I have watched Chicago PD’s officer-involved shooting video from October 2014. A few things come to mind about the totality of the circumstances. Officers are responding to a commercial burglary call where a suspect was detained by a citizen, but is now on foot in the urban area. The suspect is armed with a knife. He is now evading police on the street.
The suspect sprinted through a fast food restaurant parking lot, stabbed the front tire of a police car, and damaged the windshield of another. If you forward to 4:53 in the video time (not the PD time stamp), you get to the perspective of a cruiser entering the scene. At about 5:06, the suspect can be seen cutting through the Burger King.
The marked CPD Tahoe following the suspect at 5:15 has the subject officer, Jason Van Dyke, in the passenger side of the squad. They are shadowing the fleeing suspect. Ofc. Van Dyke opens his door briefly at 5:20, but refrains from exiting.
At 5:28, the suspect is seen running down the road when he moves within 10 feet of an occupied police SUV, the driver of which maneuvers to get away from him. Seconds later, at a brisk walk, he comes to within 12 feet of two officers, one of whom is Van Dyke, who have exited their vehicle with guns drawn.
From a police training perspective, we are taught that at 21 feet, a person armed with a knife can close the reactionary gap and kill an officer. The suspect was well within that 21 feet of both cops. At 5:28 and 5:30 in the video time, you can see the flash of the knife’s blade in the suspect’s right hand and his aggressive swagger. At 5:32, the suspect’s shoulders turn toward the officers.
CPD has said that the suspect was given numerous orders to stop and drop his knife. An officer’s command to drop a weapon is not a suggestion. Failure to obey has consequences. This shooting could have been avoided if the suspect complied with police.
From the video of the police car entering the area, we had seen that it is an urban street environment with people on foot, in houses and businesses, and in vehicles. An armed felon, who has already disregarded lawful orders to stop, poses a serious threat to innocent citizens. How far should he be allowed to range?
My agency had an incident in the mid-80’s where an armed felon was walking free in a residential neighborhood. He had briefly held an officer hostage. Heedless of police orders, he made his way toward a major roadway as officers kept readjusting their perimeter around him as the suspect walked. The situation ended when the bad guy pointed his pistol at an officer, who shot and killed the armed suspect after a mile of “mobile negotiations.”
The consensus following our shooting was that an armed, aggressive suspect poses an immediate danger to all citizens and must not be allowed to leave a police perimeter on foot with a weapon. I think this very situation was what CPD confronted, as shown by the in-car video. The fact that the Chicago suspect had PCP in his system was irrelevant. His own decisions that night escalated the law enforcement response.
As to whether the officer was guilty of murder because he fired 16 rounds, how many bullets does it take to neutralize the threat? The Chicago suspect was still moving, still armed. Here is a graphic video that shows that shooting a suspect is not always effective.
Cops are human beings. I have personally been at scenes with colleagues who exhibited differing reactions to the stresses. At an officer-involved shooting, one of my guys wanted badly to unload his gun to see how many bullets he had expended (of course we did not allow it). At another OIS, an officer I questioned had clear recall of his movements and reload, while a second officer was numb and rather blank following the gunfire.
I know of a call where an officer “froze” and allowed a knife-wielding perp to move past and into a crowded restaurant. Fortunately for everyone, the manager ejected the person, preventing bloodshed. But the officer’s inaction brought much criticism.
In my professional opinion, Chicago Ofc. Jason Van Dyke did not commit a “first degree murder.” From watching the video, I can see Ofc. Van Dyke articulating a justified fear for his safety and the safety of others in the area at the time of the shooting.