At a routine pedestrian stop in West Philadelphia last Thursday, police asked for identification from three men shooting dice. After one of the men, wanted on a probation violation, ran, the incident turned into a fatal police shooting, the second within six hours. It was the 11th this year, an alarming number, law enforcement officials told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The government’s right to shoot and kill a human being is one of the most profound acts and should be subject to the strictest possible scrutiny,” said Ellen Green-Ceisler, former director of the police Integrity and Accountability Office. In 2003 police killed 11 people during the entire year. In 2004, 14 people were killed, compared with an average of five civilian fatalities from 1998 through 2002. “This is a troubling trend that warrants close attention and monitoring,” Green-Ceisler wrote in a report.
The sharp rise in police shootings stands in stark contrast to the low numbers recorded when John Timoney was police commissioner. In 2001, his last full year as commissioner, the department only had two fatal shootings. In Miami, where Timoney is now police chief, “we went through the first 20 months with discharging a single bullet,” he said.