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Gun-toting off-duty cops taking more shots at crime
By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 11/03/2007 12:11:05 AM PDT

Last year, an off-duty Los Angeles cop was at the Pavilions market in Sherman Oaks when Jonathan F. Reyes walked in and pointed a gun at a clerk.

Reyes took cash from one clerk and then moved to another. But that's when the officer - armed with a concealed gun - shot Reyes.

Reyes, 24, of North Hollywood pleaded no contest last month to two counts of second-degree robbery and was sentenced to 14 years in state prison, District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.

While the case highlights how off-duty officers carrying weapons can help thwart crimes, it also is one of a growing number of off-duty shootings involving the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Since 2000, LAPD officers have been involved in 68 off-duty shootings. Last year alone, there were 14 off-duty shootings - up from just six the previous year. Nine of the cases involved injuries.

In the same period, sheriff's officers have been involved in 41 off-duty shootings. Last year, there were seven - up from just four the previous year. Two of the cases involved injuries.

The increase comes as law enforcement officers nationwide have come under increased scrutiny for off-duty shootings and officials try to determine whether it reflects a larger trend.

"We're not sure what the increase is due to," LAPD Officer April Harding said. "It's possibly related to the fact there is more violence out there and
more robbery incidences.

"There are more crimes in which officers have to utilize their guns."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the number of off-duty shootings has fluctuated in recent years, with the department recording eight in 2001.

"Obviously, the Sheriff's Department takes these cases very seriously, and there is always a shooting review," Whitmore said. "These shootings are looked at from top to bottom.

"But it's not a spike. And don't forget that the sheriff's policy says if you have your badge, you can have your gun."

Most of the recent shootings have been similar to the Pavilions incident, with armed off-duty officers foiling everything from car burglaries and bank robberies to drive-by shootings.

But in the past decade, several off-duty shootings - including ones involving intoxicated officers - have resulted in discipline and legal payouts.

Last year, the city of Los Angeles paid $1.4million to the son of a Woodland Hills man, Christopher Oliver, who was shot and killed by off-duty LAPD Sgt. Steven Ulrich, according to court records.

The incident occurred in July 2000 when Oliver drove into several parked vehicles near his home, Woodland Hills attorney Larry Grassini wrote in court records.

Ulrich, a neighbor, called 911 and then ran to the scene, Grassini wrote. According to a 911 tape, Ulrich shot through the front windshield six times, missing Oliver, Grassini wrote.

He then went to the passenger side and fired three more rounds through the window, killing Oliver, Grassini wrote.

Before settling the case, city representatives argued that Oliver tried to flee the scene and attempted to evade arrest by putting his vehicle in reverse.

But Grassini said the car was inoperable and Oliver was trapped inside. Ulrich was not disciplined, Grassini said.

Today, Grassini said officers need better training in the use of off-duty weapons.

"The policy should be that you don't take your gun out unless it's a very, very unusual circumstance and you are actually protecting yourself and others," Grassini said.

LAPD and Sheriff's Department officers are allowed to carry weapons off duty, but are required to undergo periodic weapons-training courses.

Police officers are expected to follow the same policies and procedures off duty as they do while on duty.

"A crime can occur anywhere, anytime and anyplace," LAPD Lt. Roger Mora said. "And we know that when crimes occur, suspects are often armed with knives and other deadly weapons."

Michael Gennaco, chief attorney of the Office of Independent Review that oversees internal investigations at the Sheriff's Department and makes disciplinary recommendations, said a "significant proportion" of officers carry concealed guns at least for some portion of their off-duty hours.

Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, who provides semiannual reports to the county Board of Supervisors about the Sheriff's Department, said it is fine for officers to carry concealed weapons off duty as long as they are capable of fully performing their duties.

"My concerns relate to situations where officers are inebriated and have their guns," Bobb said. "If they are inebriated, or even had a bit too much to drink, those are the situations where having a gun is dangerous and the risks outweigh the benefits."

In 1996, a federal jury awarded $750,000 to the family of a Rowland Heights man who was killed by an intoxicated, off-duty sheriff's deputy.

In Bobb's 1997 report, he analyzed 28 off-duty shootings from 1993 to 1996 and found that six involved deputies who had been drinking.

But Whitmore and Bobb said they are unaware of any similar cases in recent years.

The first shooting by an off-duty sheriff's deputy last year involved an intruder who broke into the deputy's home in October and threatened him.

The deputy pulled his gun and shot twice, hitting the suspect once. The suspect fled to a nearby hospital where he was arrested, Whitmore said.

In December, an off-duty deputy was in his front yard in Van Nuys with some friends when gang members drove up, asked him where he was from and started shooting after the deputy said he was a law enforcement officer, officials said.

The deputy returned fire, injuring one of the gang members.

Both cases are under administrative review, Whitmore said.

The LAPD cases last year were similar, mostly involving off-duty officers who used their guns to defend themselves or the public.

In one case in May, off-duty LAPD Detective Won Chu foiled a car burglar after he fired a warning shot when the man tried to enter his car while he was parked in front of his West Covina home, police said.

It is kind of scary that that many things happen that have to be dealt with by off duty leo. It just goes to show that the police (on duty) are rarely at the site to protect someone when something is going down. Now, however, there are people that think LEO should not be allowed to carry guns unless they are on assignment. This, of course, does not surprise me. While it's obvious that concealed carry guns can stop crime while in progress, there are people that don't think this should be allowed. Of course, no one, including LEO should be drinking while armed. I suppose it's obvious more training in firearms would help us all.

Thanks for the post.
I agree Dr. David, especially regarding drinking while carrying. More training and more reminders for our officers is needed but that means more officers to be able to take them off the street for the training.

With regard to us, the armed citizen...

In my state, threat of death or substantial bodily harm must be eminent before the use of deadly force is justified. That is the only time the use of a weapon is justifiable... your weapon is not to be used as a threat and not to be used as a warning!

None of us should be playing "cop" and I don't believe that it was anyone's intent to say we should. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is to just be a good witness. Deadly force is our last option, but not our only option!

In addition to our weapons training, I think its a good idea to add weaponless defense training to our resources. Carrying some OC isn't a bad idea either. And of course, a cellular is a must these days.

To me, being fully prepared, not just to save yourself but to help one another is the American way! :D
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Man beat to death with cell phone. The police have gone the way of less than lethal means to stop perps. I was trained to give a warning before shooting. This may defuse the sittuation before firing. Is it common cense ? Will common cense even apply to a shooting. Walk softly and carry a big stick.

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