The four police shootings between Aug. 24 and Sept. 3 brings to 11 the number of people shot this year, compared with six for all of last year. Four of the shootings this year — including the Aug. 25 shooting of An’Twan Gilmore and the Aug. 31 shooting of George D. Watson — were fatal, compared with two fatal shootings last year.
“It is very worrying,” said D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson, whose office has issued two reports on officer-related fatalities that raised questions about the police department’s handling and investigation of several high-profile killings. “In the shooting cases reviewed thus far,” Ms. Patterson wrote to the mayor and D.C. Council on May 25, “we found that at the split second when an officer fired a fatal shot the officer had reason to fear for his safety. But it is also clear that, in some if not all of these cases, effective policing in the moments leading up to that split second may well have prevented that split second from arriving.”
That question — of whether police could or should have acted differently — has emerged in the fatal shootings of Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Watson. Mr. Gilmore was inside a car with a gun tucked into his waistband — variously described by police as sleeping, unconscious or unresponsive — when officers knocked on the car window. For reasons yet to be explained, one officer fired 10 times. Mr. Watson was shot while standing on his apartment balcony after brandishing what turned out to be a nonlethal pellet gun resembling a rifle. Both cases are being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which we hope sees the urgency in completing its investigations. But there also needs to be examination by the Bowser administration and D.C. Council of broader issues, such as whether the department’s training in de-escalation tactics needs to be improved.
Review of these shootings must take into account the fact that officers were dealing with people who were armed. The danger that presents was brought into high relief in the body-cam footage of the Aug. 24 shooting in which an officer shoots a man who police said pulled a gun and shot at him. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!,” the clearly distraught officer said over and over again as his hands shook and an assessment was made of whether he, too, had been shot. Thankfully, the officer wasn’t shot — police said a nearby vehicle was hit — but that moment in which the officer seems to think he might have been struck underscores the need for the District to double down on strategies to combat the illegal guns that plague the city. Not only have illegal guns fueled a dramatic increase in homicides this year, but they also might help explain why police shootings have increased.