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Bar News - August 16, 2017

Morning Mail: Disagrees on Police Shooting at Cars

I write to respectfully disagree with Hon. Charles Douglas’s opinion, expressed on page 20 of the July 19 issue of NH Bar News, that “state and local governments should be proactive in making clear that shooting at a moving car [by police officers] is not permitted.”

To be certain, the use of deadly force by police officers is a serious matter that calls for the greatest degree of restraint and good judgment. But every rule has its exceptions, and Judge Douglas fails to allow for that possibility.

Consider, for example, the case of three Connecticut police officers in 2009. During the course of a robbery investigation, the suspect jumped into a parked car and attempted to flee by ramming the cars in front and in back of him. One officer became trapped between the rear bumper of the suspect’s car and the front bumper of the vehicle behind it, screamed, and then disappeared from view.

The other two officers then discharged their weapons to stop the attack. And, of course, there’s the recent use by terrorists of vehicles to plow into assembled crowds (which actually prompted the New York City Police Department to change its use-of-force policy).

An outright prohibition of the type advocated for by Judge Douglas would have left police powerless in both of these situations, reducing them to little more than armed bystanders.

A better approach is to enact policies that actively discourage the use of deadly force to stop a vehicle and to make clear that officers will be called upon – as part of an independent investigation – to justify their actions and, failing such justification, held responsible. (Of course, the officers should not be judged with hindsight, but rather with an eye towards all of the facts and circumstances then confronting them.)

Doing so will advance the laudable objectives envisioned by Judge Douglas while, at the same time, recognizing that police officers must have the legal tools to protect themselves and the communities that they serve.

Donald E. Frechette
Hartford, Conn.

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