NYC Officer Acquitted of Killing Mentally Ill Woman

A judge cleared Sgt. Hugh Barry in the fatal 2016 shooting of bat-wielding, mentally ill Deborah Danner, 66. Her death became a flash point in the national, racially charged debate over whether police officers are too quick to shoot people and whether they are adequately trained in dealing with people suffering from severe mental illness.

A New York City police sergeant was acquitted Thursday of murder in the fatal 2016 shooting of bat-wielding, mentally ill Deborah Danner, 66, in her Bronx apartment, the New York Times reports. Danner’s death became a flash point in the national, racially charged debate over whether police officers are too quick to shoot people and whether they are adequately trained in dealing with people suffering from severe mental illness. The sergeant, Hugh Barry, 32, had also been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

He was acquitted on all counts by Justice Robert Neary of State Supreme Court. Because the sergeant claimed self-defense,Neary said the prosecution needed to prove that he was “not justified in the use of deadly physical force.” The judge said, “The prosecution’s evidence has failed to meet that burden of proof.” The trial focused on police protocols for dealing with emotionally disturbed persons, or “EDPs.” Prosecutors argued that Barry escalated the encounter by not proceeding as cautiously as departmental guidelines and his training demanded. His lawyer, Andrew Quinn, argued that the department’s training set few hard-and-fast rules, often leaving decision-making to field supervisors, such as Sergeant Barry, a nine-year veteran. Barry shot Danner  on Oct. 18, 2016.  He said she refused his orders to drop a baseball bat and began to swing it at him. The police department has not said whether Barry would be welcomed back into the force or disciplined. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark expressed disappointment with the verdict, saying  Danner’s death “illustrates the larger issue of how we need changes in the way we address people with mental health issues.”


How ‘Patient Courage’ Can Reduce Police Shootings 

A noted criminologist finds a useful lesson for law enforcement agencies trying to address use-of-force incidents in a speech half a century ago by former President Dwight Eisenhower.

The US Park Police killing of Bijan Ghaisar last November can now be seen on line, thanks to another police agency that recorded the shooting on a Dash-Cam.

No one can decide whether this shooting was legal, based only on the video and press accounts. But everyone can decide that the police lacked what President Dwight D. Eisenhower once asked our entire nation to display: patient courage.

On Dec.2 1954, at the height of the Cold War, Eisenhower was under political pressure to authorize military action. His response was that every other means had not yet been exhausted:


Dwight Eisenhower, official portrait 1959 via Flickr

“The hard way,” he said, “is to have the courage to be patient, tirelessly to seek out every single avenue open to us” before using violence.

Yet many police agencies fail to teach that message. Instead, their systems allow officers to put themselves in harm’s way, where there can be no patience if they reasonably believe there is a risk to life.

At the time Ghaisar was shot, he was apparently not wanted for any violent crime, nor for a hit-and-run, nor for a serious offense. His crime was refusing to stop for a police officer.

That is not a legal basis to shoot or kill, by any US law or firearms policy I have seen in a half-century of educating police. Yet somehow, at least one officer decided that it was. What kind of police system can produce that kind of decision?

The US Park Police have been here before. In 1994, a disturbed man with a knife taped to his hand chased a police officer around Lafayette Park in front of the White House. The officer called for backup, and a small group of officers formed a semicircle with guns pointed at the man.

While he ignored police orders to drop the knife, the man stood very still, staring at police from well beyond reach of his knife. Other police cleared bystanders away, and the standoff continued for several minutes. Then a siren was heard as another police car drove up near he scene.

A US Park Police officer emerged, ran over to the other officers already dealing with the man, and immediately shot him twice, fatally.

The shooting police officer was not prosecuted, but none of the other officers present had not deemed it necessary to shoot the man. Different reactions to the situation by different officers reveal a system problem of excessive decentralization, in which no one is in command at the scene of a life-or-death standoff.

For decades, some police agencies have required supervisory approval by radio even to engage in a hot pursuit, usually limited to a clear risk of serious harm (which seems to have been lacking in the Ghaisar case). The late Yale police scholar Albert Reiss proposed in 1980 that the same should be done for “permission to shoot,” without which police should follow the UK police practice of avoiding direct engagement with armed persons.

That is just what Camden, NJ police officers did in their celebrated, non-lethal arrest of a knife-wielding man in late 2015, as recently noted in the Washington Post. Under their philosophy of “Hippocratic Policing” that first does no (unnecessary) harm, they had the courage to be patient. But their action was not the heroic courage of individuals. It was the systemic courage of training, procedures, review and management.

Even in a police agency supporting systemic courage, individual officers may need the courage of self-control. When a car stops for police and drives off, not once but repeatedly, there is a natural fear of humiliation of the officers in the eyes of their peers.

By shooting, they may save face—but not lives.

It takes a very strong system to support the first officer on the scene in Camden, who did not use his legal powers to shoot the man with the knife. Instead, he took the lead for what grew to some 15 officers who were all holding fire together.

Lawrence Sherman

Lawrence W. Sherman

Police agencies can build patient courage without risking injury to police officers. Some have opposed patient courage as more dangerous to police. But that argument misses the point: that officers have no duty to put themselves in harm’s way when there is no direct threat to anyone.

It is only when they lack the courage to be patient that they create a threat to themselves. Patient courage is not only wise. It also brings more police officers home from work each day, alive and well.

See also: Can Police Change Their Mindset From Warriors to Guardians?

Lawrence W. Sherman is Chair of the Police Executive Programme at Cambridge University and Distinguished University Professor of Criminology at the University of Maryland. He welcomes readers’ comments.


Public Meeting After L.A. Deputy Kills Boy Ends in Chaos

An emergency town hall meeting after the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy in Los Angeles was halted Wednesday night as the teen’s family and residents demanded answers from Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials. Deputies shot and killed Anthony Weber during a foot chase. They said they spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, but investigators never recovered a weapon.

An emergency town hall meeting after the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy ended in chaos Wednesday night as the teen’s family and residents demanded answers from Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, reports the Los Angeles Times. Deputies shot and killed Anthony Weber during a foot chase Sunday evening. They said they spotted a handgun tucked into his pants, but investigators never recovered a weapon. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission — a nine-person board appointed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to monitor the Sheriff’s Department — called the crisis meeting to quell tensions between the community and the law enforcement agency. John Weber, the teen’s father, brought an enlarged cellphone photograph of his son lying on the ground. “Where’s the gun?” he asked. “I know where the bullets are, they’re right in my baby’s back.”

Weber’s brother asked a sheriff’s captain if his brother’s family or community was “due something.” “Absolutely not,” Capt. Christopher Bergner replied.An angry group then convened around the panel, prompting authorities to end the meeting early. Bergner’s response didn’t sit well with those on the panel. “We are just as disgusted by that response as the community,” said Commissioner Xavier Thompson. The shooting occurred about 8 p.m. Sunday. Two deputies responded to a report of a young man pointing a handgun at a motorist. Deputies encountered a 16-year-old boy who matched the description. They spotted a handgun tucked into his pants. When they ordered him not to move, the teen ignored the commands and ran into an apartment complex known as a gang hangout. The young man turned toward the deputies and one of them fired about 10 shots. Authorities said a gun carried by the boy may have been taken by someone in the crowd that converged on the scene.


Officer-Involved Shootings: Who’s Really to Blame?

The public and the media often demand swift punishment for cops identified in deadly use-of-force incidents. But a new research paper suggests that the best way of preventing future incidents is to look for the “root causes” of misbehavior in a police agency’s procedures and culture.

Against the tense backdrop of police shootings of unarmed civilians, a research paper has proposed an alternative approach to evaluating encounters between police and civilians that turn deadly.

The University of Pennsylvania Law School paper, published last month in the Villanova Law Review, argues that Root Cause Analysis (RCA) can be used as a complement to existing procedures for accountability and punishment in officer-involved shootings.

In contrast to traditional analytical approaches, the RCA approach avoids efforts to single out individuals for blame, and focuses instead on systemic problems that contribute to often tragic events in the justice system, such as wrongful convictions or police use-of-force incidents that result in death.

“…It is not clear that our systems for evaluating a past OIS (Officer-Involved Shooting) through administrative reviews, civilian oversight, or civil and criminal litigation are effective in understanding how to learn from past OIS or how to prevent the next OIS from occurring,” the study said.

The paper, entitled “Root Cause Analysis: A Tool to Promote Officer Safety and Reduce Officer-Involved Shootings Over Time,” was written by John Hollway, director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; Calvin Lee of the University of Pennsylvania; and Sean Smoot of the Police Protective & Benevolent Association of Illinois.

The authors concluded that RCAs can help senior police managers develop methods that can guide officers’ responses to violent confrontations. They argued current review mechanisms used by law enforcement agencies generally fail to provide guidelines that can prevent violent escalations of encounters between police and civilians.

See also: Looking Beyond the White Bears in Criminal Justice 

“Existing review mechanisms are based on retrospective accountability and evaluate whether the officer, the individual who was shot, or some third party bears blame,” the authors wrote.

They added:

Such measures which focus on individual culpability may deter police from shootings caused by deliberate or intentional misconduct. They have failed to reduce the occurrence of accidental or unintentional acts or encounters that escalate into an OIS. The reality is that many, and perhaps most, OIS occur despite the fact that no one–neither the officer, nor the civilian, nor the general public–wants them to occur.

RCA analyses rest on the presumption that people are acting rationally, without an intention to do harm, and that they simply wish to effectively perform their tasks within a given system. Although this is a core belief of “non-blaming” accountability reviews, RCAs can still differentiate between well-intentioned errors made in good faith and intentional misconduct made by bad actors, the study said.

The authors noted that the RCA approach has been used successfully for decades in aviation, healthcare, manufacturing, nuclear power, and other fields.

“It is through the application of RCA and other associated initiatives over more than forty years that crashes in aviation have declined to very near zero,” they wrote.

In another example cited by the authors, healthcare administrators’ pursuit of what they call “Just Culture,” which incorporates RCA reviews of medical mishaps in hospitals, has sharply reduced the frequency of such incidents.

“The Just Culture is one that recognizes competent professionals make mistakes and acknowledges that even competent professionals develop unhealthy norms (shortcuts, “routine rule violations”), but has zero tolerance for reckless behavior,” wrote the study authors.

Editors’ Note: The ‘non-blaming’ approach is a critical component of the Sentinel Events pilot initiative launched by the Department of Justice in 2011 to help communities analyze incidents like wrongful convictions and other justice missteps with the aim of identifying (and correcting) the often-ignored mistakes in procedure that led to them. Penn Law’s Quattrone Center, headed by John Hollway, one of the authors of the study, has received federal funding to expand the pilot initiative to 25 communities.

A copy of the paper can be downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.


NYC Cop on Trial for Killing Mentally Ill Woman

In a rare prosecution, New York City Sgt. Hugh Barry is on trial for fatally shooting a schizophrenic woman who was wielding a baseball bat. His lawyer says the officer was acting in self-defense.

A police officer who shoots a person wielding a baseball bat is rarely prosecuted. Most states allow officers to use lethal force to counter an attack with a deadly weapon, like a knife, an ax or a club. After Deborah Danner, 66, a schizophrenic woman, was killed by a New York City police sergeant after picking up a bat, the mayor and police commissioner condemned the shooting, saying the officer failed to follow police protocols. Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark convinced a grand jury to indict the sergeant, Hugh Barry, on murder and manslaughter charges, the New York Times reports. On Tuesday, Barry goes on trial, and a judge will have to determine if his actions were justified when he fired twice at Danner as she warded him off with the bat during a psychotic episode.

The pivotal question facing the judge will be whether Barry had exhausted other options for safely containing Danner before he fired. The incident occurred amid a national debate over police shootings. It prompted protests led by elected leaders. Critics complained that mentally ill people too often die at the hands of the police and raised questions about how well officers are trained to deal with emotionally disturbed people. Danner’s family has sued the city in federal court, claiming her civil rights were violated. Barry has been suspended and faces the prospect of departmental charges after the criminal case is concluded. For his lawyer, Andrew Quinn, the officer’s narrative is a cut-and-dried case of self-defense. Quinn argues that the sergeant was trying to prevent  Danner from grabbing a scissors when he entered her bedroom. He could not retreat once she picked up the bat, the lawyer says.


FBI Agent Kills Kidnapping Victim in Houston

“The system failed,” said Conroe Police Chief Philip Dupuis. “We do this job to help people and it doesn’t always go our way.”

An FBI agent shot and killed a kidnapping victim during a predawn operation in northeast Houston, hours after the man was bound with duct tape and pulled from his home by gunmen who later demanded ransom, the Houston Chronicle reports. The man — still bound — was hit by gunfire as the FBI burst into the home in suburban Conroe, Tx., where he was being held with at least one woman and some children inside, officials said. “The system failed,” said Conroe Police Chief Philip Dupuis. “We do this job to help people and it doesn’t always go our way.”

Two men and a woman were arrested at two different locations on first-degree felony charges in connection with the case. “We’ve got the bad guys,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. “Even though it’s good work on behalf of Conroe Police Department, it’s still a tragedy.” The FBI agent who fired the fatal shot is on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, said spokeswoman Christina Garza.  The chaos that ended early Thursday started the day before at a home the man shared with his 12-year-old son and brother.


WA City Appealing $15.1M Verdict in Police Shooting

Lakewood, Wa., and its police chief will appeal a $15.1 million federal jury verdict for the 2013 shooting death of a 30-year-old unarmed black man killed on his front porch in front of his son by a SWAT team sniper. A judge rejected motions for a new trial.

Lakewood, Wa., and its police chief will appeal a $15.1 million federal jury verdict for the 2013 shooting death of a 30-year-old unarmed black man killed on his front porch in front of his son by a SWAT team sniper, the Seattle Times reports. U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein rejected motions for a new trial in a blistering opinion that found ample evidence for a jury to conclude that Chief Mike Zaro and two officers under his command — Sgt. Brian Markert and Officer Michael Wiley — acted outrageously, unreasonably and with malice and callous indifference to the life of Leonard Thomas.

The appeal means the case and its mounting costs for the city of Lakewood and its officers will continue for several more months, if not years. Lawyers for Thomas, his family and estate have asked the court to award them an additional $344,000 in fees and costs on top of $2.3 million in fees they asked for after winning the case at trial. The city likely could have settled the case several times before trial. The initial tort claim filed in 2015 by the family against the city of Lakewood, the SWAT team and the city of Fife sought a total of $3.5 million, but was rejected. Later, in a mediation offer made in May 2017, just before trial, the family suggested negotiations starting around $8 million, but that offer was also refused.


The LAPD’s Charlie Beck: A Chief for a Transformed City

As Beck prepares to retire after eight years, he leaves behind a police agency that has dramatically changed its image as an “occupying force” in the city’s black and brown neighborhoods, and become a national model for police reform, writes the author of two books about the LAPD.

Last Friday, Charlie Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) called a press conference to announce his retirement after leading the department for eight years—forgoing the final two years of his contract in the process, and surprising almost everyone.

“One of the secrets of Bull Riding,” he said about his early departure, “is knowing when to get off the bull.” (He’ll continue to serve until June.)

And indeed the time was ripe for Beck, who’s going out on top.

A 40-year LAPD veteran, the 64-year-old Beck has taken the LAPD a long way down the road to the true cultural transformation of a department vilified world-wide for the televised beating of Rodney King, and the igniting two of the bloodiest riots/rebellions of the 20th Century.

Named chief in 2009, the tall, swarthy Beck brought to the dance a fierce determination to prevail, a quiet, mature professionalism that never called attention to himself, strong interpersonal skills and a willingness to work across lines and with critics, a sense of proportion and understanding of the possible, and superior big-picture observational intelligence and problem-solving skills. Much of which are now reflected in the department he was instrumental in philosophy and fundamentally reshaping, training and rebranding.

Equally important: he was a man of his time, a chief for his era in a Los Angeles undergoing dramatic change.

The son of a former LAPD assistant chief, Beck’s sister had also been an LAPD detective, his wife a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and both his daughter and son are currently LAPD officers.

But despite what could have been a closed-circle life and career, Beck had both the instinct and insight to recognize the progressive winds of change blowing out of the New L.A. The city is now a multicultural sea of blacks, whites, Chicanos, Asians, and college-educated transplants from around the country and the world, living together with the first and second-generation sons and daughters of over a million immigrants from Latin America, East Asia and the Middle East who had begun arriving in the 1970s.

This recognition, along with the 1992 riots, and a streak of intuitive decency enabled Beck to go beyond the usual cop prejudiced and cynicism to really see his city, and to sense how they wanted to be policed, and what didn’t want.: A trigger-happy LAPD that took great pride in being arrogant and pugnacious; and reveled in shaking down and humiliating people color of as its sole modus operandi.

And like his mentor and predecessor as chief, Bill Bratton, Beck also understood that you’d never get a fair press if you hated the press and always showed it, could abide no criticism, and operated as if the department was unaccountable—which it then very often was.

So when Bratton—the ground-breaking, mid-1990s, media savvy reformer of the New York Police Department—was named chief in 2002, then-Capt. Charlie Beck listened closely, especially when Bratton forcefully told his commanders what he would demand from them: Innovation and creativity in reducing crime, and far, far better relations with the public, particularly those in the city’s black and brown communities.

Astutely, Beck then became among the first to seriously implement Beck’s priorities, and to and reap the rewards.

In little more than five years under Bratton, he would rise from field Captain to Chief of South Bureau, which covered 650,000 black and brown residents. There he showed his true reformist colors by meeting with ex-gang members who were trying to halt gang wars. First he acknowledged he would need their help in stopping the slaughter, and then worked with them to help establish a certificated gang intervention program for ex-gangsters called the Urban Peace Academy—a community policing outreach initiative that that is still successfully operating a generation later.

By the time Bratton resigned in 2009, Beck had become the chosen one to succeed him.

Walking a Beat in Watts

On his first full day as chief, Beck announced his intentions by walking a beat in Watts’ Jordan Downs housing project, the epicenter of the 1965 Watts’ Riots and home of the Grape Street Crips, one of the most fearsome gangs in South L.A. There he greeted residents, shaking hands with people who despised the LAPD, while arranging basketball games between his cops against neighborhood teams—a few of which he actually played in.

Soon he formed special units to work in Jordan Downs and other high-crime housing projects in an innovative community-policing program called Community Safety Partnership Police.

The unit’s cops, all volunteers who had also trained at the Urban Police Academy, were committed to working in a particular housing project for five years. They would be judged not by arrest numbers (which had long been the LAPD’s gauge of success) but by how effectively they strengthened and stabilized each of the housing projects; and kept crime and violence low through gaining the community’s trust, partnership, and support; while working with the projects’ kids and families to keep them out of the crushing jaws of California’s notorious criminal justice system.

Like the department’s other community outreach programs none of these efforts were any panacea. They started at the height of the Great Recession when money was extremely tight; required an intense investment in scarce manpower, and remain hard to replicate in a city that sprawls over 450 miles. But they still exist, within the department’s wider philosophical context.

In addition, Beck began forging ties with the city’s Latinos and other immigrant communities, lobbying for driver’s licenses for undocumented residents and stopping impounding cars driven by those license-less immigrants, saving them hundreds or thousands of dollars in towing and impoundment fees in the process.

Meanwhile, following a national trend, the number of homicides in the city began to significantly decrease on his watch, as did officer-involved shootings. Still the latter remained disproportionally high compared to New York and other cities; and a number of them seemed so avoidable that the public became outraged.

This became a real issue in his second term.

Body Cameras for All

In response, Beck worked with a liberal police commission and assisted in getting by-in from the department’s conservative union to equip every officer with body cameras, and to change the department’s previously broadly-defined shooting policy, to one that now emphasizes the de-escalation of potentially deadly situations, and use of smart tactics to avoid situations where an officer places himself in harm’s way and feels he has no alternative but to shot someone.

I don’t mean to paint an idyllic picture of either Beck or the current LAPD. Big city policing in the unjust society we live in is often a dirty business. It is what it is. But now that bad policing has become widely recognized since the 2014 police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, good policing and police leadership has to be summarily recognized.

It’s heartening now to live in a city whose police department that sincerely has as its goal becoming L.A.’s “guardians” and helping to strengthen communities of as opposed to rolling through them like an occupying force and arresting everybody in sight.

And it’s nice to view the front page of the Los Angeles Times and not daily see outrage after outrage committed by the LAPD, or the face of a chief of police throwing a tantrum or picking a fight.

And that’s why LA is now celebrating Charlie Beck.

He’s been a respected national leader in supporting progressive police and criminal justice reform. In 2016, Beck went to the White House with 130 other law enforcement leaders to meet with President Barack Obama. The topic was the future of criminal justice, and it was Beck who was chosen to speak with the president on the group’s behalf.

And he was the first big police leader to publicly state that his police department would not be cooperating with Donald Trump’s immigration officers in rounding up undocumented workers and students and breaking up families.

True, transformative cultural reform is a process many police critics fail to understand. It takes a generation, maybe longer, of sustained, unremittingly determined leadership

All have been hallmarks of Beck’s and Bratton’s leadership in Los Angeles.

They’ve not only been steps in the right direction, but also rare, hopeful advances in the world of criminal justice, where progressive reform moves at a snail’s pace and mean justice takes place overnight.

Beck would signal the best of his intentions. At the same time the LAPD’s gang-injunction policing would continue unabated under Beck. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, as of 2015 there were “more than forty-six permanent gang injunctions in place in the city of Los Angeles.”

Joe Domanick

Joe Domanick

Many people and factors have contributed the LAPD’s transformation, but it’s hard to underestimate Beck’s role.

Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, is the author of two books on the LAPD. His first, “To Protect and to Serve,” was published in 1994.His latest book, “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing,” is now out in paperback. Joe welcomes readers’ comments.


Why Just Punishing Police Won’t Curb Officer-Involved Shootings

If cops charged with fatal shootings rarely get convicted, is there a better way of dealing with such incidents before they happen?  According to a study published this month in the Annual Review of Criminology, there is.

If cops charged with fatal shootings rarely get convicted, is there a better way of dealing with such incidents before they happen? According to a study published this month in the Annual Review of Criminology, there is.

Despite efforts to hold police accountable for their actions in a flurry of court cases since the controversial 2014 Ferguson, Mo. shooting of Michael Brown, there is little evidence to show that such legal efforts to “blame” individual officers are effective, writes Lawrence W. Sherman of Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology.

Instead, he argues, “there is far greater evidence that fatal police shootings can be reduced by re-engineering policy systems than by trying (with little chance of success) to change the legal immunity of police officers or the behavior of juries.”

Sherman suggests that the key to changing police behavior is to look at officer-involved shootings as a failure of the systems that train and guide police to handle and deal with confrontations.

Such tragic incidents should be considered “system crashes,” whose causes should be studied in the same way analysts examine aviation crashes, nuclear meltdowns and other relatively rare events with the aim of preventing them from happening again.

Shifting from a “blame culture” to a “learning culture” allows policymakers, police managers and researchers to examine “not only who, if anyone, was at fault, but also what processes went wrong and how we can fix them,” writes Sherman.

The study contrasts how police forces in two different cities dealt with violent incidents: the Nov. 22, 2014 killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland; and a late 2015 incident involving a man with a knife in a Camden, NJ restaurant.

In the Cleveland case, Rice was killed when officers responded to a report of a male pointing a pistol, which turned out to be fake, at people in a city park. Although the original caller said the pistol was likely to be fake and the male was “probably a juvenile,” the dispatcher never informed police of either observation. Moreover, the officer who shot Rice had a record of emotional instability, and neither of the police officers on the scene administered first aid—adding to the cascade of “system failures” that resulted in an innocent boy’s death.

During the Camden incident, police created a “ring” around the suspect until they could get close enough to immobilize him with a Taser—following specific guidelines they were given by Camden Police Chief J. Scott Thompson of how to de-escalate potentially violent confrontations.

The fact that Camden police were operating according to system guidelines designed to reduce fatal shootings prevented the incident from ending in the kind of tragedy witnessed in Cleveland, Sherman noted.

But departments are unlikely to be motivated to change their guidelines and training when police shootings are turned into polarizing events, he said.

Concentrating on punishment “will fail to reduce the killings of either citizens or police,” Sherman observed. “Although there is research evidence that such punishment has been and can be effective, it is difficult to achieve and has rarely worked without other strategies to support it.”

By treating police shootings as “system crashes,” police, city authorities and community residents can be prevented “from being consumed entirely by the urge to identify enemies,” he wrote. “That insulation may open the door to calm reflection on the problem by all parties concerned.

“The great importance of achieving justice for its own sake does not make punishment the only or best way to save lives.”

And he added that it was particularly relevant to smaller communities, where such a “learning culture,” is most needed. In 2015, for example, over half of the 986 fatal shootings involving police occurred in cities with fewer than 50,000 residents.

In smaller communities, where approval of police is high, juries are likely to accept an officer’s defense that he or she was acting according to departmental procedures or training.

“Future research,” he wrote. “Must therefore include very small communities in order to understand and help prevent the majority of all fatal police shootings.”

The full study can be downloaded here.

Readers’ comments are welcome.


Cleveland Cop Fired for 2015 Shooting of Unarmed Burglar

Officer Alan Buford was terminated after Cleveland officials found that he used excessive force in the March 19, 2015, death of Brandon Jones, 18. Buford was acquitted of misdemeanor negligent homicide earlier this year.

A Cleveland police officer was fired Thursday for the 2015 fatal shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect, reports the Plain Dealer. Alan Buford was terminated after city officials found that he used excessive force in the March 19, 2015, death of Brandon Jones, 18. The shooting happened while Buford and another officer investigated a break-in at a grocery store. Cleveland Public Safety Director Michael McGrath’s administrative review found that Buford violated the department’s use of force policy “by using force greater than what was necessary during the incident.” Buford was charged with misdemeanor negligent homicide but was acquitted in July by Municipal Court Judge Michael Sliwinski after a three-day trial.

That acquittal came despite testimony from Buford’s partner, Gregory King, that he thought the shooting was unnecessary. The victim’s mother has filed a wrongful-death civil lawsuit against the city and the police officer. Her attorney, Paul Cristallo, praised the firing, saying, “I think it certainly validates what we’ve been saying all along — that Officer Buford didn’t have to shoot Brandon. It’s a step toward accountability.” Cleveland police union president Steve Loomis called the firing an “unwarranted attack” on police officers.  He said the union will seek arbitration to get Buford reinstated.