DENVER (CBS4) – The shooting death of a teenage driver at the wheel of a stolen car is one of several recent high profile shootings that have led to changes to Denver police policy.

That’s according to sources, who say the death of Jessie Hernandez was really the tipping point that led to the adjustment to a city police rule that stated officers were discouraged from firing on a vehicle if it was moving at them and threatening their lives.

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The alley where Jessie Hernandez was shot and killed (credit: CBS)

The alley where Jessie Hernandez was shot and killed (credit: CBS)

The new police policy, which the department officially released on Tuesday morning, states the following:

Firearms shall not be discharged at a moving or fleeing vehicle unless deadly force is being used against the police officer or another person present by means other than the moving vehicle.

The policy lists two reasons for the change:

– Firing at moving vehicle may have little impact on stopping it.
– Disabling the driver may result in an uncontrolled vehicle.

However, the new policy is also clear about one thing: that every situation is different and each will be examined rigorously on a case-by-case basis.

There were at least four incidents in a matter of months last year and early this year where Denver police fired their weapons at moving vehicles. One was the Hernandez case. Investigators say the 17-year-old was driving a stolen car in an alley toward two officers, who opened fire.

Jessie Hernandez (credit: CBS)

Jessie Hernandez (credit: CBS)

Last week Denver’s district attorney stated the officers were justified in their actions.

“This is certainly not an indictment on the officers in the last four incidents,” said Denver Police Chief Robert White.

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White says the change to their policy will result in new training for officers “in conducting high risk stops and how to respond to moving vehicles.”

“It’s ineffective because the lack of control when you shoot through a moving vehicle and if you strike somebody, that person loses total control of the vehicle so you don’t know where the vehicle is going to go, it still might create a situation for the officer that is involved or it might create a situation for someone else or include an innocent bystander,” said White.

The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the change, saying it brought Denver in line with other departments across the country.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, a lawyer representing the family of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was shot and killed as she drove a car at police, also praised the new guidelines.

“The Hernandez family commends the Denver police for this much-needed policy change,” Mohamedbhai said. “However, the family continues to grieve the loss of Jessica and the policy change demonstrates that Jessica’s death was completely unnecessary and illegal.”

Representatives from the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police said they understand why the department changed the policy, though they don’t agree or believe there was any demonstration by officers that warranted the change.

White says many other departments — including Aurora and New York City — have had a similar policy in place for years.

Additional Resources

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Read the new official “Discharge of Firearms” policy (pdf), released by the Denver Police Department on Tuesday morning.