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Police Killed With Their Own Guns

by Jaime Adame, Sep 16, 2004
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New York City Police Detectives Robert Parker and Patrick Rafferty were shot and killed in East Flatbush on September 10th, allegedly after a suspect, Marlon Legere, 28, grabbed Parker’s gun and used it to shoot both detectives several times at close range.

It is a scenario that, while not commonplace, happens with enough frequency to alarm law enforcement professionals nationwide. Last year, 10 police officers were shot and killed in the United States after a suspect managed to get control of an officer’s weapon. Nearly one in five officers killed as part of a crime last year were shot with their own (or a partner’s) weapon, according to the National Center for Law Enforcement Technology - the highest number of such deaths in 18 years.

New York has been fortunate to have few of these incidents. Before this month’s shooting, the last incident of an officer being killed with his own weapon occurred in the city in 1998. Still, the recent deaths reinforce the danger of being a cop in New York and raise questions about how to best protect officers in the future.

Training and Equipment

So far this year five officers in the U.S. have been shot and killed with their own weapons, including Parker and Rafferty.

One way to address the issue is through regular training. All New York police officers attend mandatory defensive tactics training sessions twice a year that help officers prepare for a variety of violent encounters with suspects. The sessions, which usually last about a day, focus in part on weapon retention.

Even with substantial training, however, the danger is always present. To further protect officers, safety holsters – gun holders with a variety of mechanisms to help “lock” a gun in place – began to be developed in the 1970s. However there are trade-offs: Features that make it more difficult to disarm an officer can also slow down an officer’s ability to draw.

And while uniformed patrol officers in New York routinely wear such safety holsters, plain-clothes detectives wear holsters that are easier to conceal. Police say Parker was wearing an off-duty hip holster, which typically does not have safety features. Neither Parker nor Rafferty were wearing bulletproof vests when they were shot.

New Gun Technology

Recognizing the need to protect officers from being shot with their own weapons, the federal government has spent millions of dollars in research on personalized weapons that can only be fired by their owner.

Ideas range from a ring worn by the user that unlocks the weapon to sophisticated biometric sensors designed to recognize a gun owner's grip. But the reliable technology still remains years away.

Even if “safer” guns are ever mass-produced and sold, they may not meet the demands of law enforcement. New Jersey passed a law in 2002 that will make user-recognition technology mandatory once it’s developed, but law enforcement officers were specifically excluded from the law. Police are understandably unwilling to carry a weapon they believe may not fire when they need it.

Not A Capital Case

Under New York's death penalty law, anyone who murders a police officer can face the death penalty.

But in June, New York highest court ruled that the state's death penalty law was flawed and could not be imposed. Until the State Legislature adopts an amended law, prosecutors and defense lawyers argue that there is effectively a moratorium on capital cases.

Police union officials are angered that the death penalty will not be sought for Marlon Legere, who has entered a “not guilty” plea in the shooting of the two officers last week.

In 1989, Jay “Stoney” Harrison, the last person to shoot two officers in New York, also used an officer’s handgun. Harrison took a gun from an unlocked locker at a District Attorney’s office and shot Detectives Richard Guerzon and Keith Williams. The death penalty was not in effect at the time.

Unanswered Questions

The deaths of the two officers Parker, 43, and Rafferty, 39, are tragic, and colleagues have been effusive in their praise of the detectives.

In the online tribute page to fallen law enforcement officers, some colleagues have left poignant and heartfelt tributes for both officers.

“Their reputation preceded them in the area, in the neighborhood,” Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association told The New York Times. “They were well-known, well-respected guys.”

Police say they may never know exactly how the suspect was able to get Parker’s gun; Parker may have even had his gun already drawn and the suspect somehow wrestled it away, or he may have grabbed it from Parker’s holster.

What is known is that Parker showed enough presence of mind after being mortally wounded to call 911 and describe the shooter.

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