By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles, CA – Heartbreaking is the only way to describe what happened at a Burlington store in North Hollywood last Thursday, an incident that left a 14-year-old girl, trying on her quinceañera dresses in a dressing room, dead—dying as the mother held her, crying for help, to no avail.
“To see a son or daughter die in your arms is one of the most profound pains any human being can imagine,” her mother, Soledad Peralta, said through a translator at a press conference yesterday.
“The police did not come to help me or my daughter, but I kept screaming,” she said. “When the police finally came, they took me out of the dressing room & left my daughter laying there. I wanted them to help her, but they just left her laying there alone.”
Police were responding to a potential active shooter situation, but the man who attacked customers only had a bike lock. One officer fired at him three times, and at least one bullet crossed through the dressing room wall, killing the girl.
The tactics are under question. The LA Times reports, “While the exact tactics used by police Thursday remain under review, they were in many ways using a playbook that has come to define police responses to ‘active shooter’ situations in the 22 years since the Columbine High School shooting, which left 13 dead in Colorado.”
The Times notes, in mass shooting scenarios, the officers are now trained to rush in to kill or arrest a shooter, hoping to reduce potential death toll.
In cases where the assailant is armed with a weapon, that makes sense and police have been criticized for not aggressively enough taking on armed assailants.
The problem in a case where the suspect is not armed with a gun, is “the tactic raises serious questions.”
As the Times points out, “The tragedy has sparked outrage and debate over how police should respond to such incidents — especially when it is unclear whether a suspect is actually armed and firing.”
Moreover, “police are trained to kill or arrest any shooters before taking other actions, including helping victims.
“The thinking, experts say, is that by neutralizing threats, officers minimize additional casualties while allowing EMTs and medical professionals to help the wounded,” the Times notes.
Again, if there is an actual shooter, that approach makes sense because it prevents or at least reduces the potential of additional victims.
But, what happens when the person is not armed with a gun? That’s a key question and one of the answers that will have to come out of the investigation is the extent to which LAPD protocols were followed. Shooting at a moving target in a public location would seem to practically beg for crossfire damage, as happened here.
The Times, for their story, interviewed a retired LA County sheriff commander who heads the strategy development for the National Tactical Officers Assn.
“We have gone proactive. The general practice is we take [an active shooter] under fire at the earliest opportunity,” he said. “It’s our nature to go to the wounded. But the problem is he can kill them as fast as we can save them.”
But shouldn’t they know what they are firing at in the first place?
Travis Norton, leader of the California Assn. of Tactical Officers’ after-action review team, told the Times that “officers need to be better educated about the decisions they face in active-shooting situations.
“It’s all training and education. Training is the how, and education is the why. We’re well trained and poorly educated. We know how to do things but we aren’t great at explaining why,” said Norton.
The Times reported, “He said that while it may be more obvious how officers should respond to incidents in which there is live gunfire when they arrive on the scene, ‘it’s not so cut and dry’ when there is no gunfire taking place upon their arrival.”
“It’s great that you’re a good marksman, but what about the decision if you should even shoot in the first place?” Norton said. “We should be spending as much training time on decision-making as we are on learning how to shoot.”
On Monday, footage was released. We see an officer with a rifle asking the other officers to slow down, allowing him to lead the search for the man attacking customers.
“Let me take point with the rifle,” he said.
But the officers encounter a woman with a bloodied face and started to shout.
“Slow it down!” an officer shouts. Then: “Hold up! Hold up!”
However, the officer with the rifle opens fire almost instantly above the head of the injured woman, firing three rapid shots with no warning.
Philip M. Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who studies police violence, told the NY Times that “officers must also take into account their surroundings and the likelihood of bystanders, even when entering a potentially violent situation.
“The question is going to come down to whether, in many people’s views, deadly force was necessary to stop the threat,” Professor Stinson said.
He added that the assailant was not within ten feet of anyone when he was shot and the police were warned that there were still people in the store.
Ben Crump tweeted yesterday, “Valentina Orellana-Peralta did NOT need to end up as collateral damage while shopping for a dress two days before Christmas. We demand FULL transparency from the LAPD and an independent investigation into this fatal use of force!”