Black and Hispanic police officers kill more minorities in police actions than do white officers, a former top police official said Saturday.
Patrick V. Murphy, president of the Police Foundation, a private research group based in the District, made the statement at a freewheeling symposium on civil rights versus police force held at Georgetown University Law Center.
Murphy, who was D.C. public safety director from 1967-69, pointed out that minority officers kill more minority citizens because they are "traditionally assigned to high-risk, high-crime areas."
Murphy based his remarks on a study of shooting incidents involving New York City police officers conducted by James J. Fyfe, associate professor in American University's School of Justice.
According to Fyfe, the study -- involving incidents from 1971-75 -- revealed that as a group, black and Hispanic officers discharged their weapons twice as often as their white counterparts.Fyfe said this occurred because minority officers were not assigned to "country club" districts, and were confined to the lower ranks -- which keep them on the streets.
Ruben Sandoval, a lawyer and founder of the San Antonio-based Civil Rights Litigation Service, agreed with Murphy and added that black and Hispanic officers are eager to become part of the "buddy system." They start putting "notches on their gun" so they won't be thought of as outcasts, he said.
This brought a response from D.C. Deputy Chief Rodwell M. Catoe that District officers are instructed to shoot below the waist to gain control of certain situations. And that officers need a degree of flexibility.
"What!" shouted Murphy off-mike. "That's crazy -- never shoot to wound in an urban situation. Never shoot! That's the first commandment! Draw the pistol only if you wish the right to kill."
In an interview Tuesday, Catoe denied he said officers are given instructions to shoot below the waist. He added that the department has strict guidelines about when deadly force may be used, but that situations arise in which officers must decide whether or not it is necessary.
He said once an officer has made that decision, the department "does not specify where the officer should shoot -- whether it be the heart, the arm, the leg; above the waist, below the waist."
Officer Gary Hankins of the D.C. police public information office said officers are instructed to fire at the center of the body to minimize the possibility of bystanders being injured by a stray bullet. b
Hankins also said department policy states that a police officer may only discharge a weapon in defense against an actual or threatened attack that could cause serious injury or death. He added that an officer cannot discharge a weapon unless the assailant displays a weapon or the officer believes the assailant is drawing a weapon.
"No one can control a police force," Murphy -- a former New York City police commissioner -- told the symposium. "The people can't; the mayor can't; the police chief can't."
"Police in the United States is a disaster," he said.
A runaway police force, such as the frequently mentioned Philadelphia police depart under the former mayor Frank L. Rizzo, could be prevented, according to Gail Gerebenics, assistant general counsel for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Gerebenics was part of a team that conducted an 18-month study that began in 1979 of police practices in the United States. The study included field investigations and hearings in Philadelphia and Houston. She said the study showed that police departments in both cities had a "serious understaffing" of minorities and women. She said this factor "effectively increases the problem of violence."
Gerebenics also said these departments do not have effective programs to deal with on-the-job stress. She added that the departments also lack psychological tests that can screen out applicants with serious problems; Gerebenics said the testing can pinpoint only obvious psychopaths. According to the study, "deviant behavior" is rewarded in a "blatant and pervasive way." Promotions and commendations tend to be given to those who kill, wound or use abusive interrogation techniques.
Sandoval pulled the shared microphone back his way. "When a police officer is killed, the press says the officer was murdered; when the officer kills, the press simply states the officer used deadly force to subdue the victim. This is a dangerous double standard focusing on the officer as hero," he said.
The tone of the symposium was summoned up by Murphy: "This is a racist society, always has been. Historically, the police role has been one of oppressor," he said. He added that the 19,000 departments in this country are without uniform standards or control either at the state or federal level.