Pittsburgh police revise policy on shooting at moving vehicles

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Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper sent a policy revision to officers today notifying them that they may not "discharge a firearm at or into a moving vehicle or its occupants unless there are shots being fired from that vehicle."

Chief Harper's email did not explain why the policy change was being made and said the policy is still under review.

The order will be read at roll call for three consecutive days, he said.

Pittsburgh police have investigated at least three incidents since November in which officers fired at cars, the most recent being a chase that began in Homestead and ended with five off-duty officers firing shots on Carson Street minutes before bars closed. Two people were seriously injured in that incident, leaving the driver and his front seat passenger with serious wounds.

Pittsburgh police policy previously stated, "An officer shall not discharge his or her firearm at a moving vehicle unless the occupants are using deadly physical force against the officer or another person present by means other than the vehicle.

"The only exception to said policy is a situation where the vehicle is being intentionally operated as a weapon and an officer or a third party is faced with immediate death or serious bodily injury and the officer has done everything reasonably necessary to avoid the use of deadly force; an officer shall not discharge a firearm for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle."

The last line -- "an officer shall not discharge a firearm for the sole purpose of disabling a vehicle" -- remains in effect, the chief wrote in the email.

Police union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte said the union was not consulted regarding the policy change.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said in an email Friday morning that Chief Harper's order stands while the policy is reviewed by command staff. Any revisions will be made after recommendations are reviewed. Once the order is adopted into policy, the appropriate training will be determined, she said.

Ms. Richard did not say what prompted the revision, how long it's been under consideration and who was involved in the decision to change the policy.

Chief Harper's orders are internal documents, she added, and policy changes, which are at the chief's discretion, are not generally shared with the public.

The South Side incident remains part of an ongoing investigation.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1438. Twitter: @liznavratil. Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. First Published February 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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