Although the more than 10-year stretch of no officer-involved shootings in the Columbia area came to an end in late October, local law enforcement officials cite tactics, technology and lots of luck for the area’s historically low number of shootings.
Capt. Dwayne Carey of the Boone County Sheriff’s Department credits the low number of officer-involved shootings to good tactics, verbal skills and a lot of luck.
Capt. Sam Hargadine of the Columbia Police Department credits less-lethal technology as the biggest reason for the lack of officer-involved shootings.
The few times officers have had to discharge their weapons, they’ve fired beanbag rounds from shotguns, Hargadine said. This is one of several new alternatives officers can use instead of lethal force. Other less-lethal weapons include ASP expandable batons and pepper spray.
Hargadine said even in times when officers were authorized to use lethal force, they were able to avoid using it.
“There are times when we have come close,” he said. “But we have many other options now.”
Carey agrees that less-lethal alternatives can reduce the instances of officer-involved shootings of suspects, but he said they are not frequently used by the sheriff’s department.
Neither Hargadine nor Carey thinks the lack of shootings creates complacency among officers, as danger is a constant part of the job.
“They train not to be complacent,” Hargadine said. “That will get you killed. It can happen whether you’re in downtown L.A. or Mayberry.”
The Oct. 23 shooting behind the Chevys restaurant at 1010 Interstate 70 Drive SW ended the sheriff’s department’s 14-year run of no officer-involved shootings. The deputy fired two rounds at Inocente Pedroza for allegedly trying to run him over during an undercover drug operation. The deputy said Pedroza was driving straight toward him.
The deputy, who had been on administrative leave since the shooting, returned to full duty Nov. 21 after an internal investigation found the deputy had followed department guidelines and state law. The department declined to release the name of the officer involved. Neither Pedroza nor the deputy was seriously injured.
Deputies who fire a weapon at a suspect are immediately put on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting.
Carey, a 14-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, said that during his first year on the job, officers fired on a man armed with a knife when he came at them. The suspect was shot in the hand and the leg but survived. The officers were not injured.
Hargadine said the city’s police department has not had an officer discharge a firearm in a deadly force incident in more than 10 years, which is as far back as the department’s computerized records go.
But officers do fire their weapons with some regularity. According to Columbia Police Department records, officers have discharged firearms 77 times in the past three years. Hargadine said those discharges all involved the killing of animals.
Carey said the sheriff’s department has also had to shoot a good number of animals, especially deer that have been struck by cars during the fall rut.
Carey and Hargadine disagree slightly about whether the low number of shootings is indicative of a safe community. Hargadine said that is just one of many factors to look at when evaluating community safety.
Carey said the number of shootings is a strong indicator of whether a community is safe, although he admitted chance is a major factor.
“A lot of it is luck,” Carey said. “I hate to keep using that, but it’s true.”