LAPD Fatally Shoots Man From Helicopter

For the first time, the Los Angeles Police Department has fired upon someone from a helicopter.  SWAT performed the fatal shooting on Monday during a shootout with a home invasion suspect in Sunland.

Although an autopsy is still needed to officially determine how many times the suspect was hit by gunfire, and whether it was from the rifle shot from the helicopter or from officers on the ground,  LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that it appears the gunfire from the helicopter did strike the 29-year-old.

The situation developed when a woman woke up to find an intruder in her home.  She escaped out of a window and called police.  When they responded, they encountered the suspect who had armed himself with a gun from inside the home.  A standoff went on for the next 5 hours.  

During the standoff, police tried to push the man out using tear gas.  The standoff finally ended once the suspect came out of the house at 2:45 p.m. and shot at police.  It was at this time that he was shot.

Police shootings from helicopters are rare and require specially trained officers to perform them in very specific situations.  The decision to take the shot required an assistant chief within the LAPD to approve it.  Chief Beck was also a part of the discussion.

Beck said, "When the geography and the circumstances dictate, we want to make sure that it’s available. That’s exactly what happened in this instance."

The house was located on the top of a hill and surrounded by brush, making it difficult for officers to approach the suspect on the higher ground.

Beck met with police commissioners yesterday to explain the decision to fire from the helicopter.  He told them, "It requires very specific criteria that have to be met regarding terrain, regarding weather, regarding the threat to the community, regarding the other options that have been utilized.  It appears that those criteria were met. Obviously there will be further review of this to ensure that."

Experts across the country disagree on police firing on suspects from the air.

Geoffrey Alpert is a professor at the University of South Carolina who specializes in police use of force.  He agrees with the use of the tactic, but only for certain agencies in certain situations.  He said, "It’s an option most departments shouldn’t use because they’re not well-trained in it.  But LAPD, one of their specialties is tactical shooting."

Others do not agree with the tactic because those departments that should not use the tactic may take the LAPD's actions as a precedent.  

Samuel Walker is a retired criminal justice professor and policing expert.  He said, "I just worry that it sets a bad precedent.  You can have some other departments saying, ‘Well, if the LAPD can do it, we can do it.'"

Read the full story at Los Angeles Times

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