The police, whose jurisdiction includes the parkway, say they were already in the process of updating their use-of-force and pursuit guidelines before the killing. Either way, pursuing and opening fire on Ghaisar, who was unarmed, were unwarranted and reckless in the extreme.
Police departments have long recognized that car chases, while routine fare for Hollywood, are dangerous and justified only in extreme situations. Under the Park Police order in effect at the time of the Ghaisar killing, vehicular pursuits were authorized when suspects posed “a clear and immediate threat to public safety.” Under the updated rule, adopted in 2018, a chase is permitted only for suspects wanted for violent felonies or the threat of violence. Initiating a pursuit of Ghaisar met neither standard.
He was not driving at breakneck speed. He had not hurt anyone. A videotape of the incident, recorded by a Fairfax County police cruiser that trailed the Park Police vehicle, does not suggest any danger to the police or anyone else.
He erred by driving away from the scene of an accident, yet the accident in question — his own car was struck from behind, but barely hard enough to leave a dent — was not serious. He erred twice more, and no doubt irritated the police officers, by pulling over and then driving away again when they approached with guns drawn. But even if the Park Police officers, who received word of the accident through a dispatcher, believed he had been at fault in the collision, since when would a fender bender, or leaving the scene of a minor accident, constitute “a clear and immediate threat to public safety” that would justify a police chase? Answer: It wouldn’t.
The Park Police policy in effect in 2017 on use of force specified that officers are duty-bound to use “the minimum level of force necessary to control a situation.” Four bullets to the head exceeds that standard. As for shooting at a moving vehicle — Ghaisar had begun to slowly steer his car away from the officers when they pulled their triggers — the policy then and now forbids it unless an officer reasonably believes a suspect poses an imminent danger.
Ghaisar posed no such danger. Annoying the police should not bring a death sentence. It should be an occasion for the officers to exercise common sense and a strict adherence to policy. In this case, neither was observed.