Shooting into Vehicles Not Appropriately Examined

The Sun and KPCC’s investigative series highlighted officer-involved shootings in San Bernardino County into moving vehicles but ignored the most prolific example of the success of this practice: the December 2nd terrorist attack.

The conclusion of the most horrific event in the county’s history played out in a fiery gun battle that began with high-caliber rounds exchanged between the suspects’ black Suburban and law enforcement vehicles.

Yet the title and tone of The Sun article imply San Bernardino County is overdue in changing its policies regarding this topic. “Police agencies from Los Angeles to New York banned officers from shooting into moving vehicles because of the inherent dangers… but the practice continues in San Bernardino County,” the article read.

The quote, and its implication, are incorrect. San Bernardino County has acted dutifully in giving its deputies the latitude to shoot into moving vehicles if necessary. Law enforcement officers ended the violent actions of two terrorists on December 2, 2015, because department policy gave them the latitude to take appropriate action.

The conduct of our brave officers and deputies on that day was not second-guessed. Conversely; they were applauded for their ability to react expeditiously.

But what if a policy had been in place “banning” deputies from shooting into a moving vehicle? How many more lives could have been lost if the suspects had continued firing a hail of bullets from the backs of their SUV without equal response from pursuing officers?

Any attempt to say December 2 is an extraordinary circumstance that does not fit into the scope of The Sun’s article ignores the far-ranging effects, and potentially dire con-sequences, of an absolute ban against shooting into moving vehicles.

Instead of implying San Bernardino County law enforcement officials are lagging in the implementation of such a ban, public watchdogs should applaud their discerning decision to allow sworn peace officers to take necessary action in extraordinary circumstances.

Constructive criticism is essential in law enforcement -- or any profession -- to effectively adapt and progress. However, agencies should not be pressured into hasty changes based on well-meaning but naive opinions of people who have studied law enforcement but never practiced it. Strong law enforcement leaders must continue policies rooted in pragmatic ideology, de-spite the outcry from unqualified analysts. Policies that allow for shooting into vehicles, but recognize it should not be com-mon practice, are sound and responsible.

     New York Police Department, which was incorrectly touted as an example of a department banning shooting into a moving vehicle, changed its policy in February 2017 to allow the practice under extraordinary circumstances. Similar policy changes have been implemented nationwide to give first responders the ability to take decisive action in the event of an extreme act of violence or possible terrorist attack.

The New York Police Department cited the emerging trend of the use of vehicles as weapons of mass casualty in numerous worldwide attacks as a reason for its policy change. Events such as the attacks in France, Germany, the Ohio State University campus and Israel, have prompted a shift back to a common-sense approach of allowing officer discretion, appropriate to the circumstances at hand.

Such reasoning also highlights the flaw in the article’s assertion that the suspects involved in the San Bernardino county shootings were “unarmed.” Certainly, a two-ton vehicle is a weapon. If a person intentionally strikes another person with an automobile, the ensuing charge is PC 245, assault with a deadly weapon. These suspects were armed; they used their weapon in a way that was likely to result in death; and were met with an equal, and appropriate, use of deadly force.

San Bernardino County law enforcement agencies should be commended, not condemned, for their decision to allow the shooting into moving vehicles in extreme circumstances. San Bernardino County was applauded for its ability to effectively stop the carnage of December 2, 2015 with swift and unflinching action. Part of the response included firing into a moving vehicle. Strangely, the most high profile example of such a shooting in San Bernardino County was not even mentioned in The Sun’s article. We can only hope it was due to oversight, not a deliberate bias in reporting.

SEBA is grateful for the Sheriff Department’s common-sense approach to safety and suggest the majority of law-abiding citizens appreciate that their law enforcement professionals are able to do whatever is necessary to protect them.

By Laren Leichliter

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