September 21, 2021 10:14

In Wake of Recent Police Killings of Adolescents, Calls for Improved Training

The recent killings by police officers of 13-year-old Adam Toledo and 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, as well as three other children in the three weeks between their highly-publicized deaths, has sparked new conversation around the long-standing question of how fatal police shootings of children could be avoided and lives spared, reports the Washington Post. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in April showed 55 percent of Americans said they were not confident that police are adequately trained to avoid excessive use of force—up from 52 percent last July and 44 percent in 2014. According to the Post’s Fatal Force database, 66 percent of the children who died in fatal police shootings were Black, Latino, Asian or Native American, compared to 44 percent of adults who were racial minorities. The database shows that the circumstances leading up to the shootings of children are varied, with about half beginning with a robbery, a traffic stop, a stolen car or a 911 call. Most of the incidents took place during daytime hours; only one appears to have involved alcohol use by the child; and 19 of the children were experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of the shooting.

Among the 112 deaths of children in the database, only five incidents have resulted in officers being criminally charged. In 66 percent of the database incidents involving children, there is no video documentation. Sometimes the only witnesses who support an officers’ contention that a shooting was justified are fellow officers at the scene. The database shows that children are frequently armed with a gun or knife during these fatal police encounters, but not as often as adults who die by police gunfire. Lawrence Miller, a clinical, forensic and police psychologist based in Palm Beach County, Fla., said that there is no national standard or set of protocols regarding how officers should handle encounters with children. He and other police training experts said they know of no academies or programs that offer specialized training to officers in this area, as they do for other segments of society, such as the mentally ill. Of the 112 people younger than 18 who have been fatally shot by police, according to The Post’s database, five were shot and killed by Columbus Police Department officers, the most of any single agency. Only nine other departments had multiple fatal shootings of children.

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