For once, let's tell the story of a wrongful police shooting from the perspective of the victims. A 71-year-old woman, Emma Hernandez, and her 47-year-old daughter, Margie Carranza, were out in the pre-dawn hours delivering newspapers. They would toss them from a Toyota truck onto the driveways of customers.
A year ago today, they were on their quiet suburban route when, without any warning, an LAPD officer aimed his revolver at the driver side cabin and fired a shot. Within seconds, 8 LAPD officers would fire a total of 103 bullets at their vehicle. "We are being shot at, we are being shot at!" the younger woman screamed. She would emerge unhurt. Two bullets hit her elderly mother in the back.
Miraculously, both women survived the barrage of bullets. And L.A. officials would approve a $4.7 million settlement to compensate them for the traumatic ordeal. Luckily, no one else in the neighborhood was hurt, although a civilian review reports that "the investigation revealed there were ballistic impacts located on seven homes and nine civilian vehicles, which consisted of both gunshots and shotgun pellets." They could've easily killed someone else, or one another.
A year would pass before these 8 officers learned their fate. In fact, it was just announced this week. The LAPD agree they violated policy. Their punishment? Retraining.
Press accounts have mostly recounted the incident from the perspective of the eight officers, following the lead of reports by L.A.'s civilian police commission and LAPD chief Charlie Beck. Every one of the officers presumably feels awful about their mistake. And it's easy to feel sympathy for them, hearing the story as they experienced it. The wrongful shooting took place as fugitive Christopher Dorner roamed greater Los Angeles trying his damnedest to kill police officers and their families. If all of these officers felt anxious, fearful and on edge as they guarded the house of a Dorner target, who can blame them? Who wouldn't feel that way, watching a vehicle with tinted windows slowly creep up the street toward them?
I'd gladly buy them a beer (as long as they left their guns at home).
And I can't help but find the decision to redeploy all of them with firearms on the streets of L.A. unacceptable. Here's the Los Angeles Times reporting on the decision:
Eight Los Angeles police officers who violated department policy when they mistakenly opened fire on two women during the hunt for Christopher Dorner will be retrained and returned to the field, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a department-wide message Wednesday. The message, sent on the LAPD's internal computer network and obtained by The Times, notes his disapproval in the actions of the seven officers and one sergeant. "While I understand supervisors and officers were required to make split-second decisions regarding the perceived threat presented before them I found it to be very concerning that officers fired before adequately identifying a threat; fired without adequately identifying a target and not adequately evaluating cross fire situations," Beck said.
The general point still stands. Even good officers can make mistakes. But the best evidence we have of someone's skill in these impossible-to-simulate, life and death situations is how an officer performs in the rare instances when they occur. Would my standard occasionally result in the removal of an officer who'd excel if left in place? Sure, but it would also likely reduce the incidence of innocents shot or killed by raising the cost to officers and signaling that there isn't ultimately anything that fully excuses the mistake. Officers tempted to object should think of it this way: The public isn't saying it's certain the officer is incapable. It is erring on the side of public safety to preempt a perceived threat. In that sense, any officers who lost their guns would be policed just as they policed others.