Arizona Republic Richard Ruelas

Changing orders for police shootings

Nov. 18, 2002

General Order #106

To: Valley police departments.

Subject: Shootings of citizens.

Policy: This policy is intended to ensure officers avoid negative situations that can arise from discharging their weapons into citizens. It is being re-stated and re-issued in light of the firing of former Chandler Officer Dan Lovelace. He was dismissed from the force after an Oct.11 shooting involving Dawn Rae Nelson, a White female, now deceased.


A) The shooting of citizens should, if at all possible, be mainly restricted to poor minorities. It should be fairly obvious that the general population has a much harder time relating to, say, a strung-out junkie than they do a nice, blond-haired mother of two, living in suburbia. Not to suggest public pressure doesn't exist when the victim is Black or Latino, but it is not as effective.

B) Hunker down. After a weapon discharge, stay as close as possible to other officers who arrive to secure the scene. Do not talk to civilians or let any emotion show. Officers share a kindred spirit and will be your best defense. Remember, investigators initially found that Lovelace's shooting was justified, as per routine. But public and political pressure led to the subsequent lightning-speed investigation and Lovelace's dismissal and indictment.

C) Take extreme care to avoid dispassionate eyewitnesses. If at all possible, make sure the shooting takes place out of sight of anyone who could come forward with a differing account of events. If possible, make sure the shooting happens in a private area. If a subject is encountered in a doorway, best to move the subject inside before firing. Kitchens are good.

Special Circumstances: Relatives of the victim are fine as witnesses because their accounts will be seen by the public as being too emotional anyway. It will be their word against that of the officer. It is the witnesses with no agenda that are trouble. Especially if that witness is a video or still camera.

D) Shoot on weekends. Preferably on Saturday night. That is the best chance to avoid the incident being covered by the media, which could lead to public interest, which could be dangerous. A picture of the Nelson shooting, for example, ended up on the front page of the local newspaper. It was then discussed ad nauseam on talk radio. This fired up the populace and got them to question our tactics.

E) Don't speak until spoken to. There will be, of course, an interview with your colleagues. Most likely, they will lead you down a path. Say little until you are sure of that path. Wait for leading questions.

Examples: "Could the gun have gone off accidentally?" "At that point, did you feel your life was in danger?"

In conjunction with the issuance of this General Order, it has also been considered wise to issue the following:

General Order #106-A.

Subject: Uninvolved officers' response to police shootings.


A) After a shooting, especially a high-profile one, the public might ask why officers rally to protect our own.

If questioned by a member of the public, an officer should mention that police work involves putting your life on the line every day, and that kind of sacrifice tends to form a tight brotherhood with others involved in the same line of work, who face the same risks.

It may sound trite and clich‚. But it is the truth. And it bears repeating as often as humanly possible.

Reach Ruelas at (602) 444-8473 or at

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