Most police officers go through entire careers without ever firing a shot, says the Los Angeles Times. Bill Rhetts, however, shot four people while working first in Los Angeles, then in Riverside. After the last incident, a psychiatrist declared him unfit for duty. Rhetts, 45, said, “I became very desensitized. You know, callous, angry, hateful. I didn’t see it then, but I see it now. I became more aggressive in defending my life.”
There is a small group that uses deadly force more often than their colleagues, a Times investigation found. Officers who have shot at suspects three or more times represent less than 1 percent of the force. But they were involved in 20 percent of all police shootings since 1985. The Times discovered the cadre of repeat shooters through a computer analysis of 1,437 officer-involved shootings from 1985 through mid-2004. Of an estimated 16,000 officers who worked field assignments during that time, only 103 fired at suspects on three or more occasions., the analysis revealed. Among 9,100 active officers, just 69 have three or more shootings. “The simple fact that an officer is involved in a disproportionate number of shootings raises a red flag,” said criminologist Geoffrey Alpert of the University of South Carolina. “The department needs to start taking more notice of these shootings and look for patterns or trends.” The Times analysis and interviews with frequent shooters suggest that the experience of firing at a suspect for the first time leaves a profound psychological mark, lowering an officer’s threshold for shooting.