Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jul 1999
Source: New Haven Register (CT)
Copyright: 1999, New Haven Register
Author: Nicholas Pastore


What's the system going to do about Victoria Cooper?

They'll say she was a druggie. They're already pleased to say that about her

They'll say something. They always do. Cops kill an unarmed civilian. Cops
make up a story.

We're now seeing it for the sixth time in just 12 months in Connecticut.
What story will exonerate the North Branford officer who killed Cooper on
Route 80 at 1:30 a.m. Monday? And more importantly - will the
criminal-justice system's leaders yet again buy the story and let the cops
off the hook?

I'm thinking specifically of two people: New Haven State's Attorney Michael
Dearington and Dr. Henry Lee, the state police chief.

They both went to great lengths when an East Haven cop shot to death an
unarmed civilian named Malik Jones. Lee trotted out his manikin for a
re-enactment. Dearington performed an "exhaustive" investigation. And they
bought the line that somehow a cop was justified in racing up to a car,
blasting an unarmed person to death through the window from the side of the
vehicle. They bought this theory that the car was moving in an unusual angle
that posed a threat to the life of the officer - more of a threat to the
officer's life than the backwards way we've been training our cops to handle
tense situations.

Cooper, like Jones, was not only unarmed, but without any drugs on her
person, according to initial reports. So the cops are already talking about
how she kept company with a druggie, just as they spoke about Jones'
connection to the drug world. As if that can explain cops taking a life in
these situations. So, if she were covered with drugs, would that have made
her a legitimate target for execution?

In this case, the cops talk about how Cooper's boyfriend had drugs in the
car and ran away. So they had to shoot the girlfriend? Will Dearington and
Lee buy it?

Their reactions will send an important message. Gov. John Rowland,
Waterbury's state's attorney, and the state legislature have taken serious
steps to re-examine the violent and dehumanizing approach to policing
demonstrated in the recent spate of police killings and publicized racial

In just the past few weeks in Riverside, Calif., and Chicago,, cops lost
their jobs for wrongly killing civilians, including a sleeping woman in a
car. We cannot tolerate rogue policing - or deadly miscalculations by
perhaps decent people who have no business wearing the badge - because we
haven't trained them properly.

Just review the national headlines for the past year or two. From
Connecticut and New York to Chicago and California - and many points
between - cops are out of control. Too many cops are shooting too many
citizens without enough warning or apparent justification. And most of them
are getting away with it.

Lee can apparently tolerate it. Dearington apparently can. They're good men
I've worked with in the past as a police chief. But I fought unsuccessfully
to convince Dearington to seriously examine the conduct of cops who kill.
Even now, in the wake of bloodshed, neither Dearington nor Lee sensed or
communicated the urgent need for action. So in Greater New Haven, the cops
are still getting the wrong message.

This is an injustice to the business of policing. It's up to the system's
leaders to shape the rules, the parameters of policing. You don't carry an
attitude of: "You're not getting away from me. Take that!"

You don't fight a war against people of color, or people you believe are
involved with drugs. Nobody wins that war. Including the cops.

Cooper and the other victims of police killings are dying because of
officers' predisposition about suspects, whom they stereotype.

They're killing as well because their police chiefs and state's attorney and
statewide leaders like Lee aren't insisting that such actions are
inexcusable. They're not pushing the idea of requiring every cop who shoots
a gun while on duty should sit down with the chief and re-examine the event.
What could the officer have done differently?

Meaningful new, intensive training is key to avoiding some of this
bloodshed. So is disciplinary action - firing cops who jeopardize civilians'
lives. Both of these solutions must come from the top. Or are we going to
explain away Victoria Cooper's death, too, as one more anomaly?

Nicholas Pastore, a retired New Haven police chief, runs the Connecticut
office of the Washington-based Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

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