Shootings by SB police on the rise

AN BERNARDINO - Halfway into the year, six people have died by police officers' bullets in the city - four last month - more than annual totals in recent years.

San Bernardino police officials said a loss of life is always cause for concern but that the slow, steady rise in shootings is not due to policy breakdowns or trigger-happy cops.

"What we are seeing is perhaps a little more violent behavior (by) criminals," said Assistant Chief Frank Mankin. "Because of these incidents, law-enforcement officers - not just at the San Bernardino Police Department - are much more vigilant because they know there are people out there who will assault them."

Since January, officers have fired at eight people, six of whom died. Last year, there were 10 officer-involved shootings, and five people died. In 2004 and 2005, police shot at seven people each year, killing two and then three, respectively.

No charges have been filed against officers for fatal shootings, but there are civil cases by the victims' families.

Police Lt. Scott Paterson is quick to point out that at least five of the suspects this year pulled a gun, attacked an officer or threatened police in some way.

"I've seen more instances
where people are waiting around to kill the police officer, not to get away," said the 17-year veteran. "They are purposefully waiting."

The most recent case was Ricardo Rahshawn Jackson, 28, who was shot by an officer Monday after tackling two other officers and grappling for their guns. He was suspected of shooting his mother several times during an argument at their North G Street home.

Officers and experts list myriad reasons for why more cop-criminal confrontations are becoming deadlier.

People are desensitized by violent video games and movies, illegal guns continue to flood the streets, officer recruits keep getting younger and police response time has improved, they say.

"In many cities across the United States, violent crime has been increasing and police have been responding to these incidents more quickly than they have in the past," said Brian Levin, a professor of criminal justice at Cal State San Bernardino and a former New York City cop.

An average response time for San Bernardino officers was unavailable Friday.

Officers agreed that responding to crime quicker puts police directly in the line of fire, so to speak, but they say they only pull the trigger to protect themselves or innocent bystanders.

"If they're willing to go toe to toe with a police officer, what are they willing to do to someone on the street?" Paterson asked.

Shawn Lamond Watson, a suspected gang member who was accused of killing another man in May, pulled a gun on officers who tried to talk to him in the Ascot apartments June 10, officials said.

Police say it's unfortunate that Watson lost his life by threatening officers, but believe they saved others from being harmed. That is often the case, officials said.

About 400 people are justifiably killed by police officers nationwide each year, according to the Department of Justice.

San Bernardino officers are required to undergo rigorous training programs a minimum of once a month, Paterson said. Many choose to shoot more frequently.

"Twenty years ago, if you were in an officer-involved shooting, you probably retired within three years," said Nancy Bohl, director of the Counseling Team International in San Bernardino. "Now you remain for the rest of your career."

Every officer who fires a weapon here is sent to counseling to work through any emotions that may linger.

Officers occasionally become victims, too.

Officials could not recall any officers who have been gunned down in San Bernardino, but 52 California officers were shot in 2006, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

"We just have more guns on the street," Levin said. "More guns on the street means police officers will face more gun-toting people, and sometimes think they're gun-toting even when they might not be."

Seizing illegal firearms has become a top priority in San Bernardino. Six to eight U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents are expected to set up shop next week to reduce violent crime.

Police are hoping it will also drastically reduce the chances of them drawing on suspects.

Contact writer Stacia Glenn at (909) 386-3887 or via e-mail at stacia.glenn@sbsun.com.

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