Why the spike in officer-related shootings?

January 26, 2010 2:38:54 PM PST
A local civil rights group is speaking out about what they say is an escalating number of police involved shootings, including the fatal shooting of an unarmed man last August. The group is calling for a federal investigation. There have already been nine officer-involved shootings in Harris County and Houston so far this year.

After what's being called one of the deadliest years for police shootings in Harris County, Tuesday, community leaders rallied for something to be done.

"Clearly this kind of increase in anything warrants some questions," said Red Cooper with the NAACP.

They're calling on the Justice Department to step in to investigate why they say so many civilians have been shot by officers.

"We need an independent investigation because the incident reports are non-public. They're secret," said Randall Kallinen with the Houston Coalition for Justice. "So are the homicide reports. They're secret."

In 2007, there were 32 officer-involved shootings in all of Harris County. Twelve were fatal. In 2008, the numbers slightly increased to 35 with 16 fatalities. However, in 2009, the number jumped to 60, including 27 fatalities.

Of those 60, 32 shootings involved HPD officers.

The Houston Police Officers Union recognizes the spike, but says there's more to the figures.

"We are confronting more suspects that have weapons and they have a proclivity to use those weapons," said J.J. Berry with the Houston Police Officers Union.

The union points to the more than one million calls officers respond to every year, many which don't end with shootings. Even so, the coalition on Tuesday said it wants the city to revamp the citizens review committee to include subpoena power to call witnesses, a suggestion some council members seemed to support.

"I do believe there are a few rogues out there that give HPD a bad name and I sincerely hope that we can begin to get rid of them," said Houston Councilmember Jarvis Johnson.

The Houston Police Department released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying in part, "We constantly review our training policies and procedures to se4nure the utmost safety for our officers and the citizens we serve. Although officers are not trained or obligated to use a less lethal device when confronting an individual armed with a deadly weapon, they do so placing themselves at risk in attempting to avoid the use of deadly force."