Shootings by Harris County officers fall in 2010
The number of police-related shootings and residents slain by law enforcement agencies in Harris County dropped last year from unusually high levels in 2009, according to statistics provided by prosecutors.
Last year there were 46 incidents investigated by the Harris County District Attorney's Office in which area lawmen fired their weapons at civilians, including 13 where residents died. In 2009, there were 60 police-involved shootings investigated in Harris County in which 27 residents died.
One civil rights advocate linked the decrease in police shootings to stricter policies instituted by Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, who took office last April, along with actions by Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos.
"It's gone down because we have a new police chief — he's made some changes and made some new rules, “ said Sylvia Gonzalez, vice president of LULAC's southwest region and a former county probation officer.
Houston police commanders attributed reduced shootings in their department to fewer confrontations with armed suspects, along with an increased focus on training officers on the proper use of force.
"HPD officers faced less suspects with deadly weapons, based on the statistics, and secondly I'd say it's due to our continued training,“ said George Buenik, assistant chief of the Criminal Investigations Command. "We talk about use of force options (during training), and the issuance of Tasers has helped because it gives officers more options."
In the city of Houston, there were 24 investigations last year by the District Attorney's Office of HPD shootings, down from 29 in 2009. Last year, there were seven civilian fatalities involving HPD, down from 15 in 2009.
Sheriff's Office, Pasadena
The number of shooting incidents by Harris County sheriff's deputies went from seven in 2009 to 16 last year. However, the three residents killed last year was the same number as in 2009 for the Sheriff's Office.
"We continue to put the highest value in protecting all lives, especially the citizens of Harris County, as well as the lives of our brave men and women of the Harris County Sheriff's Office who put themselves in harm's way every day,“ Sheriff Adrian Garcia said in a statement.
Police-involved shootings in Pasadena dropped from five in 2009 to two last year.
"When you're looking at shootings in Pasadena, it's relatively infrequent. There are years when we don't have any, and sometimes it ends up we have two or three in a year's time," said Assistant Police Chief Bud Corbett.
Fred Cooper, a member of the criminal justice committee for the NAACP in Houston, said he was not familiar with the statistics but hoped attention his and other groups focused on shootings in 2009 had brought improvements.
"HPD can do a better job, I always thought they could improve, and it'd be nice if it panned out,“ Cooper said.
Call for more training
Longtime local civil rights activist Johnny Mata said the reduced number of police shootings does not mean that longstanding frictions between minority residents and local police have been eliminated.
"We're still going to continue working with police departments in a proactive way in trying to prevent the most blatant and serious kind of excessive and deadly force,“ Mata said. "There's still some training that we need to be looking into, and some of their policies and procedures."
Houston police officials say they are hoping to further reduce shootings by officers.
"On TV, it's glamorous to be involved in a shooting,“ Beunik said. "In reality, no officer wants to be involved in a shooting or be involved with facing an armed suspect. If we could further decrease police-related shootings in 2011, that would be better."
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