Tennessee law enforcement officers fired their weapons a total of 234 times in the line of duty during a five year period, said a recently released Tennessee Bureau of Investigation study recommending improvements in training.
“Tennessee Law Enforcement Officers: A Study in Deadly Force and Shooting Incidents” was conducted to investigate the impact of these incidents on individual officers, the departments and the law enforcement community, according to the authors. It didn’t address impacts on communities and other involved parties.
The research was gathered through interviews, surveys and roundtable with officers and agencies involved in shootings. Specific comments, or facts about the shooting incidents were not disclosed to allow the officers and departments to remain anonymous.
Of the responding agencies, 206 were police departments, 75 were sheriff departments, and the remaining 14 were agencies such as the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Highway Patrol.
About 50 percent of survey respondents indicated a need for better use-of-force training.
Annual deadly force training was reportedly conducted by 72 percent of the survey-responding agencies, semi-annual training by 14 percent and seven percent reported reviewing their policies quarterly. Annual firearms training was conducted by 57 percent of the agencies, while 26 percent train semi-annually and 12 percent bimonthly or quarterly.
Among the suggestions from officers, better methods are needed for dealing with mentally ill suspects, which was identified as a growing problem for officers.
A desire to have more local law-enforcement agency control over the disposal of seized weapons was also expressed by departments. While some departments sell or trade seized weapons, other officials said they felt they should do more to keep the weapons off the streets, though participants weren’t eager to suggest stricter gun laws, according to the study.
“Although participants in several regions were loath to advocate for any stricter gun laws, some participants resented the fact that current state law does not permit them to destroy seized weapons,” reported the study. “Some jurisdictions have no problem with selling or trading seized weapons while others, mostly representing larger cities, said that they would rather destroy guns than risk having a gun that they had sold be used in a subsequent crime. A law could be proposed which would allow some discretion in how seized weapons are disposed of based on the situation in the local community.”
Several departments reported that their inability under current state law to destroy seized weapons has caused them to waste storage space “stockpiling” seized weapons.
The Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System reports more than three-and-a-half million offenses committed in Tennessee during the time period of 2007-2011. Suspects used a gun against officers in 764 incidents, and 234 incidents involved police using a weapon against suspects, according to the study.
Of the 295 responding agencies, 84 reported having “at least one officer involved shooting,” defined in the report as “incidents where officers pulled a weapon or actually fired their firearm against another person.”
One agency had 64 shooting incidents, one had 39 incidents, one had 13, and another had six; five agencies had four incidents, three had three incidents, 11 had two incidents, 65 agencies had one incident and 207 had no incidents to report.
Although no impairment was reported in 118 incidents, drug impairment was reported on 32 of the occasions, alcohol impairment on 25 occasions and mental health issues were identified in another 25 incidents.
The TBI survey also found that “a disproportionate number of minorities…are involved in deadly force encounters with police.” It reported that “of the 234 incidents reported by Tennessee Law Enforcement agencies, the suspects were Caucasian in 120 incidents (51.3 percent), African American in 108 (46.7 percent) incidents and no answer in six occasions.”
Lawsuits against officers or agencies were filed in 20 cases, and the study offered no further information on any incidents involving legal action or whether or not the shootings were later determined to have been justified. The study did not report how many of those incidents resulted in injuries or deaths.
The TBI next intends to review training available to law enforcement agencies to identify the best methods to improve training. The study also recommends agencies consider upgrading “media relations” training to improve communications with the general public.