The NYPD has quietly revised its Patrol Guide to add a clause that gives officers more leeway in the use of deadly force, despite currently dealing with fallout from a police shooting that left an unarmed teen dead in the Bronx. The revision is based on a 2010 New York Court of Appeals ruling which stated that the decision to fire a gun should be left to an individual officer’s discretion.
The ruling threw out a lawsuit by Tammy Johnson, who was hit by a stray bullet when police began shooting at an armed robber in Harlem. Johnson had her 18-month-old daughter with her at the time.
However, in that case, the court ruled that officers violated no NYPD guidelines. In response, NYPD has revised the Patrol Guide to reflect the court’s decision. Officers are now instructed that they shouldn’t fire their weapons if, “in their professional judgment,” innocent bystanders run the risk of being hurt.
But since “professional judgment” is vaguely defined as “based not only upon experience as an individual but taking into account the knowledge, experience and training gained through employment as a police officer,” the new policy actually gives cops more leeway if they choose to fire their guns.
The revision comes just as NYPD is dealing with public fallout from the death of Ramarley Graham. A narcotics cop shot and killed the teenager in his home earlier this month, incensing the community and attracting national scrutiny. The officers say that they believe Graham had a weapon, but he was in fact unarmed.