Police must follow rules

In this age of the ubiquitous cellphone camera, rarely a week passes without the release of yet another video showing police officers responding inappropriately to volatile situations.

Currently making the rounds on the Internet and TV is footage showing a policeman, who had responded to a call about a fight at a pool party, throwing a teenage girl in a bikini to the ground and drawing his gun when witnesses threaten to intercede.

The McKinney, Texas, officer was later placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller said police are expected to “act professionally and with appropriate restraint relative to the situation they are faced with.”

Obviously, it’s easier said than done. Policies that detail how officers should respond to specific situations are too often ignored in the heat of the moment. As evidence, consider the repeated violations of the Philadelphia Police Department’s policy against shooting into moving vehicles.

A review of confidential internal police investigations by Inquirer reporters Mark Fazlollah and Dylan Purcell showed city officers have shot 43 people in vehicles since 2002, killing eight of them. In 80 percent of the shootings, officers were found to have violated department policies.

Since 2001, it has been against policy for officers to shoot at anyone who does not present an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others. Last year, after a pizza deliveryman was shot, Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey refined the policy to say officers should not fire at a moving vehicle unless they “are being fired upon by the occupants of the vehicle.”

But it still happens. Last month, a man who crashed his car into a wall was shot following a police chase. A companion who was in the vehicle with Rudolph Keitt said he had suffered a seizure before the crash. A recording indicated a commander called off the chase before Keitt was shot.

At least Keitt survived. Jamil Moses, 24, was a passenger in a stolen car when it crashed into a police cruiser in hot pursuit in 2011. Police fired 56 shots at the vehicle, but neither suspect inside had a gun. A subsequent lawsuit netted $2 million for Moses’ family and $500,000 for the car’s driver, Frederick Bell, who was wounded.

That $2.5 million represented the largest settlement with the city as a result of police wrongly shooting into a vehicle. All told, it has paid out $5.8 million since 2002.

Ramsey says it will take time for the revised shooting policy to sink in. Adequate training is just as crucial. So is the cooperation of the police union when sanctions are being considered for officers who violate policy. Allowing them to get away with a reprimand or less sends the message; rules are optional. That’s a philosophy for lawbreakers, not the men and women who have taken an oath to uphold the law and protect and serve the public.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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