A D.C. City Council yesterday approved legislation to restrict the use of controversial hollow point bullets, which city police officers have been issued since last January.
The legislation was approved by the judiciary committee and is expected to be acted on by the full Council next week. It would prohibit the police department from giving officers hollow point bullets as standard issue for use in service revolvers.
However, the legislation would permit hollow points to be used in "special circumstances" that are not detailed in the bill. In addition, as currently drafted, the bill would allow the chief of police in effect to side-step the ban by eliminating a regulation that now prohibits officers from using privately purchased ammunition in their service revolvers.
D.C. Police Chief Maurice Cullinane, supporter of the use of hollow-point bullets, was not available for comment yesterday.
However, Council members David A. Clarke (D-one), chairman of the committee, said he had been told by Cullinane that even though the chief would oppose the legislation's passage, he would not circumvent such a measure if it became law.
Unlike the round-nose bullets used previously by the city's 4,300-person police force, the hollow-point bullets explode upon contact with the target, thus striking with more force.
D.C. policemen began getting hollow-points as standard issue for use in their service revolvers on Jan. 7. At hearings before the judiciary committee in April, Cullinane defended the decision to use them, saying such bullets had greater potential for stopping as assailant, and misuse of them was controlled by the city's strict regulations governing when an officer can fire his weapon.
Cullinane said efforts to find a less harmful bullet could endanger the lives of policemen and, he hinted, were self-defeating. "I don't know what a 'humane' bullet is," Cullinane said. "A bullet is meant to kill you. That's why it's designed for Clearly, that's what we purchase it for."
Those who oppose the use of hollow points contend that the accuracy of the shooter rather than the force of the bullet is a more important factor in stopping a person. In addition, they argue, the hollow points cause more deadly wounds and could result in the deaths of more innocent persons. Nearly two of every three bullets fired by D.C. police officers in the line of duty last year missed their intended targets. It could not be determined immediately whether any struck an innocent person.
The hollow-point prohibition was introduced in the Council on the same day that the department began using the bullets. As originally drafted by the late Council member Julius W. Hobson, Sr. (Statehood-at-large), the bill would have flatly prohibited the use of hollow points by city policemen.
The legislation approved yesterday, however, covers only the issuance of such bullets as standard supplies to policemen. Clarke said that would cover more than 90 per cent of the instances in which police weapons are fired, while at the same time allowing the police department the option of issuing hollow-point bullets in special circumstances.
Clarke said that he did not know what specifically would constitute such a special circumstance.
Since 1974, a general police department order has prohibited policemen from using or carrying ammunition other than that issued or authorized by the department.
Voting in favor of the limited ban yesterday were Clarke, Arrington Dixon (D-4) and Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Eight). Willie J. Hardy (D-Seven) voted against the legislation Marion Barry(D-at large) voted Present.