Rate of police shootings tops numbers in major cities

Sheriff says criminals are more violent

Thursday's shooting of a theft suspect by a Richmond County sheriff's deputy is the third time Augusta officers have used their firearms so far this year.

Since Sept. 6, when a 22-year-old man was shot to death outside a Washington Road restaurant, officers have fired their weapons at people a total of five times, killing three men.

Based on population, Augusta has maintained a higher rate of police shootings than much larger cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

The rate of police shootings in Augusta over the past 12 months is 2.5 per 100,000 residents, which includes Thursday's shooting. It is the same rate The Augusta Chronicle calculated in November 2009 after a string of police shootings that began in 2008.

In New York, the rate of police shootings was 0.29 last year; in Los Angeles it was about 0.41 and in Miami, 0.24. One city with a higher rate is Spokane, Wash., at 3.5 because of seven shootings there since August.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength said the number of recent shootings by officers is directly linked to their encounters with increasingly violent suspects.

"We live in a much more violent society than we ever have, and that's not just locally," he said. Crime has lessened, but the suspects are more violent, he said.

About 6:30 a.m. Thursday, Deputy Bill Walker spotted a car that matched the description given to him the day before by a Kirk Place resident whose vehicle was stolen, Strength said.

Walker called for backup, but before another officer could reach his Bransford Road location, Walker shot 24-year-old David A. Dawkins as the suspect resisted arrest and aimed a handgun at him, Strength quoted his officer as saying.

Law enforcement expert Maria Haberfeld said violence in the United States is related to the proliferation of weapons. It might be time to look at what open access to weapons has done to the country, said the chairwoman of the department of law, police science and criminal justice at John Jay College in New York City.

New York City had 93 fatal police shootings in 1971, according to a recent article in The New York Times . In 2010, that number was eight.

Haberfeld said the drop in fatal shootings is attributed to more and better training, but it is also because of the heightened public scrutiny of police shootings.

Still, considering there are a half-million law enforcement officers in the U.S., it's surprising there aren't more such incidents, she said.

According to the first national study of its kind, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 1,540 people were killed by police officers between 2003 and 2006.

But only 14 percent of all law enforcement agencies had a fatal shooting in that time period.

Philip Sweeting -- a retired Boca Raton, Fla., officer who now consults and serves as an expert on use of force and other law enforcement issues -- said in an e-mail that the number of police shootings in Augusta might reflect a need for the department to examine the reasons for the incidents.

"There could be a number of reasons valid or otherwise ... "

The numbers alone don't necessarily mean there's a problem, Sweeting said, but if the department doesn't take a hard, objective look, no one will know for sure.

Strength said he believes his officers will be cleared in each shooting.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is in charge of looking into the Richmond County police shootings where people are wounded or killed.

Once investigations are completed, the cases are turned over to the district attorney.

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Most recent incidents

In the past six months, officers have fired at people in Augusta five times:

SEPT. 6: Kevin B. Pao, 22, was shot to death in the back seat of a patrol car by Deputy Walter Garrison who told investigators he shot an armed Pao during a struggle.

DEC. 8: Bobby Flippo, 34, was shot to death in the driver's seat of his vehicle by Deputy Corey Carlyle who told investigators an armed Flippo threatened to kill himself and his baby who was in the back seat of the car.

JAN. 16: Phillip Pope, 24, was shot and wounded at a Deans Bridge Road business by Deputy Austin Shepherd, who told investigators the burglary suspect, armed with a crowbar, struggled with him and tried to flee.

JAN. 31: Fredrick D. Hall, 23, was shot at but not wounded by two officers who reported an armed Hall fired at them after fleeing a pat-down search on London Boulevard.

FEB. 9: David A. Dawkins, 24, was shot and killed by Deputy Bill Walker, who told investigators an armed Dawkins aimed a gun at him while resisting arrest.