officer in that city has been prosecuted for unlawful killing, yet the city has had to pay out $24 million dollars in legal settlements to victims’ relatives. The Police Oversight Commission is weak, underfunded and quarrelsome. Only a quarter of officers have actually been trained to deal with “crisis intervention”, as in the Boyd case.

In 2012, the federal Department of Justice began an investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department for alleged civil-rights violations against those they killed. Some citizens think the police department has expanded too quickly in recent years, not vetting its candidates properly. Killings spiked in 2010 during Mayor Berry’s first full year in office, but, the mayor says, over 50 changes have since been pressed on the force, including the compulsory body cameras that filmed the Boyd incident, and more will follow. The Toronto Police Force is also thinking seriously of including body cameras as part of the police officer’s equipment.

When the District Attorney was asked why the officers involved in the Boyd shooting weren’t investigated and charged, she said that her office only had the officer’s own notes to go on and there wasn’t anything in those notes that implied that the shooting was wrongful notwithstanding that the video clearly shows what actually occurred during the shooting.

Now the U.S. federal government is taking control of the investigations of police shootings that take place in the State of New Mexico. They can act on the authority of the Civil Rights legislation.

Interestingly, over half of the 14 fatal shootings in the City of Vancouver involved some form of mental illness or depression on the part of the decedent. In most of these instances, members of the Vancouver Police Department responded to a request to deal with a “disturbance” or an  overt display of “irrational behaviour”. Once on the scene, the police were frequently faced by a male armed with a knife that would suddenly attack the officers upon their intervention. In many of these instances, schizophrenia was cited as the deceased’s documented history of mental illness.

In a smaller number of incidents, members of the Vancouver Police Department responded to a crime in progress typically involving a firearm or, a simulated firearm. In these instances, the decedent would typically point or, fire their weapon at the officer, posing a lethal threat to the officers at the scene. In one instance a member was wounded. In another instance, a member was killed.

I don’t fault police officers who shoot enraged persons who have firearms or make-believe firearms in their hands when they refuse to drop them. A pause by a police officer can result in him or her being shot to death by such people. But if the officers are confronted by people who have knives in their hands, they can back off and if the person runs towards them, they can shoot at their legs if they are far enough back.  

In what is becoming a depressingly regular occurrence, a young, unarmed black man was shot and killed by New York City police officers in mid-town Manhattan. The victim, Patrick Dorismond, 25, was the son of well-known Haitian singer Andre Dorismond and was himself the father of two small children.

Undercover Detective Anderson Moran approached Mr. Dorismond as part of a "buy and bust" marijuana operation, part of New York City’s Operation Condor. While eyewitness accounts of the incident are differing and incomplete, what is known is that Detective Moran asked Dorismond, who had just emerged from a bar with a friend, if he would sell him some marijuana.

Dorismond had no marijuana; nor is there any evidence he was selling or had ever sold marijuana. Dorismond apparently took exception to Moran's insistence, and a scuffle ensued. At this time two back-up plain-clothes officers approached. There was gunfire. One shot from Detective Anthony Vasquez' service revolver struck Dorismond in the chest, killing him. 

In an attempt to cover up this blunder, within hours of the shooting, NYC Police Commissioner Howard Safir released sealed juvenile records indicating that Dorismond had been formerly arrested (the charges were subsequently dropped) for burglary and assault when he was thirteen years’ old. The release of that information and NYC Mayor Giuliani's subsequent negative portrayal of Mr. Dorismond in the media prompted outrage from community leaders and some city and state officials. It is like spitting on the corpse of the man you wrongfully shot to death.

Deandre "Trey" Brunston, a 24-year-old African-American, who resided in Compton, Los Angeles County, California, was shot 22 times by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies on August 24, 2003. At the time he was being sought for questioning from an alleged domestic abuse incident after his girlfriend called 9-1-1.  After initially evading the police, Brunston was cornered in a nearby doorway where he and the officers tried to negotiate. He repeatedly told the officers he was wanted for murder (which was false), and that he would rather die right there than go back to prison. He also said  that he was armed and would shoot a police dog and the deputies if the dog was released or they fired first. However he had no gun but had a flip-flop sandal in his right hand hidden under his T-shirt. Brunston repeatedly stated that he would throw the ‘gun’ down and surrender if he were allowed to speak to his girlfriend.  

At this point, many officers had their guns drawn and trained on Brunston. Lt. Patrick Maxwell had been contacted via cell phone while he was at a party in a drunken state. He ordered the dog to be released to attack Brunston. The senior K9 officer on the scene, Sgt. Earnest Burwell, refused to release the dog, claiming that releasing under those circumstances would violate the existing use-of-force policy.

Burwell was replaced with a rookie K9 unit who made no such claims. The dog was released and Brunston immediately tossed the sandal onto the ground. Before the dog reached Brunston, deputies opened fire. The dog was hit by police bullets and fell a split second before it reached Brunston, who had taken one step in retreat from the dog. Within the next five seconds, deputies had discharged 81 shots, seriously wounding both Brunston and the dog, of which both later died of their injuries.

The Shooting of Amadou Diallo occurred on February 4, 1999, when Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was shot and killed by four New York City Police Department plain-clothed officers: Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon and Kenneth Boss, who fired a combined total of 41 shots, 19 of which struck Diallo, outside his apartment at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of The Bronx. The four officers were part of the now-defunct Street Crimes Unit. All four officers were acquitted at trial in Albany, New York of any wrongdoing.  

Diallo was unarmed at the time of the shooting, and a firestorm of controversy erupted subsequent to the event as the circumstances of the shooting prompted outrage both within and outside New York City. Issues such as police brutality, racial profiling and contagious shooting were central to the ensuing controversy.

What kind of police officers do our police forces have? Some of them are obviously trigger happy. They want to boast that they killed bad people.

The problem with many police forces is that they don’t take greater care in selecting candidates for their forces.  They put thugs on the street who wear a police badge and carry deadly weapons.

The Vancouver Police Department recruits train at the Justice Institute of B.C. Police Academy located in New Westminster. Recruits attend the academy during the week and in select cases on weekends. However they are able to live in their own homes during training. Recruits are full employees of the VPD during training, receiving salary and benefits.
Recruit training is divided into three stages.

Stage 1: basic recruit training at the Academy covering a wide variety of disciplines (11 weeks)
Stage 2: recruits work in patrol under the direction of an experienced Field Trainer (13 weeks)
Stage  3: recruits return to the Academy for advanced recruit training (11 weeks)
The training is intensive and covers areas including:

Investigation and Patrol – Basic resources, procedures and skills required to perform daily patrol and investigation duties.

Legal Studies – Introduction to law and its needs; the Criminal Code and its interpretation; rules of evidence; powers of arrest and search; court process and evidence presentation.

Traffic Studies – Understanding traffic law and investigative and enforcement techniques.

Social Sciences – Development of skills in interpersonal communication and conflict management   in order to deal effectively with crisis situations.
Physical Skills – Extensive physical training program, as well as firearms and driver training.  

I believe that not enough time is applied to learning how to deal effectively with crisis situations. The Toronto Police Force does have several teams of qualified officers who are trained extensively in crisis management but there are simply not enough of those teams to cover all situations which require their services.    

I also believe that ways to cut down unwarranted shootings is to give police officers Tasers along with their firearms and also have them wear body cameras that are to be on when they arrive at a scene where there is going to be any form of confrontation.    

I am mindful of the terrible Taser incident that occurred several years ago in the Vancouver International Airport when a passenger who arrived at the airport was lost for hours and frustrated that he could see his relatives waiting for him in the waiting area. When the police arrived and were confronted with him when he had a stapler in his hand, they fired their Tasers at him and because so many Tasers were fired at him, he died.

Even when Tasers appear to be a solution to resolve confrontations that appear to get out of hand, you can be sure as God made little apples, there will be police dummies who will fire them unnecessarily and cause deaths.

If those stupid Royal Canadian Mounted Police who were in the airport had any functioning brains, they would have found someone who could speak foreign languages and after determining that the man spoke Polish, they would then get on the loudspeaker system and ask if any persons in the airport are expecting a Polish passenger. The family would have reported to the police and as soon as he saw them, he would relax while they confirmed that the man was lost in the airport trying to get to them. Everything would have ended nicely. Instead, the family had to bury the man.

The officers are facing charges but only after the RCMP tried to cover up the blunder.

The common motto of the police is To Protect and Serve but unfortunately, often they are trying to protect and serve their own at the expense of the citizens they swore to protect and serve. If more heavy penalties were given to trigger happy cops, perhaps they would think twice about shooting people who don’t have guns in their hands.                     

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