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What Happened To Fouad Kaady: Local police fire back on shooting rules

Monday, October 9, 2006

Local police fire back on shooting rules

from the Oregonian

Last week I wrote about a former policeman who questioned whether police these days are trained to worry too much about their own welfare.

Several local policemen responded that officers are not paid to get hurt or die. Wrote one: "Bottom line, when people arm themselves with knives or other weapons, and refuse to follow commands given to them by officers, they are likely to be shot before they can take action to harm or kill an officer. That is how it should be."

Jeff Leighty, a 20-year veteran and president of the Oregon State Police Officers' Association, e-mailed that in response to my column he'd canceled his subscription to The Oregonian.

By that logic, we should all vote against police levies simply because we disagree with something cops have done.

The truth is, both sides of the debate about shootings involving officers seem frozen in their own beliefs.

When I wrote, last year, that I understood the difficult spot cops found themselves in during the odd string of events that led to the tragic fatal police shooting of 27-year-old Fouad Kaady in Sandy, I got many angry responses about my blind allegiance to police.

One of the people who disagreed with me about that shooting was Ray O'Driscoll, the former San Francisco Bay Area policeman I wrote about last week.

Many current and former police officers were upset I allowed O'Driscoll, whose 12 years of police work came 30 years ago, to question current police training.

Of course, it makes no difference whether O'Driscoll was ever a cop. His questions are reasonable questions long debated by deadly force experts.

One of the nation's most prominent researchers in police training and accountability, James Fyfe, was serving as deputy commissioner for training of the New York Police Department when he died last year. Earlier in his career, Fyfe put in 16 years of patrol work that earned him seven NYPD citations.

In between his two stints at the NYPD, Fyfe was a professor of criminal justice at three colleges and wrote seven books about police work.

Fyfe was a perpetual critic of police training, saying it over-emphasizes the dangers of police work, which he found to be far safer than everything from bartending to construction. And he found that police guidelines are rarely specific enough about when to use deadly force or what the repercussions will be for misusing it. As a result, Fyfe said police often perceive danger where there is none and fire away.

Fyfe's studies concluded that there is little relationship between the number of people police shoot and how safe the police, or the public, are.

Fyfe believed the way to create more useful police standards is for communities to be outspoken about what they want and what they will not tolerate.

If communities don't force cops to include citizens in the discussion, nothing is likely to change, Fyfe said.

Of the dozens of responses I got from cops last week, only retired Portland policeman Jim Powell seemed interested in discussing the issue.

A 26-year veteran, he was a firearms and defensive tactics instructor and served as one of eight regional training coordinators in Oregon.

He didn't like my column. But after his anger cooled, he wanted to talk.

Powell, like Fyfe, believes police training can always improve. But he believes local police are carefully trained to consider all their other options before they pull the trigger.

He's never favored any type of citizen review committee to look at shootings involving officers. Still, he agrees that police policies must mirror what the community wants.

But public input, he says, "needs to occur on the front end," not during the public outcry after police shoot and kill.

I don't agree with everything Powell said. He doesn't agree with everything I said. But we've agreed to continue the conversation.

It may not lead anywhere at all.

But it beats dropping a subscription or refusing to pay for police.

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