County lawmakers are nearly unanimous in their disapproval of a proposed state law calling on police officers to “shoot to wound” only.
Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, stands alone in her disagreement with the view that cops only do what they have to in a crisis.
Kimble supports a bill sponsored by state Assembly members Annette Robinson and Darryl Towns, both of Brooklyn, that would require police officers to shoot only to wound, not kill, a pursued person. The bill calls for a criminal charge, manslaughter, against any police officer who “intends” to kill a suspect.
The bill became a topic of discussion at the county courthouse this week when Legislator Paul Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda, proposed that county lawmakers go on record against it.
Wojtaszek, a former county and federal prosecutor, said the bill would “criminalize a police officer or peace officer doing their job.”
Requiring an officer to aim for a suspect’s arm or leg in the middle of a crisis is absurd, he said. The law supports police use of deadly force when officers are confronted with the same; otherwise they, or civilians, may end up dead, Wojtaszek said.
For proof, he cited the February 2009 incident in which Niagara Falls police officers Michael D. Bird and Walter R. Nichols were shot by a man who had just shot his girlfriend. The wounded officers returned fire to stop the attack. The attacker, Adam Hamilton, was stopped without being killed, and is now in prison.
“If this law were passed, I believe all three men involved in this incident would be dead now,” Wojtaszek said. “It suggests police officers have a Hollywood-type ability to shoot a gun out of a criminal’s hand (without hurting him). They don’t.”
Wojtaszek’s resolution echoes a June 8 letter by Sheriff James Voutour, to area state senators and Assembly members, also opposing the bill.
“(It) places all police officers in grave danger,” Voutour wrote.
Kimble sees the legislation differently. Requiring police officers to avoid using deadly force would make them “more accountable” for their actions — and the authority vested in them, she said.
Her view is inspired by the state attorney general’s ongoing investigation of residents’ “numerous” complaints of police brutality within the Niagara Falls Police Department. A report is expected within the next few months, and Kimble believes it will validate the complaints.
“Police officers may be trained, but too many times, they abuse their power,” Kimble said. “My colleagues live in a different world than I do, than (the shoot-to-wound bill sponsors) do. In my world, anything that decreases the power of the police department is a good thing.”
Wojtaszek’s resolution stating the county Legislature opposes the bill was passed on an 18-1 vote. Copies are to be sent to state Assembly and Senate leaders, as well as area state legislators.