DENVER (AP) – A new policy limiting when Denver police officers can fire on moving vehicles will improve public safety if it is well-enforced, the city’s police monitor said Wednesday.
The change also brings Denver in line with other departments nationwide, Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell said in a wide-ranging review of police rules on vehicle shootings.
The department revised its rules after two officers fatally shot 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was fleeing in a stolen Honda in January, marking the fourth time in seven months that Denver police fired into a moving vehicle. Officers can no longer shoot at moving cars unless someone inside is firing at them.
The old guidelines let officers fire on a car if it was bearing down on them and there was a chance they could be struck.
Those rules were inadequate, in part because they didn’t urge officers to avoid entering a vehicle’s path in the first place, said Mitchell, who studied eight cases since 2007 in which Denver officers fired at fleeing cars they perceived as a threat.
He found that officers sometimes unintentionally put themselves in front of stationary cars that later moved.
The shooting of Hernandez came amid a national debate over police use of force and highlighted the dangers that arise when police fire at moving cars.
Law enforcement groups and the Department of Justice have discouraged shooting at cars unless there’s a deadly threat aside from the moving vehicle. Many police departments around the county have banned or limited shooting at cars.
In Denver, District Attorney Mitch Morrissey declined to prosecute the officers who killed Hernandez, saying their lives where threatened when she drove toward them.
Denver’s new guidelines specify that the moving vehicle itself cannot be considered a threat.
The new policy and revamped training are an improvement as long as the department rigorously enforces them, Mitchell said.
– By Sadie Gurman, AP Writer
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