The fatal shooting of a teenage passenger in a sport-utility vehicle by Alexandria, Va., officer Carl Stowe has reignited a debate over using deadly force on approaching cars, reports the Washington Post. Alexandria police officers are allowed to shoot at a moving vehicle if they feel their lives are in danger and no bystanders are at risk if they have exhausted all other means of defense, including moving from the vehicle’s path. Stowe was working off duty, providing security at an International House of Pancakes when he fired the shots. After he was told that four teenagers had skipped out of the restaurant without paying their bill, Stowe tried to stop the SUV in which they were riding and fired on it as it allegedly bore down on him.
Some big-city police departments restrict officers’ firing at vehicles because of the risk to bystanders. Many public safety experts agree that policies allowing officers to shoot at moving cars are risky and antiquated. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina, said officers can put themselves in a position to fear for their lives. “This is an issue that is well resolved at major departments for all the right reasons,” he said. “You do not shoot at a moving vehicle when the only force being used against you is the moving vehicle.” In Boston, the police department changed its policy three years ago after a woman was killed. Now officers may not shoot at moving vehicles unless there are other threats, such as a driver having a loaded weapon. Officers are instructed to move out of the vehicle’s path and find cover, to lessen the chance anyone will be injured by ricocheting bullets or a crash.