Idaho News

Idaho's 6 fatal police shootings this year are on par with 2017 - and it's only April

Man in hospital after police shot him New Years Day morning

Police are still in the early stages of investigation, but Eugene Smith, Boise Police deputy chief of operations, speaks to media about what officers know now about the shooting on South Wild Phlox Way near Cole Road.
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Police are still in the early stages of investigation, but Eugene Smith, Boise Police deputy chief of operations, speaks to media about what officers know now about the shooting on South Wild Phlox Way near Cole Road.

Idaho law enforcement officers killed six people in confrontations throughout both 2016 and 2017.

This year, the state has already tied that figure — by March.

That's according to a database of fatal officer-involved shootings compiled by the Idaho Statesman. The tallies go back to 2000. In that time, only two years have exceeded the current total, with seven shootings each recorded in 2007 and 2015.

One more fatal shooting this year would match those peaks. Two more shootings would set a new record for these two decades.

This year's shootings have included an armed man accused of killing a woman at the scene, and a man said to have pointed a gun at a woman and himself during a traffic stop. Incidents were reported in Boise, Nampa, Sandpoint, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho Falls and Gooding.

In all six cases, the person officers shot was armed with a firearm, a knife or pepper spray, according to police.

The rate puts Idaho on par with national trends, said former Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney, who now works as a criminal justice consultant.

According to the Washington Post, as of April 5, 348 people had been shot and killed by police nationwide in 2018. That's 37 more fatal shootings this year than at the same time last year.

While six deaths is too many, Raney said, Idaho still has seen a fairly low number of fatal shootings per capita compared to national statistics.

Raney couldn't comment on the specific new Idaho shootings. But he stressed that more stringent training in de-escalating a situation and avoiding a confrontation can help reduce their occurrence.

That can be an added challenge in rural areas, which often lack the resources of their big-city counterparts, he said. Some agencies, such as his former sheriff's office, do their own additional training on top of the state police academy that every officer attends. Rural areas may not be able to provide that, he said. Additionally, rural agencies often have fewer officers on duty at one time, meaning fewer quick options for backup.

Raney also said he sees Idaho's suicide rate as related, noting that sometimes people threaten officers because they are attempting to "commit suicide by cop." Idaho consistently has one of the highest suicide rates in the country — the eighth highest in 2016, the most recent year available.

That appeared to be a factor in a 2016 shooting involving Ada County sheriff's deputies. Lee Easter, 53, was shot and killed by deputies responding to a 911 call. Dispatchers had received reports of a suicidal, armed man in the home.

Idaho State Police has not yet released its statewide crime report for 2017, making it a challenge to determine whether crime rates are also increasing.

But, Raney said violence against law enforcement officers is up nationwide this year. The National Peace Officers Memorial, as of April 26, reported that officer fatalities were up by 2 percent when compared to the same date in 2017, with 45 officers killed this year.

Idaho hasn't seen any officer deaths in 2018, but on Feb. 27, Coeur d'Alene Police Officer Charles Hatley was shot in the abdomen while attempting to arrest a man for an outstanding felony warrant, according to the Spokesman-Review. Hatley and the officers with him returned fire, killing gunman Curtis B. Ware. Hatley survived his injuries.

All of Idaho's 2018 officer-involved shootings are still under investigation, except for the death of Shane McVey, in which an Idaho Falls police officer was cleared of wrongdoing.

The Washington Post calculated Idaho as having 3.67 fatal officer-involved shootings per 1 million people so far in 2018. All of its neighboring states but Montana had lower rates; the lowest was Washington with .71 shootings per 1 million people.

"We should be concerned, but it is early to draw conclusions," Raney said.

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