May 14th, 2008 11:12 PM
NYT Article: 11 Years of Police Gunfire
Courtesy of the New York Times.
11 Years of Police Gunfire, in Painstaking Detail
By AL BAKER
Published: May 8, 2008
New York City police officers fire their weapons far less often than they did a decade ago, a statistic that has dropped along with the crime rate. But when they do fire, even at an armed suspect, there is often no one returning fire at the officers. Officers hit their targets roughly 34 percent of the time.
N.Y.P.D.'s shooting reports and analysis from the N.Y.C.L.U.
When they fire at dogs, roughly 55 percent of shots hit home. Most of their targets are pit bulls, with a smattering of Rottweilers and German shepherds.
Officers’ guns go off unintentionally or by accident for a variety of reasons: wrestling with suspects, cleaning the weapons, leaning on holsters — even once, in 1996, when a gun was put in an oven for safekeeping.
While the drop in police shootings was already clear, the details were among the myriad facts included in 11 years’ worth of annual New York Police Department firearms-discharge reports that were, without fanfare, handed over to the City Council this week and earlier to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Both groups have been examining the department’s methods of stopping and arresting suspects, sometimes for possession of illegal guns.
The reports cover the years 1996 to 2006, and are used as a training tool and to help officials develop “lesson plans.”
“Patterns and possible hazards are identified” from the statistics, the report adds.
Over all, the numbers show that the department’s use of deadly force has decreased along with the city’s historic drop in crime, and the drop in threats against police officers.
Picked apart closely, the reports provide a remarkable portrait of how the nation’s largest police force, with 36,000 officers, uses its guns. Every shot, from gunfight to accident to suicide, both on and off-duty, is accounted for.
The findings include:
The number of bullets fired by officers dropped to 540 in 2006 from 1,292 in 1996 — the first year that the city’s housing, transit and regular patrol forces were merged — with a few years of even lower numbers in between. Police officers opened fire 60 times at people in 2006, down from 147 in 1996.
The police fatally shot 13 people in 2006, compared with 30 people a decade before.
In 77 percent of all shootings since 1998 when civilians were the targets, police officers were not fired upon, although in some of those cases, the suspects were acting violently: displaying a gun or pointing it at officers, firing at civilians, stabbing or beating someone or hitting officers with autos, the police said. No one fired at officers in two notable cases — the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo and the 2006 shooting of Sean Bell.
In such shootings, the total number of shots fired in each situation edged up to 4.7 in 2006. However, the figure is skewed by the 50 shots fired in the Bell case. Excluding that case, the average would be 3.6 shots.
The average number of bullets fired by each officer involved in a shooting remained about the same over those 11 years even with a switch to guns that hold more bullets — as did officers’ accuracy, roughly 34 percent. This figure is known in police parlance as the “hit ratio.”
“The data shows that the New York City Police Department is the most restrained in the country,” said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. “What these reports don’t show are the thousands of incidents where police were confronted with armed criminals, and they did not return fire.”
John C. Cerar, a retired deputy inspector who was the commander of the Police Department’s firearms training section from 1985 to 1994, said the accuracy rate is comparable to that of many other major police departments. In some cases, it is better.
In Los Angeles, which has 9,699 officers, the police fired 283 rounds in 2006, hitting their target 77 times, for a hit ratio of 27 percent, said Officer Ana Aguirre, a spokeswoman. Last year, they fired 264 rounds, hitting 76 times, for a 29 percent hit ratio, she said.
So far this year the hit ratio in Los Angeles is 31 percent, with 74 of 237 bullets fired by officers hitting the target.
In the New York reports, the hit ratio of officers who committed suicide with a firearm — and, therefore, hit their target 100 percent of the time — is included when the overall average is calculated, bringing it up.
Forty-six police officers committed suicide in the 11 years from 1996 through 2006, an average of four a year. The highest number came in 2003, when seven officers committed suicide.
Inspector Cerar credited the department for studying its shootings.
“Everything is down, the number of shots fired by officers is down, the number of subjects that we shot is way down,” said Inspector Cerar. “The number of total times when a police officer fires his weapon is down. Statistically, anecdotally, in any way you put it, the New York City Police Department is not a cowboy department.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “we are human beings who do make mistakes. We make them. There were mistakes in the Diallo and Bell shootings. But that doesn’t make the department murderous.”
He added: “We have to make split-second life-and-death decisions and sometimes we make the wrong ones.”
As the numbers have changed, so have the reports that have categorized and collected them. Inspector Cerar said that firearms statistics were first seriously compiled by the department beginning in 1971.
There is a marked shift in the way the data is presented, beginning in 1998. For instance, the reports in 1996 and 1997 include the race of the officer and the person who was shot, facts that do not appear in the 1998 report.
The 1996 and 1997 reports said that 89.4 percent of those shot by the police were black or Hispanic. The racial information has not been included since then.
testifying before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday, Deputy Chief John P. Gerrish downplayed how much understanding could come from releasing details on race.
“Every firearms discharge must be judged in light of the unique circumstances in which it occurs, and any conclusion drawn from the purely demographic data involved is fatally flawed,” he said.
The individual reports also used to contain information on civilian bystanders unintentionally shot and killed or injured by the police, but that, too, disappeared. In 1996, no civilians were killed by police but five were injured, including one hit by a ricochet.
While officers hit their targets about a third of the time over all, far fewer bullets generally found their mark during gunfights. In 1999, only 13 percent of bullets fired during a gunfight were hits.
By contrast, in 2006, 30 percent of the shots fired during gunfights were hits, an unusually high percentage. That year, a total of 19 officers fired their weapons in 13 separate gunfights.
The 2006 report made it clear that even when officers did all the firing, they often faced a threat. In that year, in 47 shootings when only officers fired, a gun was pointed at them in 26 instances, and in 21 others “subjects were armed with weapons other than firearms.”
A parenthetical note breaks those 21 down: 6 cutting instruments, 6 motor vehicles, 4 miscellaneous weapons. Five others used “physical force/furtive movement,” the report said.
Christopher T. Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that he considered the five cases citing “physical force/furtive movement” as the police shooting at an unarmed person. He said he counted about five similar cases in every year since 2002.
“That the number of shooting incidents is down since 1996 is good for everyone,” Mr. Dunn said. “At the same time, the likelihood that nearly everyone being shot at is black or Latino, and the fact that in most incidents only the police are shooting, raise serious concerns that were highlighted by the Bell and Diallo shootings.”
A year after the Bell shooting, the civil liberties group filed a request under the freedom of information law seeking the department’s annual discharge reports, as well as documents on the race of everyone the police fired upon. The department turned over the discharge reports in February, but denied the other request last month.
The civil liberties group said it wanted the data to better understand the role of race in police shootings, not as information to back up any lawsuit.
The report used to be called the “Firearms Discharge Assault Report.” In 1996, it noted that 76 officers were fired upon, in 42 shootings, and did not return fire. In 1999, the title changed to “Firearms Discharge Report,” and the “assault against officers” category was eliminated.
Inspector Cerar said that that data should have continued to be reported.
In the 1996 report, there were 22 reasons given for the accidental discharges, including: struggling with a perpetrator (13); tripping, falling, slipping or running (10); unloading or cleaning a gun (7); removing a weapon from its holster (2); attempting to clear a jam (1); an officer startled (1). Officer Aguirre, the spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said it produces an annual Officer Involved Shooting Report that is similar to the one in New York. “We do all the analyses,” she said, “It is quite extensive.”
She said that parts of the report are not made public. She said that the chief, William J. Bratton — a former New York police commissioner — instituted a policy under which he receives a report within 72 hours of each shooting about what occurred, with an eye toward making tactical improvements or modifying training.
Jo Craven McGinty contributed reporting.
May 14th, 2008 11:13 PM
I post this mainly because, for whatever reason, opinions about the NYPD's shootings, their history, etc are a popular topic on various firearms boards.
The graphics, which I haven't captured, indicate the following:
Since 1971, the total number of shots fired by officers has declined dramatically. Approx 2500 to approx 500.
Comparing 1996 to 2006, NYOD officers have had fewer gun fights (26/13), shot as a similar % of suspects who didn't shoot at them (75/78), and had fewer accidental shootings (63/26). The hit ratio remained similar in 1996, 2001, and 2006, approx 34%.
May 15th, 2008 01:14 AM
They lost me early when they said that leaning on your holster will fire your weapon.
"Each worker carried his sword strapped to his side." Nehemiah 4:18
Guns Save Lives. Paramedics Save Lives. But...
Paramedics With Guns Scare People!
May 15th, 2008 02:58 AM
yep I can't even wrap a brain cell around that statement
Originally Posted by paramedic70002
"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .
May 15th, 2008 11:08 PM
Likely the excuse someone connected was allowed to write down; unbelieved by all. Unless, of course, it was maybe, and it would have to be a generous maybe, that it involves a grandfathered in holster allowing the trigger guard to be uncovered; and something protruded into the trigger guard; and... I cannot bring myself to go further. The pain of trying to rationalize it... I need an aspirin.
May 15th, 2008 11:19 PM
In 1994 on a ride-along on a Saturday night with NYPD in the 44th PCT in the South Bronx, where the area was 1.9 sq miles and the population was over 100,000, every single call was "man with a gun". It surprised me to see officers respond to those calls by getting out of their vehicles and immediately drawing, herding everyone in the vicinity right to the wall and lining them up, without any chance of perpetrators to do much. It was so quick. Four or five cars would pull up, out come the officers with guns already drawn. Boston Police did not do it this way, so routinely the way I saw NYPD do it.
Since then that pct has been cleaned up considerably.
In other depts the guns may or may not be drawn but in NYPD it was done the moment of exiting the vehicle, same as stolen car mv stops elsewhere.
I was also surprised at the very young age of most officers there.
Surrounded and outnumbered, Marine Col Lewis Puller: "Good! We finally got 'em where we want 'em!" (Korea, 1950)
Right is Wrong and Wrong is Right.
Socrates : "Knowledge is knowing that we know nothing".
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