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Police Told to Consider Non-Deadly Tactics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego police should consider shooting to wound or firing warning shots as ways to stem the rising rate of fatal shootings by officers, a citizens review board said Wednesday.

Ultimately, the board added, police must ask themselves whether they believe they “must ‘win’ in every situation” in which they confront the public.

In 63 recommendations on the use of deadly force, the Citizens Advisory Board on Police-Community Relations suggested changes in a wide variety of areas, from the way police talk and the training they receive to the restraints and types of bullets they use.

In a hypothesis that many privately acknowledge but few have publicly stated, the board also suggested that a shift in priority from public safety to officer safety has resulted in more people being shot during the same period that no police officers have been slain in the line of duty.

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“It is . . . possible that the increased emphasis on officer ‘survival’ has placed community member safety as a lower priority, or has been de-emphasized in many incidents of conflict between police officer and the public,” the report said.

The review board’s recommendations are part of a broader study that Police Chief Bob Burgreen undertook in August to find out how the number of police shootings could be lowered.

The 5-year-old board, whose members were chosen by the mayor and the City Council, was formed to provide a buffer between the public and police, and to comment on the department’s policies and procedures.

During a Wednesday-morning meeting with the board, Burgreen said he welcomed the suggestions and would consider all but a couple of them seriously.

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The recommendations “were extremely responsible and well thought out,” Burgreen said Wednesday night. “I congratulate members of the task force for the work they did.”

Earlier this month, the department set a six-year record for the number of people police have shot and killed. With more than two weeks left in 1990, police have shot 27 people, killing 12. In several instances, witnesses said police fired without provocation. In four instances, suspects carried either a baseball bat, garden stake or trowel. In two cases, including one last week, victims had no weapon at all.

In reaching its conclusions Wednesday, the review board participated in seven community forums, helds its own public meetings, studied the policy and training procedures of other police departments, looked at San Diego police training guidelines and met with a number of police officers and administrators.

The board’s report is divided into several areas, including training, policies, values, tactics, equipment and community awareness.

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Among the most controversial items is the board’s suggestion that police should sometimes shoot to wound, which Burgreen publicly opposes. Burgreen has said that, if officers look to pinpoint their shots, they might wind up missing and put themselves in greater danger.

“Nobody shoots to wound in this country,” Burgreen said. “You shoot to wound and you leave yourself open to being killed. Wounded people kill police officers. And very few people in the department are trained to shoot the gun out of someone’s hand.”

After hearing Burgreen’s comments, the board said it would modify its “shoot to wound” recommendation but still ask the police chief to explore whether or not it can ever be included in training procedures.

Warning shots also were recommended, a suggestion that the Police Department does not encourage for the same reasons Burgreen does not favor wounding suspects.

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Board members analyzed how otherwise non-threatening situations sometimes escalate into unnecessary confrontations.

The department should “evaluate and assess if officers are taught that they are always ‘right’ or must ‘win’ in every situation in which they interact with community members. This mind-set may lead officers to use tactics or take actions in order to prove they are right or must win at any cost, instead of concentrating on resolving the situation using other tactics.”

Restraint holds, such as the carotid restraint, which blocks blood flow in the neck, should be reviewed to determine which hold is safest for a police officer or suspect. Medical treatment should be applied after a carotid hold, and a report should be filed after such restraint is used, the board said.

The report encouraged police officers to avoid a threat without using lethal force, such as talking a suspect into surrendering, engaging in “evasive action, distancing, creating time and containment tactics.”

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For example, police officers might be taught what their body language can indicate and be taught to play out dangerous roles and scenarios by being thrust into “forms of hand-to-hand or physical contact training.”

The recommendations touch on changes in the department’s internal structure itself, including a newly established homicide team that would be assigned to investigate police shootings, along with the internal affairs division and district attorney’s office that do so now.

On a personal level, the department should make officers aware of the ‘fear factor’ and the ‘authority factor’ before they hit the streets, require officers and recruits to volunteer for membership in community organizations, watch individual officers for signs of overt aggressiveness and enhance the self-esteem of officers.

“The patrol officer is the most demanding and least rewarded position in the field of policing,” the report said. “In terms of contact with the community at large, it is the most important link between the department and the people it serves.”

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Despite the public’s focus on new types of equipment that officers might use to lower the number of shootings, the review board lists only three: an ARWENS device, which shoots large non-lethal rubber bullets; an increase in canine units and the use of new forms of tear gas.

Burgreen said he will meet with his command staff Dec. 19 and disperse his revised policy on deadly force the following day.


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