Responding to a fatal police shooting, Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier has clarified how off-duty officers should react if they become victims of a nonviolent crime, says the Washington Post. The guidance gives officers a great deal of discretion in an area that police experts said is loaded with risk. The directive would not have barred off-duty officer James Haskel from acting on his own night when he discovered his minibike missing from his home. Soon after heading out with another off-duty officer, Haskel got into a confrontation that ended with the death of a 14-year-old boy who allegedly had the minibike.
The killing, which police say came after the boy opened fire on the officers, has generated a community outcry. Police found no gun or minibike at the scene. Experts questioned the officer’s decision to investigate the apparent theft of his own property, saying it created too much potential to cloud his judgment. “If you’re cruising around in a known high-crime neighborhood investigating a crime, it’s a good idea to bring on-duty police with you,” said Dennis Kenney of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “That’s why we put them in marked cars and uniforms.” Says Lanier’s directive: “Importantly, off-duty officers who come upon or are victims of a non-violent property crime where there is no immediate threat to their safety, should proceed cautiously in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety.” It says that the off-duty officer should contact on-duty police officers before taking police action.