It’s now been three days since the city of Chicago released videos from the fatal police shooting of Paul O’Neal.
The body and dash cam footage shows the chaotic moments before and after Chicago officers shot and killed the 18-year-old, who was attempting to flee in a stolen car.
Not captured on tape: the shot to the back that ultimately killed O’Neal.
Still, law enforcement experts, and average citizens, are drawing conclusions from the videos. Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former Baltimore city police officer, watched all nine videos and broke them down on his blog. We spoke to him about what he saw in the videos and why he calls it a “bad shooting.”
You spent hours going through this footage. What are your biggest takeaways from the police videos released?
I think the biggest takeaway is that the first officer who shot, shot too quickly and unreasonably. After that, the other officers on the scene can reasonably believe they’re getting shot at by this car thief and that changes everything. It turns out to be wrong but it’s entirely understandable.
Your blog post breaks down eight different ways the first officer messed up. Which one stands out to you the most?
First of all, he’s got his gun unholstered in the car, which is really odd that it’s in his hand. He leaves the car, looking like he’s ready to shoot, but he shoots blindly and wildly, and his first two shots are aimed almost directly at his partner on the other side of the car. Then he continues to shoot at this fleeing car as it’s driving away and he’s shooting right at another police car coming towards him. It’s bad shooting.
You call it a bad shooting, but can you also understand why he fires his weapon? It looks like O’Neal is actually driving his car right at the officer’s partner.
I understand why all the subsequent officers might’ve fired their weapon, I don’t understand why that first officer fired his weapon. The car is not coming at him, turns out it’s not coming at his partner. Even if it were coming at his partner, at that point, there’s no point in shooting. This is why it is against departmental regulations to shoot at a moving vehicle.
But everything changes to the other officers once they hear gun shots because they assume that it’s coming from the criminal, from the car thief. They don’t conceive of the fact that it’s their other officer who could be so stupid as to be firing blindly at the stolen car. It’s the type of overly aggressive, cowboy cop you wanna weed out, but unfortunately the system by and large isn’t set up to do that.
Some comments on your blog argue that the officers were inexperienced. Can the department get rid of them, and should they?
You have to raise standards for police officers but to do that you’re going to have to improve pay and working conditions and some of the negative attitude you’re getting toward the police. Right now we’re in a situation where cops are being criticized, sometimes correctly, but often incorrectly, and then we’re saying we want higher standards for cops. Well, who in their right mind is going to go out there in Chicago and police given the current situation?
We’re asking, in a way, too much, and we have no system in place that is going to improve the standards of policing. That’s what worries me most about the future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.