San Francisco police Officer Gregory Breslin said he killed a 17-year-old girl in self-defense as a car sped at him. The case is one of four shootings involving deaths or serious injuries that the San Francisco Chronicle examined in depth after the city, while denying liability, paid large settlements to survivors’ families.
The Chronicle found a pattern in the four shootings: Officers used faulty tactics, needlessly placing themselves in danger, then shot their way out. The department’s internal reports did not mention the missteps. The public did not receive a full account, and officials may have lost opportunities to discipline or retrain officers and to improve operations to help prevent more shootings. The Police Commission has never heard administrative charges that an officer shot a civilian without justification. Now, Breslin and other officers are trying to block their charges on the ground they were filed too late. An appellate court is to hear arguments tomorrow. Last year, the Police Department again revised its rules to ensure timely and complete investigations of police shootings. Though 99 percent of police work is routine, there is always a chance something unexpected will happen — a driver will roar off instead of stopping, a suspect will suddenly charge with a knife. Officers may find themselves facing life or death. “It’s just an absolute adrenaline dump,” said criminologist Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina, who has studied officer use of force. “Their heart rate goes up. Their blood pressure goes up. The adrenaline kicks in.”