Concerns about Spokane police defense training

SPOKANE, Wash. — After four officer-involved shootings in the past 2 1/2 months in Spokane County, officer training is under scrutiny here.

Spokane lawyer Breean Beggs says police officers have dangerous jobs but questions whether the current training places too much emphasis on unlikely scenarios, and that may hurt public safety.

The concern is that “in training officers to protect themselves from the rare occasion when someone is out looking for them, they are (overlooking) training that is preventing officers from overreacting and killing citizens,” Beggs said.

“If you measure the effectiveness by the results, it doesn’t look good, currently,” Beggs added.

But Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich dismisses such a notion, suggesting that any community concerns are unwarranted and based on what he considers inflammatory media coverage that focuses only on negative aspects of law enforcement.

“That’s not even taking into consideration what the deputies face, and all the fact patterns behind it,” Knezovich said. “It’s easy to sit back and Monday morning quarterback.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently pledged $800,000 to help train police officers nationwide to learn to anticipate and survive violent encounters, citing the deadly 2009 ambush-style deaths of four officers in Lakewood, Wash.

In August, a county sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a pastor in Spokane Valley. The shooting is still under investigation. Police have said the pastor had a gun. His family says he was not dangerous.

“If we have noncompliance with verbal commands, that right away suggests that any movement toward the officer is to be viewed in a different light,” said firearms expert Thomas Aveni, executive director of the Police Policy Studies Council in Spofford, N.H. Aveni taught a class on deadly force at the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office about a year and a half ago.

Among the shootings raising concerns was one in September in which a State Patrol sergeant shot a 25-year-old pregnant woman. Days later, a man was fatally wounded while deputies responded to a domestic violence call.

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