Officer-Involved Shooting: Why Lethal Force?

September 11, 2008 7:08:41 PM PDT
The Fresno County district attorney's office is looking into whether a sheriff's deputy was justified in a deadly shooting where he says the man asked for suicide by cop.A lot of neighbors here wondered why the deputy didn't shoot the suspect with a taser, or maybe somewhere that wouldn't have killed him.

Law enforcement officers and anyone learning to shoot for defense are trained to aim for center mass because that's the best way to stop a threat. It's also the most likely place for a bullet to kill someone.

A less-lethal shotgun arrived at the scene of Wednesday's officer-involved shooting just as a deputy shot the bullet that killed the suspect. Investigators and witnesses say the man pulled a knife on the deputy who tracked him down after the suspect had broken a window at a Mayfair home. Deputy Chris Curtice was next on the scene.

"Myself and another unit were en route," he said. "And had the situation not escalated, we probably would've been able to deploy the less lethal and taken him into custody."

Curtice carries a bean bag gun, but they're not ideal in a tense and violent situation. They're big, they're not easily accessible, and they're not in every patrol car. The deputy who shot the suspect didn't have one.

Unlike Fresno police, Fresno County sheriff's deputies don't have tasers. They're evaluating a couple brands right now and trying to figure out how to pay for them with a tight budget. Curtice says one in every patrol car would be ideal.

"That's something that, if I'm coming up to make contact with you, I can pull out the taser," he said. "If that works, great. If he escalates it to something bigger, I can drop it and immediately go to lethal force."

Even though it's called lethal force, officers are not trained to shoot to kill. Firearms instructors teach them to shoot for the center of the body, to stop the suspect.

"The reason we don't train and law enforcement officers don't train to shoot for the extremities is because it's a much smaller target, typically moving and even if you do hit it, it may not do the job you need to do, which would be to stop your threat," said Will Ayres, a firearms instructor at The Range in northwest Fresno.

Fresno police are helping the district attorney's office investigate the shooting since it happened inside city limits. The deputy is on paid administrative leave for three days.

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