The year 2006 is known in New York police circles as the year of 50 shots that killed Sean Bell. The reality, though, is that by year’s end, the police department showed itself to be more restrained in the use of deadly force, with fewer shots fired by police officers than in 2005 and more of their shots striking the intended targets, Newsday reports. In 13 gunfights last year, police fired 144 shots – a 48 percent drop from the year before, when 276 shots were fired in 16 such battles. Fewer cops opened fire in those gunfights last year. Those who did struck their target 43 times, a 30-percent hit rate that is considered excellent in most cases and exceptional in comparison to 2005, when police hit their target in gunfights just 8 percent of the time. In all shooting incidents, police fired 540 bullets last year, down 13 percent, from 616 the year before.
Shooting incidents went up slightly, from 123 to 126. There was an inexplicable surge in shots fired at dogs, from 93 to 113. Privately there is concern among police brass that the experience of today’s police force is so limited – more than 40 percent joined since 2002 – that last year’s statistical improvements may be no more than an aberration. The numbers for 2005 were so poor compared with 2004 that last year’s improvement was to be expected. The 540 shots fired last year were more than those fired in 2004, 2003 and 2002. Also more than in 2001 and 2000, for what it’s worth. All this as crime continues to drop. “Now what does that tell you?” says a supervisor involved in the investigation of the Bell shooting. “If crime is down, why are shootings up, or steady, and why are we firing the number of shots that we are?”