Crime & Justice

Officer Involved: LA deputies shot at more moving cars in 2015, despite dangers

Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

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Incidents in which L.A. sheriff's deputies shot into moving vehicles—a practice discouraged as "dangerous" by department policy—spiked in 2015. 

L.A. Sheriff Jim McDonnell told KPCC's Airtalk Tuesday there were eight such incidents last year, compared to two the year prior.

The department's focus on moving car shootings comes on the heels of KPCC investigation that found deputies shot into moving vehicles at least nine times from 2010 through 2014. The LAPD, on the other hand, recorded only two instances of on-duty officers shooting into a moving vehicle during the same period, and in both cases, the driver was armed during the encounter.

The surge in such shootings by deputies in 2015 raises questions as to whether the sheriff's department is enforcing it's own policy. 

“It doesn’t appear that it was [enforced] the way it could have been," McDonnell said.

He said the department is also looking to update its firing at a moving vehicle policy to ensure deputies and those reviewing shootings are "crystal clear" about the limits of shooting into moving vehicles.

Since 2005, LASD and Los Angeles Police Department policies have discouraged shooting into moving cars. The restriction came after LAPD officers killed a 13-year-old boy and sheriff's deputies wounded an unarmed, black man, prompting community outrage.

Both agencies determined such shootings were not only unsafe, but ineffective. 

Not only is it unlikely a bullet will stop a vehicle, McDonnell said, but hitting the driver could create a unmanned vehicle with the potential to injure bystanders like "a large missile moving forward."

“Clearly shooting at a vehicle is not the most effective way of dealing with the threat," he said.

In addition to policy changes, McDonnell indicated such shootings may be subjected to greater scrutiny.  

Each deputy shooting is internally reviewed for adherence to proper use of force and tactics. When mistakes are found, discipline and training can be dolled out.

KPCC's investigation found sheriff's department leaders determined deputies were right to shoot into moving vehicles in closed incidents between 2010-2014. (Decisions were still pending in three cases).

But in 2015, leaders reviewed four of the eight shootings and found two incidents contained policy violations, McDonnell told KPCC.

McDonnell hopes the revised policy will save lives.

"That’s the goal of any of our policies to be able to provide the optimum level of safety for anybody – the deputies in the field as well as the public that we serve," he said.