Training is big part of ending police violence
Officers are trained to react within split seconds when responding to unknown situations. That training is supposed to equip them to make good decisions.
Despite that, inevitably errors will occur. But they happen way too often, and also too often they involve black victims. The latest tragic incident involves last week’s police shooting of Andre Hill, 47, in Columbus. Hill, an unarmed black man, was shot to death by police as he held a cellphone.
The Columbus police officer who pulled the trigger, Adam Coy, was fired this week after an employment hearing. Columbus Public Safety Director Ned Pettus Jr. released a statement that said, in part, “The actions of Adam Coy do not live up to the oath of a Columbus police officer, or the standards we, and the community, demand of our officers. The shooting of Andre Hill is a tragedy for all who loved him in addition to the community and our Division of Police.”
Coy remains under criminal investigation. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost was appointed a special prosecutor in Hill’s death. There is also an investigation under the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation with assistance from the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI’s Civil Rights Division.
Until further details are released or until the criminal case is resolved, Coy’s firing appears justified — for many reasons.
Coy and another officer were responding to a neighbor’s nonemergency overnight call about a car in front of his house that had been running, then shut off, then turned back on, The Associated Press reported. It is unclear if that car had anything to do with Hill.
Police body camera footage showed Hill emerging from a garage and holding up a cellphone in his left hand seconds before being gunned down.
The body camera footage came only from an automatic “look back” feature and contains no audio. That’s because the officers, including Coy, failed to activate their body cameras.
Without audio, it’s unclear whether officers shouted any commands at Hill. No weapon was found at the scene, and officials said Hill was visiting someone.
At this point, an internal investigation is continuing on the other officers who also appear to have disregarded policy requiring they activate their body cameras when responding to a call. If the investigation determines this to be true, all the officers involved should face punishment and an even deeper investigation into department practice and culture must follow to determine if the failure to activate body cameras is widely accepted practice.
That would be unacceptable.
We have consistently used this space to call for openness and transparency. We have advocated use of police body cameras. Recently, Warren City Council approved the first-time purchase of body cameras. Several local departments already use bodycams. But purchase of this important equipment is useless if officers don’t follow protocol and activate it. Training and enforcement are critical.
In Columbus it also appears that after Hill was shot, no officer came to his aid or attempted first aid while awaiting the ambulance. Rather, Hill lay groaning on the garage floor for several minutes while officers shouted more orders at him, the AP reported. Hill died at the hospital an hour later.
Hill’s death follows the Dec. 4 fatal shooting of Casey Goodson Jr. by a white Franklin County Sheriff’s office deputy. The two back-to-back shootings have resulted in criticism for wider and more comprehensive police reform.
Hill’s family issued a statement through an attorney, calling the decision to fire Coy “correct,” but urging law enforcement to do more.
The statement said, “We need to redefine a relationship between police and communities of color in which it doesn’t turn deadly for a black person with a cellphone to encounter a law enforcement officer,” the AP reported.
That goes without saying, and in fact, is far understated.
Coy’s firing, coupled with the attorney general’s investigation and his assistance from the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI’s Civil Rights Division, are steps in the right direction in this particular incident.
But overall, keys to redefining relationships include transparency and training — on both use of force and racial sensitivity. And it is training that must be repeated over and over and over again if these types of incidents ever are going to end.