TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Law enforcement is trying to help the people understand how and when officers may use deadly force.
ATF, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a nationwide program to offer training for journalists, including classroom instruction on key court rulings that govern when deadly force is justified.
Agents say an officer can use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it’s required to keep a suspect from seriously hurting or killing someone. Tennessee v Garner and Graham v Conner are key cases in forming that legal standard.
Sometimes after someone’s been shot, it’s discovered they did not have a weapon. Agents say courts have ruled officers should not be judged by information learned in hindsight---and that officers do not need to give a suspect a time advantage by waiting until it’s clear that person has a weapon.
ATF agent James Balthazar says, “So if a suspect is acting, not necessarily even aggressively but just being non-compliant, and then in a very aggressive manner just as an example, pulls his hand out of his pocket very quickly in a motion, that would be similar to a suspect drawing a weapon, the officer has to respond to protect himself or protect the lives of other civilians.”
Agents say courts have ruled deadly force is authorized if an officer reasonably believes it’s required to save someone’s life and if that danger exists there’s no legal obligation to use less lethal options like a TASER. But officers are trained to use other options if they can do it effectively.
Tucson Police are also working to educate the public on how TPD uses deadly force---and alternatives.
On a training academy firing range, Tucson Police Sergeant Jesse Cornia demonstrates some of the weapons police may use to subdue a suspect with something less deadly than a bullet. He fires a shotgun with a bright green stock to indicate it launches a flex baton or beanbag round. TPD rules say it must never be fired towards the head or groin.
The same rules applies for a weapon which launches a large foam projectile. Tucson Police say it is different from a rubber bullet---and they do not use those.
Members of TPD’s Citizens Force Review Board and other citizens were learning more about these and other methods.
They learned a TASER is not effective a hundred percent of the time---that electrodes can miss or not connect in a way that will reliably bring down a suspect.
Cedric Smith says with nationwide concern about police brutality and use of force, he wanted to learn more about the police perspective.
“As far as the training I think it'd be effective I feel confident that, obviously you have a lot of other factors whether it be stress factors, psychological factors which I'm sure the department is addressing, and they'll take all those into account as well.”
Frank Wilson says he’s been on the TPD force review board for five years and appreciates how open the department has been.
“To the point that we review all the tapes, we sit down for four or five, six hours, look at cases where there's police shootings and we're part of the process so it's pretty unique.”
The death of Carlos Ingram Lopez in Tucson Police custody prompted a major review of TPD’s restraint methods---what police call ground techniques.
TPD Training Captain Diana Duffy says, “What we learned is if you're trained in ground techniques you tend to use less force, so we're trying to make officers better equipped. We train that during the academy. But once you've been on 10-12 years unless you practice it regularly. You're going to resort to what you know.”
Rather than pull police out of the field to refresh their restraint training, trainers are going to the divisions to make sure officers know the best way to restrain someone safely.