In 45 cases in the past two decades, every suspect had a weapon; 40 percent of the time it was a vehicle
ANCHORAGE – When police shot and killed Carl Bowie III on Feb. 19, 2013, they said he was using his truck as a weapon after eluding police on a chase through South Anchorage.
Police Chief Mark Mew said he knew a lot of officer-involved shootings had suspects who used their vehicles to ram police cars, but he didn’t know exactly how many.
It turned out to be 40 percent.
That’s one figure that came out of a study by the UAA Justice Center, which analyzed data from shootings in Anchorage over the past 20 years.
“It’s a very dangerous situation,” said Dr. Troy Payne, author of the study. “This number starts to explain why the Anchorage Police Department changed their policy, tactics and training regarding vehicles.”
There were 45 officer-involved shootings from Jan. 1, 1993 to May 11, 2013. (The fatal shooting of Kenneth John on June 24, 2013 was not included in the study because it had not been fully investigated at the time).
In 18 cases the suspect used a vehicle against police. In 17 cases it was a handgun.
Payne’s report shows in every case, however, the suspect had a weapon. And in most incidents, they threatened to use it against the officer.
“We knew the kind of people we go up against when things get bad,” Mew said. “They’re bad folks doing bad things. They’re armed, aggressive and violent. We know that in our guts, but to see the number up here, to realize in all those shootings over 20 years everyone had a weapon and virtually everyone did something with it to provoke the shooting — that was significant to see that rise to the top.”
The study also found 70 percent of the suspects had a prior criminal history. Nearly half the time officers fired one to three shots.
Payne said one statistic he didn’t expect was when the shootings occurred.
“The typical incident occurred between midnight and 7 a.m. on a weekday,” Payne said. “This was a little bit surprising. Coming into this not knowing what the data was going to be, I would have assumed it was Friday or Saturday night. That’s not what I found.”
When he looked at the race of the suspects, a majority — 56.3-percent — were white. He said there is an overrepresentation of African Americans and Pacific Islanders though.
Nine of the 45 suspects were African American, which is 18.8 percent. Only 6.3 percent of Anchorage’s population is African American, however.
Pacific Islanders make up 2.2 percent the Anchorage population, but were involved in 8.3 percent of the shootings.
“Many of these incidents, they occur too quickly for the citizen and the officer to register the race of the other,” Payne said. “We have to be very careful when we’re interpreting what this might mean. We don’t have enough data to start drawing conclusions as to why this occurs this way.”
The years 2012 and 2013 had the highest number of shootings, with five each year. In 1996, 1997, 2005 and 2008 there were none.
Officers are called out an average of 250,000 times a year, and many times those situations can turn dangerous, Mew said.
“About 40,000 times a year you can figure we’re going to a hot call,” he said. “To have zero to five involved in a shooting is good news.”
Mew said the Anchorage Police Department is one of the only mid-sized city to compile data like this. He’s not sure how the department can use the data just yet, but hopes it will eventually help officers do an even better job protecting the community.
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