Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said this week that she hopes to bring more public focus on the perception of officers involved in fatal shootings.
"We get so focused on whether a person is armed and is it a knife or whatever. We've got to change this focus. It's whatever the officer is faced with - is it life threatening to that officer?" Kirkpatrick said at a meeting of the city's Public Safety Committee." We need to continue to bring this forward, because officers do get killed when there was no gun."
City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi said the media and public don't focus on that.
"The public or the media will focus on, from the public's perspective, you know, what occurred," Treppiedi said. "The law focuses not on what the public perceived or what the witnesses perceived or even what the shooting victim perceived. The law focuses on what the chief said, and that is what did the officer perceive?"
Treppiedi continued, "whereas a lot of the public's discussion comes from 'but witnesses said x and the editor says y.'"
The discussion took place Monday as Lt. Craig Meidl presented to committee members internal affairs investigation data that included the number of officer-involved shootings since 2006 (three in 2010, two in 2009, zero in 2008, four in 2007 and zero in 2006.)
Committee member and City Councilman Bob Apple asked if the department was revamping policies and questioned shooting suspects who are armed with knives and not guns.
Kirkpatrick said she once had an officer shot in the line of duty with his own weapon.
"No one was armed when he showed up, but...he lost the wrestling match and the guy grabbed his gun and shot and killed him," Kirkpatrick said.
She emphasized that the threat of grievous bodily injury - one justification for the use of deadly force - can differ from situation to situation.
"What is grievous bodily injury is going to be very unique in that particular event that that officer is faced with," Kirkpatrick said.
City Council President Joe Shogan said situations could end differently if police were called sooner. He referred to the Dec. 4 shooting of Jeremy Groom by police outside a Hillyard tavern.
Groom was shot as he pointed a gun at a man who turned out to be one of his best friends. His friends say Groom never would have shot the man and say officers didn't give him time to drop the gun.
The dispute began inside the tavern. Shogan said options seemed limited by the time police were called.
"I would hope that citizens would say 'OK if we're going to involve the police, let's involve them sooner than later," Shogan said. "Don't wait until this gets to be a flash point and then hope that there are a lot of options, which, at that point, I don't think there are."