Ohio gun group offers shooting lessons to teachers
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Following the killing of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., an Ohio-based gun group says it is launching a test program to train teachers how to use firearms.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that the Buckeye Firearms Association says it will initially accept applications from 24 teachers for its Armed Teacher Pilot Program. The three-day firearm-training class will be held at the Tactical Defense Institute in West Union. The association will pay for the training, including lodging and ammunition.
Association legal chairman Ken Hanson said in a statement that teachers and school board members have been "asking us for years" for this kind of training. He said the group's long-term goal is to develop a standard curriculum and make the training available to any teacher or school official.
A statement released Dec. 21 by Paragould Police Chief Todd Stovall suggests that his department may be backing away from its earlier hard-line — and almost certainly unconstitutional — plan that would have allowed officers on patrol in SWAT fatigues and carrying assault rifles to demand the ID of people on the street and arrest anyone who failed to comply. Stovall now says officers will only stop people when there is "reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity is happening."
Stovall had announced the new "street crimes unit" at a Dec. 13 town hall meeting, vowing that anyone who refused to present ID and answer officers' questions during a stop would be arrested on charges of obstruction of governmental operations.
After a growing backlash against the proposal, the department cited "public safety concerns" in announcing that further meetings on the subject scheduled for Dec. 18 and 21 had been canceled.
On Dec. 16, Stovall issued a statement on the Paragould PD webpage. Responding to what he said was concern from citizens that officers might violate constitutional rights, Stovall said that officers wouldn't harass citizens, and wouldn't be carrying assault rifles constantly while on foot patrol, as it would be "impractical."
In the statement released Dec. 21, titled "Community Policing Clarification," Stovall dialed back his rhetoric even further, saying the Paragould PD is "committed to combating crime and insuring public safety without violating citizens' constitutional rights." Stovall said that while the department would be putting more officers on the east side of Paragould, which would necessarily "increase the number of police-citizen encounters," those encounters, Stovall said, would be done "within the bounds of the Constitution."
"When suspicious activity is afoot and there is reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity is happening," Stovall wrote, "officers will make contact with the individuals involved to combat any potential criminal activity. In cases where there is probable cause to believe a crime has already occurred, officers will arrest those who committed the crime — there will be zero-tolerance for criminals. It is in these instances alone in which officers will ask an individual to identify him/herself."
Last week, ACLU-Arkansas executive director Rita Sklar said that aspects of Stovall's original plan — including Stovall's contention that high crime rates grant officers probable cause to stop and question anyone they see on the street in high crime areas — shows that he has "zero understanding of Constitutional rights, period."
Sklar noted one case that came before the U.S. Supreme Court in which a suspect was detained by police after being seen standing in a high crime area, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, clutching something in his pocket and staring intently and nervously at a passing police cruiser. The court still found that arrest unconstitutional. "All of that together still didn't constitute reasonable suspicion to stop that person," Sklar said, "much less being in a high crime area." Sklar added that while police do have the right to ask questions of a person they encounter on the street, the person doesn't have to answer and can't be detained unless police have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
Sklar added that it is a "wonderful thing" that the issue has generated a lot of interest from the press and public. She said Internet chatter about the issue "is also a wonderful thing — to know that people care about their rights."
Sklar said ACLU of Arkansas is looking into the case, and will welcome complaints from anyone who believes he was unjustly detained by police in Paragould if the "Street Crimes Unit" patrols ever go into effect.
Dallas police tightening foot chase policy to save lives
by TANYA EISERER
Dallas police are joining a growing number of departments around the nation that are tightening foot chase policies to save lives.
The vast majority of foot pursuits end in no injuries more severe than scrapes and bruises. But they can be fatal, as in the 2003 death of Tucson police Officer Kent Hardesty, who was shot repeatedly as he raced around a corner after a hit-and-run suspect.
“He just ran right into the guy's gun,” said Dave Smith, a former Tucson officer who teaches street survival courses. “Had he run wide around that corner, he would have at least had a chance to engage.”
It's just such a horrific end that Dallas police commanders want to avoid. A new foot chase policy is being drafted and is likely to go into effect early in the new year. That would put Dallas among the vanguard of police agencies, as only a few have such policies.
The draft directs officers not to:
Continue a foot pursuit if they are acting alone and would be chasing two or more suspects at the same time.
Continue a foot pursuit if they lose their weapon.
Split up to chase multiple suspects.
The policy also encourages officers to consider visibility, the availability of cover, whether they are in a hostile area, whether the suspect is armed and whether they know the identity of the suspect.
In an interview during the summer, Police Chief David Brown said it was the year's first fatal shooting by an officer that set him to thinking more about the perils of foot chases.
Several officers chased an aggravated-robbery suspect into an apartment complex in February. The man fled around a corner. As the officers followed, the man pointed a gun at them. The officers killed him.
The officers told investigators that they had just watched a training video that reminded them about how to safely round a corner in a foot pursuit.
“So if they hadn't seen the video that day, what would we be talking about today? ‘Could we have saved that officer's life?'” the chief said. “He could have just picked off everybody that ran by if they had taken that corner short.”
Anatomy of a death
The decision to draft a new policy came after another officer shot and killed a fleeing suspect in July.
Police responded to a 911 call after a reported kidnapping at a South Dallas house. Officers entering the home spotted a gun as four suspects scattered. Officers split up to chase the suspects.
The officer who chased James Harper, 31, later told investigators that he was exhausted by the time he ended up alone after chasing Harper over three fences and into a horse corral. During a struggle, and fearing he was losing the fight, the officer said, he shot Harper as the suspect reached into a pocket for what was thought to be a weapon. It wasn't.
Harper, who had a lengthy criminal history including for dealing drugs, assaulting a security officer and evading arrest, died at the scene.
Brown said that after the Harper case, he asked a group of officers about foot pursuits and what they would do if there were three officers and four fleeing suspects.
“How many are we chasing?” the chief asked. “All of the veterans said, ‘We're going to catch one. He's going to tell us where the other three are.'“”
The rookies, he said, responded, “We're going to chase all of them.”
The greyhound effect
Smith, the former Tucson officer, calls it the “the greyhound effect.”
“There goes the rabbit, the rabbit, the rabbit,” Smith said. “If you decide to pursue, you've got to evaluate: What are the risks? Think tactically. Keep your head in the game and don't get eaten up with catching the guy. If you don't protect yourself, you can't protect anyone else.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police crafted a model policy and has long recommended that policing agencies regulate foot pursuits. But a recent national survey of 500 agencies found that only about 15 percent had done so.
“Most police agencies aren't practicing safer tactics when it comes to foot pursuits,” said Robert Kaminski, an associate criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina. One response to the survey exemplified the attitude of many: “This is not rocket science. You just run after them.”
Kaminiski and other policing experts say that's a dangerous attitude.
Dallas' draft policy reflects much of what officers are trained to do at the police academy but presents it as rules.
“We're trying to codify safety-type issues,” said Assistant Chief Michael Genovesi, who has been in charge of the effort. “The overriding philosophy is going to be about officer safety.”
‘Not going to work'
But Ron Pinkston, president of the Dallas Police Association, says the draft policy would place unreasonable limitations on officers.
“This is something you can't put in a box, and they're trying to put it in a box,” he said. “It's not going to work.”
A few police agencies have put in place policies dictating how and when officers will conduct foot pursuits. For example, one New Jersey police agency mandated that officers not chase alone and that they stop chasing if a suspect enters a building. The department did so because drug dealers were luring officers into abandoned homes and ambushing them.
Austin police officials outlined new guidelines in 2008 on the heels of a controversial fatal shooting by an officer at the conclusion of a foot chase.
“There are no absolute prohibitions on foot pursuits,” said Austin Assistant Chief Brian Manley. “We tell the officers things they must consider prior to engaging and continuously consider during engagement.”
Pinkston acknowledged that Dallas' draft policy contains common-sense guidelines. His concern is that the policy may be used to hammer officers in disciplinary proceedings, though officials say that's not the intent.
Dallas police officials were already well aware that foot pursuits, like so many things in police work, are inherently dangerous. The department has been conducting eight-hour training sessions on foot pursuits for at least five years.
Officers are reminded to watch out for “blind corners.” The lesson plan cautions them to avoid following a fleeing suspect into a building and gives other reasons they might want to stop a pursuit.
“This is not a game of cowboys and Indians,” the lesson plan cautions.