EDITORIAL: Police shootings are dark start to the new year

EDITORIAL: Police shootings are dark start to the new year

There have been three fatal shootings by police in the first three weeks of the new year. Much attention has been focused on the killing of 19-year-old Mubarak Soulemane by a state trooper on Jan. 15 in West Haven, which has raised protests by Soulemane’s family and members of the African American clergy in New Haven.

Soulemane, who reportedly had mental health problems, carjacked a vehicle in Norwalk and was pursued at high speeds by state police on Interstate 95. He collided with two police cruisers and a civilian’s vehicle, officials said. Once off the highway, police surrounded his car. When he “displayed a knife,” Trooper Brian North fired multiple shots into the car. Other troopers at the scene did not fire.

If there’s one encouraging sign in this tragic situation, it’s the fact that the usual protocols that are followed in such cases seem to be evolving. The investigation will be led by Middlesex State’s Attorney Michael Gailor, not by the state police.

Soulemane’s family has gone further, seeking a federal investigation. They also want North suspended, not just assigned to desk duty. But North is entitled to due process.

One New Haven clergyman said Commissioner James Rovella of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection promised more training for troopers on de-escalating situations, and on implicit racial bias. He also said Rovella vowed more efforts to increase diversity within the state police.

That is an encouraging sign, and could signal changes to come under the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont.

But the Soulemane case, and other police shootings, raise a number of questions:

Granted that police have found that stun guns are often ineffective on an agitated person, are there no policies or tactics — short of fatal gunshots — that would subdue a suspect who is completely hemmed in by armed police officers, as was the case of Soulemane?

Were official policies followed regarding the high-speed chase on I-95? Norwalk police had already called off their pursuit of Soulemane for reasons of public safety before the troopers took over.

Are Connecticut police officers sufficiently trained in methods of de-escalation during confrontations with subjects who may become violent?

We hope that under Rovella, some of these questions will be answered.

We expect police officers to go out every day and face untold challenges and dangers, to put their lives on the line for the rest of us. For this they deserve and receive praise. But we must be sure to give them every tool that can help them do that job with as little bloodshed as possible.

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