Too Many Police-Involved Shootings In Columbus? Part 2

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Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs talks to reporters after Columbus Police were involved in three shootings in a week in July.(Photo: Tom Borgerding, WOSU News)
Columbus Police Chief Kimberley Jacobs talks to reporters after Columbus Police were involved in three shootings in a week in July.(Photo: Tom Borgerding, WOSU News)

12 years ago, on an October night, Jim Gilbert and other Columbus police officers chased a burglary suspect into a warehouse. The suspect then confronted one of the officers.

“He fought the officer, taking the officer’s firearm and was getting ready to shoot the officer in the face,” Gilbert says.

Gilbert says he heard the officer’s cries for help.

“He yelled louder and louder, ‘He’s got my gun! He’s got my gun!’ And I obviously perceived a very serious threat to the life of that officer.”

Gilbert says he did what he had been trained to do.

“At that point I discharged my firearm, striking the suspect. Two other officers fired after I fired striking the suspect,” Gilbert says.

Randy Henenberger of Chillicothe died from the shooting. A police department investigation found that the officers’ actions were justifiable, as did a Franklin County grand jury.

“We were cleared through the grand jury and found to have been justified with our use of force,” Gilbert says.

2012 Columbus Police Shootings

View 2012 Columbus Police Shootings in a larger map

Franklin County grand juries rarely indict officers involved in shootings. Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien says he only knows of two indictments resulting from shootings by on-duty police officers – and those occurred over a 25-year-period.

Kim Jacobs took over as Columbus chief of police earlier this year. Immediately she had to face questions when officers’ bullets struck innocent people.

“We try to keep in mind all the time the safety of the community and be aware of the environment. Our policy, our training all talk about being aware of your environment and trying to make sure that you are looking out for life rather than making any kind of decision that might adversely affect someone,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs says officers have a right to use deadly force if their own life or someone else’s is threatened.

“We have told them you don’t have to wait to be stabbed; you don’t have to wait to be shot before you save yourself. And so typically they have to make that decision about where they perceive the threat, and if they want to act on that threat within split seconds,” says Jacobs.

“It’s a burden if you think about it,” says David Klinger.

Former LA police officer David Klinger is now a sociologist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Klinger says that during training and throughout their careers officers are steeped in when and when not to use deadly force.

“It is an awesome power and one of the things that police officers are trained in police academies is that it is an awesome power – it is not something to be taken lightly. It is only something that you are going to do – that is, fire your weapon – under a narrow band of circumstances; when your life or the life of another person is in imminent jeopardy,” says Klinger.

Police shootings are uncommon. There are 800,000 police officers in the U.S. On average 400 people are killed by police each year.

Richard Lundman is a sociologist at Ohio State University.

“Fortunately it’s a very rare event. Most police officers will go their entire 25- or-30-year career never having deliberately fired their weapon at somebody,” Lundman says.

For the past 6 years as president of the police union, Jim Gilbert has stood up for officers who’ve found themselves in the same situation.

“They’ve got a split second to make that decision,” Gilbert says.

Gilbert says no officer puts on his uniform and starts his shift wanting to shoot someone.

“They don’t want to use deadly force. No officer wants to, as he’s putting on his bullet proof vest, as he’s kissing his family goodbye, as he’s walking out the door says, ‘Hey, today’s the day I’m going to kill somebody.’ We don’t want that and no officer ever wants that to happen.”

But some police officers are forced to shoot. Sociologist David Klinger says that in the aftermath of a shooting there needs to be better analysis of the incident.

“I think that what we need to do is look at each and every case very carefully and assess whether the use of deadly force was an appropriate option legally, morally, ethically. And also was it tactically sound? Did the officer do everything correctly in terms of trying to structure the encounter in a way that the likelihood of using deadly force would be minimized?” asks Klinger.

Ohio State sociologist Richard Lundman says Columbus should institute a civilian review board that would also study each shooting. But, he says:

You mention the phrase Civilian Review Board to a police officer; to a police administrator and they will almost always go ballistic. They argue that if you’ve never been in police blue, if you’ve never been spit on, if you’ve never been in a fight for your life, you can’t possibly make decisions about what people in blue do,” Lundman says.

Chief Jacobs says her department is working to build trust with the residents of Columbus but she does not favor a review board.

“I believe that with the fact that all of that paperwork is available to the public under public records law that they can see what type of investigation we did and then read how we came to our conclusions and what the evidence says about each particular incident. If I thought that would add something to it I would probably say yeah, we should do it but I don’t see the value add,” Jacobs says.

Chief Jacobs says that department tactical policies are always under review and Columbus police training goes beyond what’s required by the state.

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