NPR Segment is an Intriguing and Annoying Look at Police Use of Deadly Force


National Public Radio recently ran a segment on police use of deadly force. Many of the reactions from the mixture of police officers, a journalist, and callers run the gamut of police-response cliche, with much " he had to make a  split-second decision" talk. However, there are some interesting bits which make it worth a read for those of us curious about the mentality of folks involved in law and order.

For example, journalist Lawrence Mower of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, talks with NPR host Neil Conan:

MOWER:…What we found was that: One, there was a lot of shootings here. Also that the department was very reluctant to learn from its incidents, learn from its shootings, and that they were reluctant to hold officers accountable for them. And really, the review process in place was fairly lax.

In the last decade, Metro's review board had cleared 99 percent of officers who were involved in any kind of incident, serious incident like a shooting. And - but also, the criminal review process was fairly lax, also.

CONAN: Reluctant to do that because they feared for morale, because why?

MOWER: Well, it's interesting. The board that they had set up here - and they still do have set up here - was dominated by citizens. And what we found kind of interesting is we talked to the citizens, and they were very much, very pro-police. They had difficulty holding officers accountable for these incidents.

Oftentimes, it was the officers on the board who were harder on their own officers than the citizens were. But, you know, what you've heard over time from police also is that, well, we don't want to second-guess another officer's decision to use deadly force because these incidents are so rare, and they're not as clear cut, often, as, you know, an officer beating someone up. Well, many officers would not justify that. So - go ahead. [Emphasis added.]

Later, a caller named John, either a cop or a former cop describes an incident in 2005 when he shot someone. The host is talking to a police officer, David Klinger, a former member of the Los Angeles Police department:

JOHN: One of the things that I noticed that your - I'm sorry, the person you're interviewing isn't talking about is the way that police officers are treated after the shooting. It almost feels adversarial in nature. I was involved in a shooting myself a few hours off a training. It was covered by national news, and it was a huge incident.

And, I mean, there was no doubt that I was in the right, but still the fact they take your gun away while you're on-scene, they put you in a patrol car, they separate the different people in the shootings. There's a way that they do it, but it just really feels like they're treating me like a criminal, and I'd like them to speak a little bit about that.

CONAN: David Klinger?

KLINGER: Well, that's unacceptable. One of the things that I do and other people around the country do is train agencies about post-shooting protocols. And to disarm an officer at the scene, there's no reason for that. There's a time and a place to get the officer's weapon for evidence collection, and that's back at the station once the officer is safe, once the scene is secured, so on and so forth.

There's got to be some sort of an adversarial process because there's always the question in our democracy whether an officer used deadly force appropriately. So there has to be a careful investigation of the facts. However, it doesn't have to be adversarial in the sense of trying to make it look as if the officer did something wrong.

When I say adversarial, the district attorney has to take a look at it, make sure everything's squared away. But I agree with the officer: If an agency is not treating the officer with the respect that they deserve - because after all, what happens is they trained the officer, they hired the officer, they gave him a gun, they said go out, and under these circumstances deadly force is appropriate - unless and until there is some evidence that the officer did something wrong, the officer shouldn't be treated like a criminal suspect.

As much as I have to cringe over complaints that cops who kill people (justified or not) are being treated too harshly, it is a (sort of) fair point that police were hired to do a certian job which entailed the potential for deadly force. But maybe that's just further argument for extremely strict standards in hiring and looser ones in firing of police, no?

Read or listen to the whole thing here. And if you're hankering for more police-induced sickness, check out Radley Balko's latest at Huffington Post. It's an appalling look at the death of Floridian Nick Christie, who died in police custody after being subjected to 6 hours of restraint and at least eight doses of pepper spray. Mike Riggs reported on the case back in December as well.

Also check out Reason's latest work on police; Reason.tv on whether cops or the always-controversial Tasers are the problem in high-profile deaths such as that of Alan Kephardt.