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Oklahoma City police revise ‘Use of Force’ policy

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City Police Department has revised its use of force policies to more clearly address situations involving moving vehicles.

The city council approved the changes at its Tuesday meeting.

A spokesman for the police department said those changes will likely save lives.

"We believe it's going to be the most fair thing to do, at the same time keeping the people safe and keeping the officers safe," said OCPD Capt. Paco Balderrama. "There's been situations where discharging of the firearm was justified but maybe could have been avoided, and that's why we're changing this policy."

Here are the updates to the 'Use of Force' policy:

  • A car collision between police and another vehicle does not justify the use of deadly force.
  • Officers may only fire from a moving vehicle, if they are first fired upon or threatened to be fired upon.
  • Officers may only fire at a moving vehicle, if they are being fired upon or are being actively pursued or targeted by the suspect.

"Basically, if an officer has the opportunity to get out of the way, to remove himself or herself from harm's way, then at that point there's no need to discharge a firearm into a moving vehicle," Balderrama said. "It's a better policy. It still keeps the officer safe when there's no other option but to use deadly force, but at the same time it eliminates those situations where the officer could have acted in a different way to get out of harm's way without using their firearm."

Balderrama said incidents where the policy would apply are rare, but they do happen.

In February, officers shot and killed a man who allegedly tried to run them down with his car.

The officers involved said they feared for their lives.

In June, a man fired at officers from his vehicle during a chase through the parking lot at the Penn Square Mall.  Officers did not return fire.

Balderrama would not go into specific cases, nor would he say whether they led to the policy revisions, adding that every officer-involved shooting is put under the microscope.

The new language in the police policy is designed to set clearer parameters for officers, who Balderrama said are often forced to make split-second and often life-changing decisions.

The edits should make the decision-making process a little clearer, Balderrama said, helping officers understand when deadly force is permitted.

"Simply because someone is just trying to flee the scene, perhaps their intent isn't to hurt the officer," he said. "They just simply are trying to get away, and the offense may be something that's minor. So, we definitely don't want someone to lose their life when it doesn't have to happen."

David McKenzie, an Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney, agrees with the new policies, even though he feels OCPD officers have been following the same guidelines all along.

"What they passed [Tuesday] just defines it a little clearer," he said. "It takes away any chance of making a mistake that the policy could not be more clear with regard to the use of deadly force by a police officer in a situation where they're at risk or where another person is at risk."

Additionally, McKenzie said the new rules bring Oklahoma City's written policies in line with the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner U.S. Supreme Court case.

In a six-three decision, the court declared fatally shooting a fleeing suspected felon is unconstitutional.

"It's great to have it in writing," McKenzie said. "It makes it clear to the officers when they're trained and when they refresh themselves on how to perform their duties exactly what they can and cannot do."

The American Civil Liberties Union said it also supports the policy changes.