Fresno police auditor Richard Rasmussen’s 2016 third quarter report makes several policy recommendations for the department, including one arising from the fatal officer-involved shooting of Dylan Noble by Fresno officers, as well as other use-of-force incidents in which the city’s officers were involved.
Noble, 19, was shot during a June 25 traffic stop near Shields and Armstrong avenues. A final report on the shooting, which prompted protests, has not been issued, although police Chief Jerry Dyer released video footage from police body cameras shortly after the incident.
In the report, Rasmussen notes that the officer pursuing Noble pointed his handgun at the fleeing vehicle through the windshield of his police car as he was driving. The auditor noted “there is a real issue with ‘bullet deflection’ with rounds fired through glass surfaces,” especially windshields, and requested the department review training.
Dyer, in a response requested by The Bee, noted that the officer “placed the handgun above the steering wheel in a ready position, but did not fire through the windshield.”
“Officers are trained to fire from their vehicle if an immediate threat is posed to them,” the chief wrote. “They are also made aware that firing through glass can result in diminished accuracy; however, it is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances.”
Rasmussen also made a recommendation concerning photographic evidence following all use-of-force incidents involving Fresno officers, urging that officers involved in such incidents be photographed, as are suspects.
In response, Dyer replied: “I do not agree that officers should be photographed in every instance in which they utilize force, unless there is a specific need or evidentiary value present.”
Use of force
In his report, the auditor made reference to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor, which he says “does not provide police with sufficient guidance on the use of force.”
“As a result, prosecutors … often find that a fatal shooting by an officer is not a crime, even though they may not consider the use of force proportional or necessary.
“FPD should adopt policies and training to hold themselves to an even higher standard, based on sound tactics, considerations of whether the use of force was proportional to the threat, and the sanctity of human life.”
Dyer responded: “Department policy is intended to provide guidelines for officers consistent with Graham v. Conner, but should not be overly restrictive or mandate an unachievable standard. However, the training provided to officers is at a much higher standard to ensure officers use deadly force only when necessary, even though it would be objectively reasonable to do so. On a daily basis, officers are confronted with situations where they would be justified in their use of deadly force, but choose other alternatives. This is due to the high level of training provided to them which is designed to enhance their decision-making ability while under stress.”
Rasmussen called for the Fresno Police Department to make de-escalation a formal policy. De-escalation is a police tactic of “slowing down” confrontations with upset or violent subjects, for example, by calling in supervisors or crisis intervention experts to calm the situation.
Dyer’s response: “De-escalation and the safety of officers is the foundation of department training. In lieu of incorporating this language into policy, de-escalation language and techniques are interwoven into every aspect of FPD training, whether dealing with a person suffering from mental illness or an emotionally charged person who is high on drugs.”
The auditor also called for the department to ban deadly force against anyone who poses a danger only to themselves. However, Dyer noted: “Current department policy only allows for an officer to used deadly force when their life, or the life of another person is in danger. Department policy does not allow an officer to use deadly force against a person who is only posing a threat to themselves. However, there are times when the person posing a danger to themselves can also pose a threat to officers and citizens.”