The fatal shooting of Daniel Hambrick last month as he ran from a Nashville police officer has reanimated questions about Metro Police’s policy governing the use of deadly force, particularly in cases when an officer is chasing after a suspect.
Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson says he's asked the department's training academy to review the protocols for foot pursuits, following the killing of Hambrick and last year's fatal shooting of Jocques Clemmons by another Nashville police officer. Both men were fleeing when they were shot, and in both instances, police claimed they'd been carrying a gun.
The guidance that Nashville police currently receive about whether to use deadly force during foot pursuits can be scant. While there are a number of mentions of fleeing suspects in the 1,100 page handbook, there are more detailed sections on the handling of car chases and the use of Tasers.
“That’s not uncommon,” says William Tirell from Arizona State University, who was part of a research team that conducted one of the most comprehensive national studies on use of force policy.
“Local policy is specified exhaustively when it comes to vehicle pursuits, but that same amount of guidance is not given when it comes to responding to foot pursuits.”
Police are governed by two sets of rules when it comes to use of force. The first is what's legally required. The second is departmental policy. While law and policy can be different, a policy cannot allow an action that violates the law.
“Shooting a suspect in the back is not warranted and it is unreasonable, and the Supreme Court has said that,” says Tirell.
One section on Metro’s handbook describes four conditions that must be met in order to use deadly force "on a fleeing felon":
- There has to be probable cause of a felony involving serious bodily injury.
- There has to be a belief that the suspect continues to pose a threat.
- The officer has to identify himself and give warning.
- And all other options of stopping them must have been exhausted.
Whether Andrew Delke had just cause on all four guidelines when he shot Daniel Hambrick in the back is unclear.
It's also not certain that Hambrick would have even been considered a fleeing felon. Footage does not show the Metro officer initiating a traffic stop on Hambrick. Instead, video shows that Hambrick had emerged from a vehicle and was walking through a parking lot of the John Henry Hale Apartments before Delke arrived on the scene and that Hambrick took off as soon as he spotted Delke.
The TBI has said that the officer saw the car Hambrick was in driving erratically earlier in the day, but authorities have stopped short of calling the incident a traffic stop.
The specifics of the situation could be important in deciding whether Delke was acting within department policy or took actions that he shouldn't have. Delke could have more discretion to use force if he can prove that he thought his life was in danger when Hambrick turned to look back if he thought he was going to shoot, says Tirell.
Metro Police’s policy manual seems to say that explicitly:
“Authorized employees may use deadly force when they have a reasonable belief that the action is immediately necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury of a human being, including the employee.”
Tirell says that sort of caveat is not unusual. Protocol is often written in a way that allows for a wide degree of discretion because it’s impossible to predict every situation officers might find themselves in.
But, he says, it's important for departments to provide enough guidance that officers clearly know what the use-of-force rules are so they don't have to make those decisions.
And police officers tend to agree. His research has found that most welcome clear guidelines, and with more rules in place, officers use less deadly force.