Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Keeping officer-involved shootings at a minimum

Our mission at the Kansas City Missouri Police Department is, “To protect and serve with professionalism, honor and integrity.” To me, part of that means doing everything we can to protect human life. Officers here do that every day, from stopping drunk drivers who could kill someone on a roadway to helping domestic violence victims get away from their abusers.

But once in a while, officers are forced to take a life or injure someone to protect themselves or others. Ask any officer who has been involved in such a situation, and he or she likely will count it as the worst moment of their career. Kansas City officers have been involved in one such shooting already this year when on Jan. 15, a man who eluded police in Independence stopped for Kansas City police on I-435 near Front Street. He got out of his vehicle and started shooting at officers. They returned fire, killing him. A grand jury ruled the officers committed no crimes.

One of my goals as Chief of Police is to keep officer-involved shootings as low as possible. That’s why I recently asked investigators to prepare a report outlining every officer-involved shooting at KCPD for the last 10 years to see whether there were any patterns we should be on the lookout for. The shootings in this report included those that resulted in fatalities, those that didn’t, and those in which no one even was hit. I was relieved to see the numbers are relatively low, and there is no discernible pattern. Some of the findings:

From 2002 to 2012, KCPD had 132 officer-involved shootings. Of those:

• 47 resulted in a suspect fatality.
• Another 47 resulted in a suspect sustaining serious physical injury but surviving.
• 11 resulted in an officer sustaining a physical injury. One had to retire for medical reasons as a result, and two others continue to recuperate.
• Officer-involved shootings were most like to occur during armed subject and shots fired calls.

We also have made a strong effort to avoid officer-involved shooting situations with the mentally ill. One-fourth of our patrol officers are Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)-certified, meaning they have undergone extensive training in how to handle someone who is mentally ill and in crisis. Police are usually the first to respond to such an incident. Sergeants also are now required to respond to all CIT calls.

We have an array of less-than-lethal options that our officers use to protect themselves and others, everything from Tasers to beanbag shotguns. They have shown great discretion over the years in knowing when to use these to bring about the best resolution for everyone involved.

An officer usually has only seconds to make life or death decisions. An article in our recent Informant newsletter discusses how we educate grand juries about the situations in which officers find themselves. Police face the heavy burden every day of knowing they might have to make such a choice, and I appreciate the seriousness and professionalism with which KCPD members take that responsibility.

Send comments to kcpdchiefblog@kcpd.org.