Phoenix Law Enforcement Association

Why are Officer Involved Shootings on the Increase?

The following article was penned by PLEA President Ken Crane as a result of concerns over the rise in officer involved shootings:  

As of June 20, 2018, there have been 47 instances county wide where police officers from various agencies have utilized deadly force; of those, 27 have been attributed to the Phoenix PD.  

In Phoenix, we are only halfway through the year and have already exceeded the total number of officer involved shootings seen in 2017 (21).  This leaves city politicians, the Police Chief, and community activist groups puzzled, concerned and, in some cases, angered by the increase.  Those in the media seek information in the hopes that someone will provide some magical explanation for the increase.  Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer. 

The Police Chief, in an effort to “do something,” has decided to request permission to spend $149,000 in funds from the police budget to pay for a study by the Police Foundation out of Washington, DC.  PLEA sees this as a waste of money and a political smokescreen.

One of the crucial points being overlooked regarding the dramatic upswing in shootings is that the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association and the rank and file officers we represent are just as concerned if not more so than all the aforementioned groups.  The reason is simple.  The men and women who daily patrol our streets are the ones walking point, have the most skin in the game and have the most to lose when things go wrong.  It’s not the Police Chief, the Mayor, Councilpersons or members of any activist groups who will find themselves facing career ending injuries or death.

This begs the question, are police the problem? Are we, as some activist groups would have you believe, bloodthirsty, trigger-happy thugs killing without cause?  Absolutely not.  Police are the constant in the equation.  Our training is consistent, state law and police policy are also consistent.  The criminal element we are expected to deal with daily is the unpredictable variable, the wild card.  Police use of force statistics published by the Police Foundation showed that in 2008 there were an estimated 67 million face-to-face encounters between police and citizens nationally.  That equates to more than one million per week. Police use of force deaths occurred one out of every 67,000 contacts.  Based on these numbers, police induced fatalities occurred 0.0015% of the time.  

We understand that ctizens don’t call 911 to have coffee, shoot the breeze and tell us what a great job we are doing.  They call when things are going to hell in handbasket and they wanted a cop five minutes ago to fix a problem.  For the officer that responds, it’s akin to being dropped into the middle of a one act play where they now have to assess and make split second decisions. The unfortunate reality is that, in rare instances, lethal force is necessary.    

There is no officer that begins their shift and thinks, “I hope this is the day I get to pull the trigger.” In fact, quite the opposite is true.  In the police realm, the handgun is a personal defensive weapon utilized under exigent circumstances to protect the life of an officer or citizen against people who have no regard for the laws that govern a civilized society and also have no moral qualms when it comes to injuring or killing others.

There is a simple answer to why shootings are up. It can be summed up in a simple phrase: evil exists in the heart of man.  It’s sad to say, but the truth in this saying is what translates into job security for the law enforcement profession.  Any police officer will tell you the majority of society is made up of decent people that just want to live a comfortable life, make a living, provide for their family and not bother anyone.  It’s that small percentage of society that keep the police busy, those who have no regard for the rule of law, are willing to harm others and, when confronted by police will openly defy, oppose and, in many instances, attack not only their fellow man but the police as well.

Are there additional factors that contribute to the rise we currently see in police shootings? Absolutely, and here are some points we laid out in a recent letter to the Mayor and City Council:

  • A city government that allowed the police department to get dangerously understaffed
  • A porous Southern border that facilitates violent drug and human smuggling traffic and that allows criminals from anywhere to enter the country illegally
  • A burgeoning transient/homeless population many of whom are unstable and quick to violent action. Police officers interact with this segment of society daily
  • A growing anti-authority segment of society that believes it is their right to challenge, obstruct, resist and fight with police out in the street
  • Hardened career criminals, who have been in and out of the corrections system; many, who commit other crimes while on probation or parole, know they are at extreme risk of returning to prison and are more willing to engage in violence to avoid arrest and re-incarceration
  • Depressed and suicidal people who use the police as their mechanism to commit suicide
  • People on street drugs, alcohol, psych meds, or sometimes a combination of the three which produces irrational, erratic, and often times violent behavior.

The issue with addressing the above listed problems is it may not be politically correct or just plain uncomfortable to talk about, nor are there quick or easy fixes.    

When city officials and a Police Chief don’t want to face hard truths its far easier to take the path of least resistance.  In this case, spending almost $150,000 of taxpayer money.  A study that has no clearly defined parameters or objectives is nothing more than buying political cover.  It’s kicking the can down the road. 

Both police and community leaders need to do a better job of educating citizens on the legalities and expectations during police/citizen contacts.  A citizen doesn’t have to like or agree with a police traffic stop, detention, or arrest but the time to fight and argue over it is in the courtroom not out on the street.  When people flee from the police, engage in active aggression or physically fight with the police, pull knives and guns on the police or try to disarm the police, things are generally not going to end well.  Both police and suspect run the unnecessary risk of injury or even worse, death.  Police officers are drawn from the very communities we police.  We willingly take on a difficult and at times very risky job.  We also like to go home to our families at the end of each day.  The goal of the police is not to fight with citizens but when the fight does come, we are trained to win.             

Study or no study, here’s what we do know: the police will always have to deal with those elements of society that are dysfunctional, dangerous, aggressive and combative.  Until a silver bullet solution is discovered that eradicates evil and violence, the police will continue to be thrust into highly unstable and volatile situations where citizens will ultimately dictate the end game.  Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some of these situations will result in the use of lethal force to protect ourselves and the community.