January 28, 2021

Recommendation: Restrict shooting at moving vehicles

Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait initiative recommends that police departments restrict the circumstances under which officers may shoot at moving vehicles. Shooting at a moving vehicle is seen as a dangerous and ineffective tactic, with high risk for injuring bystanders.

APD’s current policy is silent on the issue of shooting from a moving vehicle and does not sufficiently restrict shooting at moving vehicles. Increasing restrictions on shooting at moving vehicles has been shown to contribute to a reduction in officer-involved shootings.

Background on 8 Can’t wait

The Office of Police Oversight is making recommendations on use-of-force policies as part of a larger effort to re-write Austin Police Department’s General Orders. The revision of the Austin Police Department’s General Orders is a part of the City Council resolutions passed in June 2020.

Learn more about these City Council resolutions on the City of Austin’s Reimagining Public Safety Websiteopen_in_new .

The first step involves analyzing how APD’s current policies align with policy recommendations of 8 Can’t Waitopen_in_new, an initiative by Campaign Zero that advocates for policies that reduce use of deadly force by police.

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Introduction Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait initiative recommends that police departments restrict the circumstances under which officers may shoot at moving vehicles. Shooting at a moving vehicle is regarded as a particularly dangerous and ineffective tactic, with a high risk of injuring bystanders. Increasing restrictions on shooting at moving vehicles has been shown to contribute to a reduction in officer-involved shootings. Policy review findings Shooting at moving vehicles is not sufficiently restricted Current policy permits shooting at a vehicle when the vehicle is being used as a weapon against officers or others. Shooting at a moving vehicle is difficult and can lead to innocent or uninvolved third parties being harmed. In addition, when shooting at a vehicle results in the driver being wounded or killed, the threat presented by the vehicle is not necessarily eliminated. APD's current policy fails to sufficiently restrict this practice in a way that effectively safeguards both officers and the public against its inherent risks. Office of Police Oversight Restrict Shooting at Moving Vehicles 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 Office of Police Oversight Restrict Shooting at Moving Vehicles 202.1.1 Policy – Firearm Discharge Situations; and 202.1.3 Moving Vehicles. Current APD policies related to restricting shooting at moving vehicles The following APD General Orders chapters are relevant to the restricting of shooting at moving vehicles: To view the full excerpts of these chapters, please turn to Appendix A. Furthermore, current policy creates a significant loophole by permitting shooting at moving vehicles in "extraordinary circumstances," while failing to define that term. Effective policies require defined parameters in order to be enforced. APD policy should generally prohibit shooting except as a last resort in circumstances when a vehicle occupant is using deadly force other than the vehicle itself. The only other condition under which shooting may be appropriate is when the vehicle itself is being used as a weapon likely to cause a mass casualty incident. APD policy is silent on the issue of shooting from a moving vehicle Shooting from a moving vehicle presents some of the same risks (e.g. potential harm to innocent bystanders) and difficulties (e.g. reduction in accuracy) as shooting at a moving vehicle. APD policy should explicitly prohibit this practice due to the inherent risks to officers, involved individuals, and uninvolved bystanders. 36 37 38 39 Restrict Shooting at Moving Vehicles Office of Police Oversight Recommended policy changes Add the following definition to General Order 200.1.2 Definitions: Mass Casualty Incident – An incident in which the number of casualties exceeds the normally available local resources. Change APD General Order 202.1.3 Moving Vehicles to the following: 202.1.3 MOVING VEHICLES (a) Officers shall only discharge their firearms at a moving vehicle if, based on the totality of the circumstances, they have exhausted all possible alternatives and: 1. an occupant of the vehicle is using deadly force by means other than the vehicle itself; or 2. if the vehicle itself is being used as a weapon that will more likely than not cause a Mass Casualty Incident. An example of a situation that would constitute a Mass Casualty Incident would be a vehicle being driven into a crowd of people. (b) Except as provided in subsection (a)(2) above, officers shall not discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle in any situation when the totality of the circumstances indicates that it is more likely than not that an innocent passenger or bystander could be injured. (c) Officers shall exercise good judgment and shall not place themselves in the path of a moving vehicle. (d) Officers shall move out of the path of any approaching vehicle unless it is impossible to do so. (e) In situations when this policy applies, officers may leave a position of cover only: 1. to utilize an avenue of escape; 2. to move to a position of better cover; or 3. if the risk associated with not apprehending the suspect or stopping the threat outweighs the danger posed to the officer or any other person by leaving a position of cover. (f) Officers shall not discharge their firearms from a moving vehicle.
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