June 10, 2013
Albemarle County's police chief is opening up about the three officer-involved shootings that have taken place in Albemarle County since December.
In a one-on-one interview on Monday, chief Steve Sellers said his department hasn't handled any of the investigations into the recent incidents, which is why information is often slowly released, but he says the department is doing what it can to wrap them up and get the truth out.
"Like you, I'll be waiting on details and information as that develops," Sellers said.
Virginia State Police are handling the investigation into Saturday morning's officer-involved shooting in Afton, where one person was fatally shot. State police also handled December's shooting on Rio Mills Road, while Charlottesville Police are handling the investigation into the May 26 shooting on Birdwood Court.
"Any time a police officer uses deadly force and somebody is killed, you're essentially conducting a homicide investigation," Sellers said.
The internal investigation involves looking into what brought officers to the scene in the first place and whether proper procedures were followed.
"What I'm most concerned about, quite honestly, is the aggressive assaults against police officers," Sellers said.
The number of cases involving assaults against Albemarle County police officers has risen from four in 2011 to 11 in 2012. The number of people resisting arrest has tripled, from three in 2011 to nine in 2012.
"The reality of it is this is dangerous work that we choose," Sellers said. "It does wear on the family and it does wear a little bit on our peers here in the organization."
Sellers said the department has an "aggressive stance" to look at alternatives to firing a weapon in a dangerous situation.
Brian Flick, an associate professor of police science at Piedmont Virginia Community College, said police officers must make difficult decisions in unsettling circumstances.
"Let's face it. When you're in a life and death situation, that's bound to be stressful on everybody," he said.
Flick said having officers put in realistic training scenarios is key to teaching them when it's appropriate to fire a weapon. Sellers said officers can use deadly force when under reasonable believe the action is in defense of human life -- whether it's theirs or another's.
"If that situation is presented to the officer, he or she is not only making a rational decision but is making it as calm as can be," Flick said.
That's one reason why Sellers has been a proponent of building a new gun range and training facility for police officers in Albemarle County.
"It puts them in situations where they have to make that critical decision in a split second," he said.
Sellers said about 75 percent of his officers have received some sort of training in crisis intervention. He said that kind of training could lead to fewer opportunities for the use of deadly force.