Could what happened in Ferguson, Mo. — a police officer shooting an unarmed teen to death — happen in Philadelphia?
The answer is yes, but as in Ferguson or Los Angeles or any American city, there are specific protocols for when a police officer should and should not fire a weapon.
The fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, in Ferguson, Mo., by police officer Darren Wilson, has spawned protests and responses from the NAACP, the National Action Committee, the United States Department of Justice and President Barack Obama. The Department of Justice is conducting its own investigation to determine what really happened on the day Brown was fatally shot. And new reports from the Ferguson police department have said Brown was a suspect in a local robbery.
But in light of this incident, the Eric Garner incident in New York and other high profile cases when a person was killed by a police officer, the serious question arises of when is it appropriate for police officers to use lethal force.
“It’s a very serious issue when an officer is forced to discharge their weapons and something that should be done only in extreme situations,” said Richard Ross, deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department. “It’s appropriate only when there’s an imminent threat to the officer’s safety or another human being.
"We’re prohibited from using deadly force to defend property. We can use deadly force in situations of a forcible felony, like an armed robbery or if a situation is life threatening to other officers or civilians. It really comes down to probable cause and an imminent threat, but our goal is to always deescalate a situation before it comes to that point. We try and work that continuum before we resort to deadly force. For example, we’re not permitted to shoot at fleeing vehicles unless we’re being fired at.”
In 2014, city police fired their weapons 23 times, according to official statistics. In 11 incidents, a civilian was wounded and one death resulted in an incident on Feb. 14 on the 1300 block of Hellerman Street. No officers were wounded or killed in any of the incidents. In 2013 there were 75 officer-involved shootings and 10 alleged offenders killed by police gunfire.
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