Monday Morning Thoughts: 15-Year-Old Just Latest Shot While in a Moving Car

Police Blue

Last week police in suburban Dallas announced that Officer Roy Oliver had been fired for violating department policy when he shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards as the boy rode as a passenger in a car driving away from a house party.

The Washington Post found that, since January 2015, on a nationwide basis police had killed at least 193 people who were inside vehicles at the time they were shot.

The Post writes, “Edwards’ death is one of dozens of shootings in recent years of men and women who were inside moving vehicles at the time they were shot, even after decades of urging from policing experts and reformers nationwide that departments ban officers from opening fire on moving vehicles.”

Like most analyses of this sort, there is of course more nuance to the figures.  In less than half the cases, the officers claim that the person was in the possession of a weapon, usually a firearm.

However, in 76 of those cases, the person killed was “armed” only with the vehicle itself.

In 17 cases, “police acknowledge that the person killed was in the act of fleeing, was a passenger in a vehicle, or was in a vehicle that was not in motion and did not pose a threat to officers.”

For the final 14 cases, “it remains undetermined if the person was armed or if police claim the person was using the vehicle as a weapon.”

“And there are probably a lot of cases where officers are shooting at vehicles where someone wasn’t hit or killed,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and a former Justice Department official. He noted that available data “is only capturing a fraction of the cases of officers shooting at moving vehicles.”

The circumstances under which young Edwards was killed are troubling.  Police responded to a call about intoxicated kids at a house party.  The police claim they heard gunshots outside as they moved to disperse the party.

When officers went to investigate what had happened, they saw a car backing out of a parking spot.  As officers approached the vehicle, police claim it began to drive away. Officer Oliver then opened fire.

The use of force guides “specifically instructs officers to move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle when possible, rather than opening fire.

“Foremost to any consideration of the application of lethal force is the preservation of human life,” the 2016 policy states. “Because of the low probability of penetrating a vehicle with a handgun, officers threatened by an oncoming vehicle should attempt to move out of its path, if possible, instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants. However, if an officer reasonably believes that a person is immediately threatening the officer or another person with deadly force by means of a vehicle, an officer may use deadly force against the driver of the vehicle.”

After reviewing body camera video of the shooting, the officer was fired.

“It has been determined that Roy Oliver, who was the second officer on the scene, violated several departmental policies,” department spokesman Pedro Gonzalez said at a news conference Tuesday night.

New Models of Policing Emerge

In an article from the New York Times, they note that famed criminologist George Kelling, who pioneered the “broken windows” theory, has written a new paper entitled, “Measuring What Matters Redux: Ensuring Public Safety and Improving Police Performance.”

In the study, written with Catherine M. Coles, Mr. Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “argues for a new and considerably more pliant framework to evaluate policing, one that borrows largely from the concept of the “balanced scorecard,” first introduced in the Harvard Business Review in the 1990s.”

The Times writes that “the balanced scorecard is a management system that applies diverse criteria to measuring corporate success, criteria that extend beyond traditional financial benchmarks found in earnings reports and include relationships with consumers, internal dynamics and so on.”

In policing, “this approach would require departments to grade themselves not merely according to metrics of crime reduction — or crucially, how many arrests they piled up, arrests functioning as a dangerous indicator of productivity, Mr. Kelling concedes — but by how well they had engaged communities and collaborated with them.”

The key question becomes “are we keeping the customer happy?”

This comes after years of employing “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing which contain the idea “that law enforcers should go after low-level offenses as a means of preventing actual violence.”

It has long been our belief that stop and frisk casts way too broad a net – basically inviting racial profiling of people in higher crime areas as a way to catch a few bad guys.

The downside of that approach is that you engender animosity in the community, which creates an us versus them approach that reduces cooperation and increases tensions between community and police – tensions that, as we have seen in multiple communities, have exploded.

By creating a customer satisfaction model, you might reduce those tensions and increase cooperation – allowing a majority of law abiding residents to feel comfortable in assisting the police in going after the actual small number of dangerous criminals.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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