Police departments in Dayton, Springfield, Beavercreek and Kettering, and the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, all have policies barring their officers from firing at or from moving vehicles in many instances.
The video of the Aug. 24 shooting, released Sept. 1, shows Young in her car in a parking space as a police officer orders her to exit the vehicle. A second officer is seen drawing his firearm and stepping in front of the car, despite a department policy advising officers to get out of the way of an approaching vehicle instead of firing their weapon.
“Are you going to shoot me?” Young asks, seconds before she turns the steering wheel to the right and the car moves toward the second officer. The officer fires through the windshield and Young’s sedan drifts into the grocery store’s brick wall.
Lawyers for Young’s family say the video is devastating and have called for the officer who shot her to be fired and criminally charged. Blendon police officials have refused to name either of the officers involved.
Here is a look at law enforcement policies on moving vehicles.
What about firing at moving cars?
Researchers in the late 1970s and early 1980s found the policy, along with a handful of other use-of-force restrictions, led to a decline in bystanders being shot and suspects dying in police shootings.
Industry organizations such as the Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs of Police have recommended the restrictions, saying shooting in such circumstances creates an unacceptable risk to bystanders from stray gunfire or the driver losing control of the vehicle if shot.
Officers from Dayton, Springfield, Beavercreek, Kettering and Butler County can discharge their firearms in situations where they believe their lives or the lives of others are in danger.
“An officer will not discharge firearms from or at a moving vehicle unless they reasonably believe that such an action is in defense of human life,” Dayton’s policy states.
Springfield’s policy echoes this, stipulating that officers should not discharge their weapons unless they’re under “extreme circumstances.”
“Such discharges will be rigorously scrutinized,” the policy states.
The Butler County Sheriff’s Office likewise prohibits deputies from firing at a moving vehicle “except in exigent circumstances, and only in an attempt to save human life or (prevent) physical harm to others.”
The Blendon Township department’s policy states: “An officer should only discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or its occupants when the officer reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the imminent threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the officer or others.”
As of June, only 32 police departments in the 100 largest U.S. cities had some form of restriction on firing at moving vehicles, according to Campaign Zero, an advocacy group of academics, activists and others seeking to end police brutality.
How are such policies interpreted and enforced?
John P. Gross of the University of Wisconsin Law School, who has written about the challenges of ending police shooting at moving vehicles, said individual department policies sometimes include exceptions if a suspect is firing a weapon or if the car is being used as a weapon against an officer, though many restrictions specifically say other weapons must be present.
Prosecutors and internal police investigators often focus on the moment of use of force, but a broader view is necessary, he said. For example, if an officer already has a license plate number, that may be a reason not to use force to stop a vehicle, since “most of us are findable.”
“If you are pursuing someone accused of a homicide and who has shot at officers in the past, that’s a different situation than somebody who might have shoplifted $50 worth of items,” Gross said. “That context should be part of this.”
Departments often don’t enforce the policies with meaningful discipline in part because of the strength of police unions, Gross said. In Blendon Township, union officials have said Young’s car became a weapon the moment it began moving.
Should officers purposely move in front of vehicles?
Local department policies advise officers to move out of the way.
“Officers shall, as a rule, avoid tactics that could place them in a position where a vehicle could be used against them,” Springfield’s policy states. “When confronted with an oncoming, moving vehicle, officer should attempt to move out of its path.”
In the Blendon Twp. video, an officer is seen drawing his firearm and putting himself in the path of Young’s parked car, which Gross called “bad tactics.”
“And oftentimes bad tactics translates to needing to use more force than was necessary,” Gross said. “The officer shouldn’t put himself in front of the car. He can’t stop the car with his body.”
Edward Obayashi, a national use-of-force expert and attorney who specializes in vehicle-related police shootings, agreed and said the officer went against his training.
“The best practice in these matters nationwide is that you do not put yourself in a position of danger,” Obayashi said. “There was no urgent need for him to position himself the way he did.”
Gross also questioned why the officer drew his firearm when the issue at hand was a shoplifting allegation. He urged changes to police training.
“They are taught that if someone is resisting even verbally, that person is going to fight or flee,” Gross said. “That just ties resistance to a threat. Training teaches officers that there is danger around every corner and threats are everywhere.”
The Associated Press Contributed to this story.