Cops Less Likely Than Ever To Shoot You

The Wall Street Journal says city cops aren't "trigger happy" after reviewing a new NYPD report that said police officers were involved in fewer shootings and fired fewer bullets last year since the department started tracking shooting statistics in 1971. So why are police keeping guns in their holsters, and who's still more likely to get shot? Let's find out.

The Journal, which says it reviewed a copy of the department's 2009 "New York City Police Department Annual Firearms Discharge Report" (scheduled to be released today), analyzed the findings. Per the WSJ:

It shows that city police were involved in 105 shooting incidents during which 130 officers fired a total of 296 bullets, about 19% fewer than the previous year. In 2008, the NYPD was also involved in 105 shooting incidents, with the 125 officers firing a total of 364 bullets.

No city police officer last year was shot by a suspect for the first time since the police department started keeping detailed shooting statistics in 1971. There was one "mistaken identity" fatality when off-duty police officer Omar Edwards was shot and killed by another police officer on May 28, 2009, as Mr. Edwards was chasing a car thief down the street with his gun drawn. NYPD officers shot and killed 12 suspects in 2009 and wounded an additional 20. Both numbers are about average for the past decade.

The 2009 shooting tally stands in stark contrast to the numbers when the NYPD first started keeping shooting statistics. In 1971, 12 officers were shot and killed and an additional 47 shot and wounded. City cops, in turn, shot and killed 93 people and wounded an additional 221. A much smaller police force that year--it had 5,500 fewer officers than today's -- fired a total of 2,113 shots.

Experts credit the "restraint" in police shootings to the department's stricter accountability measures. Cops "take part in computer simulations in which they are taught to make instant life-and-death decisions," and the department now requires officers to file detailed "SOP 9" reports each time they fire a weapon.

Other experts -- including a retired deputy inspector who once headed the NYPD's firearms training unit, a professor at John Jay, and a former cop and prosecutor -- credited the drop to factors including media scrutiny over high-profile shootings (e.g., the 2006 Sean Bell case), an increased focus on "weapon control" during police training, and the city's dwindling crime rate (murders and other violent crimes have seen a recent spike compared to last year, but overall crime is still the lowest in years... assuming no one's fudging those stats, of course).

The WSJ also says that of the 105 shooting incidents in 2009, only 47 were "adversarial conflict" shootings that involved armed suspects. (Although the paper doesn't say what kinds of "conflicts" the other 58 shootings were that required a cop to draw his gun but weren't "adversarial.")

Other fun facts: 73% of the suspects shot by police were black and 29% were Hispanic. The WSJ says the report "doesn't break down the races of the remaining people shot by police." Ninety-two percent of those suspects also had rap sheets, and 77% of those had multiple prior arrests.

The report also says that of the department's 34,953 uniformed officers, only 68 "intentionally fired their weapons." We're not sure if that means some officers fired their weapons unintentionally (which is, um, concerning), or how the implication that at least a handful of the same 68 officers were involved in multiple shooting incidents throughout 2009 means cops aren't "trigger happy," but at least it's not happening as much! (Although the 23-year-old Harlem man who may have set a record by surviving 21 gunshots from police in August, is probably a little skeptical.)

[shernandez@villagevoice.com]


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