Skip to main content

Did cops have to shoot to kill?

By Richard Weinblatt, Special to CNN
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Fri October 4, 2013
A police officer and K9 inspect the scene after a car chase and reports of gunshots fired outside of the Hart Senate Office Building on Captiol Hill on Thursday, October 3 in Washington. Police said the U.S. Capitol was put on security lockdown. A police officer and K9 inspect the scene after a car chase and reports of gunshots fired outside of the Hart Senate Office Building on Captiol Hill on Thursday, October 3 in Washington. Police said the U.S. Capitol was put on security lockdown.
HIDE CAPTION
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
Shooting on Capitol Hill
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Richard Weinblatt: Some question whether cops justified in killing woman in car chase
  • He says it's a fair question, but cops made split-second decisions with good reasons
  • He says high court's 3-part test gauges seriousness of offense, threat, suspect's evasiveness
  • Weinblatt: In this case, with threat to high-value targets, police appear to have met test

Editor's note: Richard Weinblatt is a former police chief and dean of the School of Public and Social Services at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis.

(CNN) -- The images filled the screen. A black car hitting barricades at the White House and on Capitol Hill, marked police cars being rammed, and the popping sounds of shots fired. More images rolled in, of heavily armed United States Capitol Police officers and of tourists running with scared and confused expressions.

In the aftermath of the scene that unfolded Thursday, a Connecticut woman is dead and a 1-year-old girl is in protective custody. The natural question people are asking is: Was it necessary for the police to shoot?

Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier said that, yes, officers of the Capitol Police and Secret Service acted within commonly accepted use-of-force policies and practices in reaction to an intentional series of violent acts.

Richard Weinblatt
Richard Weinblatt

But some have wondered whether police overreacted in this case. This is a question that comes up every time there is a shooting by police.

In fact, many studies have found that police use force less often than the public realizes. For example, a 12-month study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 1.4% of people who had contact with the police had force used or threatened to be used against them.

I certainly concede that sometimes bad officers do bad things, and occasionally good officers do bad things accidentally. However, I also have found that most officers are honorable men and women making split-second decisions while trying to serve their communities.

So how should you judge the use of force by law enforcement officers?

Consider reasonableness: Police officers are trained to quickly assess possible threats. Force, particularly deadly force (with firearms, in this case), may be used if officers can explain their perception of the physical threats that put them and/or others at substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death. We can't Monday-morning quarterback the officers based on information that comes out later. We can only look at what a reasonable officer knew or should have known, and did or should have done, in a given situation.

Woman killed in D.C. chase identified
Fmr. FBI: Police acted appropriately
Photojournalist of Capitol chase speaks

Departmental policies and police training in the United States reflect the "objective reasonableness" principle put forth in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 Graham v. Connor decision, which applies a three-part test to assess the seriousness of the offense, the suspect threat, and the suspect's resistance or evasiveness.

And let's also consider facts, not emotional spin. Even though at first blush it appears to be a justified shooting, there should be no rush to final judgment in either direction before an examination of the facts in a fair and impartial investigation. As Lanier indicated in her press conference Thursday night, the Metropolitan Police will be investigating, with support from the Capitol Police and Secret Service.

In the wake of last month's Naval Yard shooting, and with the specter of other past violent acts -- such as the shooting of two heroic U.S. Capitol Police officers by a man who breached security in July 1998 -- law enforcement in Washington has been on heightened alert.

Cars can be used for delivering explosive devices. And let's not forget, as at least two injured federal officers experienced in this incident: The car itself is a 2,000-pound weapon that can cause serious injury or death when used as a battering ram.

Would a reasonable officer -- faced suddenly with a driver trying to ram barricades at high-profile targets like the White House, ramming police cars and injuring uniformed officers repeatedly -- perceive a serious offense, threat, or evasiveness?

Whether the driver was mentally ill was not a factor that the officers had the luxury of contemplating as they quickly assessed the threat and decided on a course of action.

Pending the final facts, it appears that all three prongs of the "objective reasonableness" standard were present.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard Weinblatt.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT