The Prince George's County police department issued a new firearms policy yesterday that will ban "warning shots" and mandate greater discretion by police officers in situations where they must decide whether to fire their weapons at suspects.
The new policy, issued Wednesday but released publicly yesterday. Will require police officers to have a "conviction or firm belief" - rather than simply a suspicion - of clear and present danger before he or she fires a weapon.
"In my estimation, it precludes the shooting of any individual who is unarmed," said Police Chief John W. Rhoads, in announcing the new rules.
The new policy was issued in the wake of the recent controversial shooting deaths of two black suspects in separate instances by white county police officers. But whether it would have precluded their deaths had the new rules been in effect at the time was discounted by Rhoads.
"This new policy probably would not have prevented the two shootings of blacks," he said.
"These shootings were not a a questions of black or white . . . it was a matter of officers using deadly force," said Rhoads, who added that he hoped the new policy would prompt all police officers lto reevaluate their use of firearms.
Rhoads said the new policy -- which parallels the most restrictive firearm policies of police departments across the country - will not endanger the lives of police officers.
The president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lanny Hestor, said yesterday that the police chief's new firearm policy "tends to be ambiguos" and that he plans to meet with the police chief to get a new policy that is "steadfast instead of shaky."
Hestor said the new policy did not give enough examples of instances when a police officer can use a weapon.
The two shootings that prompted the implementation of the new policy took place inpredominantly black Seat Pleasant.