What happens when police force turns deadly?
And in nearly all of the cases, investigators found the shootings to have involved justified use of deadly force by the officers involved. That's typical, according to Charles Reynolds, a retired New Hampshire police chief who is a national expert in the use of deadly force by police.
"The conduct may be lawful, it may be legal, but in the eyes of the public, it's not legitimate," he said. "And it's not legitimate if it's not explained to them."
"When one of these events occurs, the public has to be given assurances that it is being thoroughly investigated, and they have to be, from time to time, apprised of the investigation," he said. "This cloak of secrecy just exaggerates their idea that something is amiss here."
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery Strelzin said prosecutors and investigators are limited by the rules of professional conduct in what they can say about any open case.
"Obviously,'' he added, "no agency can effectively conduct a criminal investigation if it divulges the evidence it gathers before the investigation is complete."
Strelzin, who is chief of homicide, said the public needs to understand that police officers "have the absolute right to protect themselves."
Increase in numbers
According to a list provided by the Attorney General's Office, there were one or two police-involved shootings a year between 2002 and 2010. Then, in 2011, there were seven shootings, five of them fatal; in 2012, there were four, two of them fatal; and in 2013 six, three fatal.
"Yes, there's been an uptick, but is it a trend? That's something you can only answer when you look back from the future," he said.
"When I look at that chart, what it says to me is: Law enforcement is a dangerous profession," he said. "A person who's faced with a deadly-force situation has to make these split-second decisions to save themselves or others."
After decades in law enforcement in New Hampshire, Reynolds spent seven years in Northern Ireland working for an oversight commission on police reforms. He now monitors compliance with federal court orders for police departments that were investigated by the U.S. Justice Department for alleged violations of constitutional rights; most involve the use of force.
"Anytime you have a shooting situation where there's no gun involved, you really need to do that case expeditiously because there is going to be elevated public concern," Reynolds said.
That's why it's critical for a police agency to do its own administrative investigation to see whether all policies, procedures and training were followed, he said. Under the so-called "Garrity protection,'' officers involved in such reviews are required to answer all questions, but "those answers are excluded from use in a criminal prosecution," he said.
Deadly force is also justified if the officer is trying to arrest, or prevent the escape of, someone he "reasonably believes" has committed a felony involving force or violence; is using a deadly weapon to try to escape; or is likely to endanger or seriously injure someone unless apprehended quickly, according to RSA 627:5.
"They make the choices to engage in the behavior, and they make the choices to elevate the situation to a deadly-force situation."
Police agencies also need to review closely any shooting that does occur, she said. "Look at it and say, how can we do better? Even if it's justified, how can we do better?"
"A big component of use-of-force training is this whole notion of de-escalation when they're confronted with a situation, making sure the officer does what's necessary to try to lower the temperature instead of raising it," he said.
"They know they'll face criminal investigation by our office, then maybe civil lawsuits. It's not something a police officer wants to be involved in."
And he said he's found that officers in New Hampshire compare favorably with those in some of the country's biggest departments. But because deadly-force situations are rare here, police may be less prepared to deal with them when they do arise, he said.