Police Shoot 9 NYC Bystanders; Stray Shots May Be Inevitable


After Jeffrey Johnson shot and killed a former co-worker, Steven Ercolino, near the Empire State Building on Friday, it emerged that police officers had inadvertently shot nine bystanders in the exchange. The nanosecond speed at which a shooting plays out is followed by hours of analysis, second-guessing, and study, says the New York Times. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina and an expert on the police use of force, said that hitting innocent civilians “doesn't happen very often, but it happens.”

He added: “The rule of thumb is that you do not put civilians in the line of fire, but the rule of thumb is also that you don't let a murderer get away.” In many police shootings, stray shots are almost inevitable; a study based on New York's annual firearms discharge reports indicated that officers hit their targets 34 percent or the time. “It's a tense situation, people are scared and moving,” Alpert said. “It's not like the movies, where you can shoot the gun out of his hand.” A recent New York police annual report says, “One of the grim realities of police work is the terrible contradiction that can arise when it becomes necessary to protect life by using deadly physical force.” The patrol guide, the department's manual, states that officers should not fire their weapons when, “in their professional judgment, doing so will unnecessarily endanger innocent persons.”

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