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Shootings by officers are rising
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Area police have used lethal force against 10 people this year - an increase of 150 percent from incidents the past two years.

Although more than four months remain in the year, 2007 has outpaced 2005 and 2006 in fatal officer-involved shootings; the region saw four justifiable homicide cases each of those years, according to figures kept by The Salt Lake Tribune.

Salt Lake City police officers have fatally shot three men this year - the most recent killing being Saturday.

In February, an off-duty Ogden officer and four Salt Lake City officers exchanged gunfire with a man who killed five people at Trolley Square.

Two other Ogden officers have fatally wounded two suspects. West Valley City police have killed two people, including a man shot outside a 7-Eleven at 4807 W. 3500 South on Wednesday. West Jordan, Centerville, Layton and Midvale officers have been involved in one fatal shooting each, according to a Tribune count.

"The crimes we are seeing are the same we have seen all along. [But] suspects are now deciding to confront the police with a handgun," Ogden police Lt. David Tarran said.

"Crime is cyclical, it goes up and down. I think we are in an upswing right now, but it will come down," he said.

Police utilize several nonlethal tools to subdue a suspect, including batons, Tasers, pepper spray, and bean bag and foam rounds fired from a shotgun.

As many of those nonlethal tools became more widely used nationwide in the mid-1990s, justifiable homicides have generally been on the decline, said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

Justifiable homicides peaked at 462 nationwide in 1994, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2005, 343 justifiable homicides were recorded nationwide. In the past 10 years, fatal officer-involved shootings have declined 13 percent nationwide.

Nationally, cities are reporting increased gang activity among juvenile members, who may be the most trigger-happy when confronted by police, Fox said.

"We do know that nationally, gun violence is up," he said.

Still, local law enforcement officials warn that an apparent upswing in fatal shootings involving police does not indicate an immediate problem.

"I wouldn't read into the numbers too much," said Jared Wihongi, a Salt Lake City police spokesman.

Officers are trained to protect themselves and the public, which may mean using lethal force, he said. That training also includes placing police cadets in high-stress real world situations.

"When someone points a gun at you, you don't have time to determine if it was a real gun or a fake gun," Wihongi said.

Officers are often faced with making split-second, life-altering decisions, he said.

"Officers don't go to work wanting to kill anyone," Wihongi said. "They are victims of these incidents too. It can be a traumatic experience."

ngonzalez@sltrib.com

10 suspects have been killed this year - an increase of 150 percent over all of last year
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