Here’s a New York Times investigation with some relevance in Little Rock:
It’s about police justifying fatal shootings because they saw a vehicle as a suspect’s weapon, often in minor violations. It concludes some officers put themselves in danger; in some cases, there was no danger.
The story opens with the shooting of an Alabama man police had tried to stop for not wearing a seatbelt. He didn’t stop. An officer fired 16 shots, killing the driver.
The officer’s defense of killing Mr. Mifflin, who wielded neither a gun nor a knife, is one repeated over and over across the country: The vehicle was a weapon. In a New York Times investigation of car stops that left more than 400 similarly unarmed people dead over the last five years, those words were routinely used to explain why police officers had fired at drivers.
… In about 250 of the 400 seemingly avoidable deaths, The Times found that police officers had fired into vehicles that they later claimed posed such a threat. Relative to the population, Black motorists were overrepresented among those killed.
Like Mr. Mifflin, the other drivers had been pursued for nonviolent offenses, many of them minor. A seatbelt ticket in Phenix City that would have cost $41. A cracked taillight in Georgia, a broken headlight in Colorado, an expired registration tag in Texas. Most motorists were killed while attempting to flee.
The country’s largest cities, from New York to Los Angeles, have barred officers from shooting at moving vehicles. The U.S. Justice Department has warned against the practice for decades, pressuring police departments to forbid it. Police academies don’t even train recruits how to fire at a car. The risk of injuring innocent people is considered too great; the idea of stopping a car with a bullet is viewed as wishful thinking.
The episode brings quickly to mind Little Rock Officer Charles Starks’ fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire, driving slowly in a parking lot after Starks stopped him to investigate the possibility the car was stolen. A prosecutor decided Starks’ had reason to fear for his safety when he jumped in front of Blackshire’s car and fired multiple times. The police chief’s effort to fire Starks was overturned in court.
But a lawsuit over the death was recently settled and it included some provisions bearing on how Little Rock police officers handle traffic stops. From that settlement:
The LRPD will provide additional training on the subjects of the use of force and de-escalation tactics to hopefully avoid the use of force where possible. This will include training on the following: (1) when it is appropriate to draw a firearm and, to the extent possible, planning ahead to ensure that an officer’s approach to a potential violent encounter is the best possible plan; and (2) how to approach occupied vehicles in high-risk encounters. Within six (6) months of the date of this Agreement, the City shall provide the Releasing Party with a written description of the additional training implemented pursuant to this Agreement. The Releasing Party acknowledges and agrees that, due to the evolving nature of the law and best police practices, the type, manner and extent of any such additional training, is a matter left to the sole discretion of the LRPD training staff and that the modifications to the training program provided to the Releasing Party are subject to change without notice.
Citing a moving vehicle as a threat has been used repeatedly to justify the use of force by local officers. But it is not always accepted.
Little Rock Officer Joshua Hastings was charged with manslaughter for the 2012 shooting of Bobby Moore as Moore drove a car away from the scene of a reported burglary. Juries deadlocked twice on the charge and he was not retried, but a federal court jury found Hastings liable in a civil case. Hastings contended he feared for his life as Moore’s car drove toward him, but he was charged because of discrepancies in his account and evidence, including the speed and direction of Moore’s car.