When New York police officer Richard Neri Jr. killed unarmed teenager Timothy Stansbury Jr. on a Brooklyn housing project roof two weekends ago, some called the case another example of police hostility toward blacks. The New York Times reports that as crime has declined over the last 10 years, the number of police shootings has dropped by almost two thirds, as has the number of people wounded by the police. The number of deaths dropped from 29 in 1994 to 11 in 1999, then leveled off. Last year, 14 were killed.
A Brooklyn grand jury will determine whether Neri will face criminal charges. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the Stansbury shooting did not appear justified, but the department calls the vast majority of police shootings justified, usually because an officer or a civilian was threatened. “The reality is that New York City police officers take great care in the use of deadly force, and that’s reflected in the data,” Kelly said. “When there is a shooting, each and every firearm discharge is thoroughly reviewed.”
Last year in New York, two officers were killed by civilians, four were wounded, four were accidentally shot by other officers, and three mistakenly shot themselves. Officers fired 122 times in 2003, compared to 331 times in 1994, hitting 35 dogs, 38 offenders, and one bystander. “Offenders” includes anyone police intentionally hit.
The New York police shooting numbers compare favorably with smaller agencies like the Los Angeles Police Department, where 14 people were killed by officers last year, and the Chicago Police Department, where 17 were killed. The New York Police Department has 37,000 officers compared with Los Angeles’s 9,200 and Chicago’s 13,500. In Miami, where at one time police shootings of civilians were frequent, its 1,100 officers did not fire a single shot at civilians last year, Chief John Timoney said. Over the previous 14 years, the department averaged two to three killings, eight injuries and eight civilians shot at without being hit.
Last year, Miami officers were given taser guns, which most New York officers do not have, and the department instituted what the chief called the nation’s most restrictive weapons policy. Officers are forbidden from touching the triggers of their guns unless they intend to fire. “Initially, there was some minor resistance” to the policy, Timoney acknowledged. Now, “They can’t believe that they went a full year. They’re very proud.”