There was an officer-involved shooting in Ventura yesterday, so I thought this would be an opportune time to take a moment to discuss this kind of incident.
Like many of the things I write about as a police reporter, officer-involved shootings are very different than they are often portrayed in much of television and cinema.
In the almost two years I have covered cops and breaking news in Ventura County, I have reported on several of these incidents.
I think the phrase "officer-involved shooting" says some important things on its own.
Law enforcement, like many specialties, frequently uses its own vocabulary, but this phrase is hard to get around. It is used to describe any incident where an officer fires a weapon, and as such it is accurate but a little non-specific.
Think about possible alternatives:
If an incident was called an officer shooting
, it would imply that an officer had been shot. If it was called a shooting by an officer
, it might imply that the officer was at fault.
The phrase, officer-involved shooting
, on the other hand, makes it clear that an officer was involved in a shooting incident, but stays distant from anything that could be perceived as a factual statement or judgment about who was at fault or why the officer decided he or she had to shoot.
This all points to the seriousness with which these incidents are handled.
Unlike movies or television shows where officers often run around with guns blazing, in the real world it's a big deal whenever an officer uses potentially deadly force.
When such a shooting happens, the department whose officer was involved typically keeps information very close to their vest.
For example, in the two fatal officer-involved shootings I covered, departments waited days before releasing the name of the officer.
The names were released more quickly in the two officer-involved shootings involving the Ventura Police Department this year. The suspect who was shot survived in both of those shootings.
This time, the department also released a picture of the knife the suspect allegedly had in his possession when he confronted the officer. I didn't expect to get something like this, frankly.
Here it is:
It should be no surprise that police departments carefully calculate their responses to these incidents.
In both fatal officer-involved shootings I covered, relatives of those killed filled wrongful death lawsuits.
In addition, the District Attorney's Office investigates each use of deadly force.
To deem a shooting justified, the DA's office has to determine that "a reasonable person in the same circumstances" would believe him or herself (or someone else) was in danger of death or great bodily injury, Chief Assistant Ventura County District Attorney Jim Ellison told me.
If the DA's office decides a shooting was unjustified, prosecutors can pursue a criminal charge.
When someone is killed, the DA's office usually produces a public report on the incident.
These reports can take a very long time. Several reports came out this year about fatal officer-involved shootings that occurred in 2006.
When the person shot is facing a criminal prosecution, the office doesn't produce a report, Ellison said.
The rationale is that the information will come out in trial, and the DA's office doesn't want to interfere in a prosecution, Ellison said.
That means that unless something drastic changes, there won't be a public report from the DA's office on yesterday's officer-involved shooting.
Here are some of our recent stories involving officer-involved shootings:Ventura officer shoots teen after police car rammedTwo officers cleared in fatal shootingDeputy ruled justified in shooting of manMother files claim in son's shooting deathOfficer who killed suspect is identifiedDetails emerge in shooting of former SeabeeOxnard police on hunt for suspect linked to businessman's killing
And while I was looking up officer-involved shootings, I found this interesting study on the National Institute of Justice Web site about police responses to shootings:National Institute of Justice