NEW YORK – Police officers in the city last year shot and killed the fewest people since their department started keeping such data decades ago, according to figures released Wednesday. In 2010, eight people were killed by officers in the nation's largest police department and 16 were wounded in police gunfire -another record low.
The New York Police Department started keeping comparable data on firearms discharges in 1971, when officers killed 93 people, chief NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. There were 12 police shooting deaths in 2009, and the previous low was nine in 2005. Commissioner Raymond Kelly praised the officers' training for reducing the number so greatly over the decades. "It is a tribute to the police officers' training and restraint as well as a reflection of a safer city that fatalities have plummeted despite an increase in police numbers and in the capacity of their firearms," Kelly said.
The NYPD, which has more than 34,000 officers, has the lowest ratio of fatal, police-involved shootings of any major police department in the nation, officials said. One of the deaths occurred in October, when Emmanuel Paulino was shot by officers after a stun gun failed to subdue him. He was wielding a 6-inch knife after a fight with a girlfriend and refused to drop it, so officers fired a Taser stun gun, but one of the wired prongs meant to stick into his body didn't connect, police said. Officers shot him after he kept advancing, they said.
Officers also shot and killed a man armed with a knife in December, and another fatal shooting occurred in June, when the department said a man started firing at officers during a search for guns and drugs. Among those wounded by police was a man trying to rob a hair salon where an off-duty officer was getting her hair done. She shot the gun out of his hand.
Overall, NYPD officers are firing fewer times and the number of people killed by police bullets each year has hovered around a dozen during the past decade. The numbers are low even as it has become easier to shoot: Before 1993, officers were armed with six-shot revolvers compared to today's 16-shot semiautomatic pistols.
The reason for fewer shootings isn't that there are fewer confrontations, it's that the officers are being held more accountable, said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Police officers are placed on modified duty, there is a lot of negative press, there is a review after the incident, they face discipline, there is accountability, more now then there has been before," she said. "It can make them think twice before firing their weapons." An officer is allowed to use deadly force when faced with an imminent threat of injury or death.
Shootings all come before a panel that reviews them to determine whether the officer was within department guidelines. Haberfeld said she would like to see officers receive additional training, though. "They are endangering themselves, that's part of the job, but they should be better trained," she said. "There is so much accountability, but the training didn't change that much."