Police Chief on Officer-Involved Shootings - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

02/28/06

Police Chief on Officer-Involved Shootings

Chief Willie Lovett Chief Willie Lovett

For the second time in less than a week, an officer has fired his weapon at a person. Just before that shooting, around 7pm last night, someone shot and killed 65-year-old Nathaniel Black at Montgomery and 35th Streets. Police don't believe Black was the intended victim.

About four hours later, Officer Jorge Tupac-Yupanqui noticed a man acting suspiciously behind a restaurant at the corner of West Bay and MLK. He questioned the man and a struggle began.

Investigators say the man pulled a knife and lunged at the officer. Tupac-Yupanqui pulled his gun and fired twice, hitting the suspect at least once. He's in serious condition and the department placed placed Tupac-Yupanqui on administrative leave until the investigation is completed.

Did the earlier shooting affect Officer Tupac-Yupanqui? Are officers more prone to pull their guns now than before?

Willie Lovett is only the interim chief of the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, and has only been on that job since November, but he has already made bold predictions about taking back the city. And if that means taking out suspects who attack police officers, then he's in favor of it.

"We are paid to do a job and just as I've promised the public, that's what we're going to do," he said. "And if that means we're going to have to use lethal force to do it, we will."

Two officer-involved shootings in the last week may have shocked the public, but not Chief Lovett. Lovett says each shooting was warranted. "In both cases, all he had to do was comply with the officer's demands, none of this would have happened."

Lovett says criminals are more combative, less responsive and better armed than ever before. And that makes them even more dangerous to officers.

"They don't want to go to prison," he noted. "Most have been there before and they know what it's like. So they'll make every effort not to go in, and in some cases if that means shooting a police officer, that's what they'll do."

And what happened at Barrington and Montgomery Streets last week (Officer Shoots Armed Suspect) is the best example of an officer forced to use force on a suspect. Especially if it helps stop a crime in progress.

"He was making an attempt to rape somebody, what was the officer supposed to do?" asked Lovett. "And when the officer came upon him, the first thing he does is make an attempt to shoot the officer. Is the officer supposed to turn his back and walk away? No, I don't think so. It's not going to happen here."

Mayor Otis Johnson agrees with his police chief: if you are willing to fight the police, they will fight back. "Some people are going to challenge the police," he said. "We have to send a message that if they do, then they take their own lives into their hands."

And Chief Lovett says even though officers have dedicated their lives to protecting the public, they should not and will not have to sacrifice their own to do it. "If someone has a different view on how the officer should have handled that, I would like to see them come out here and face a suspect with a gun."

So far this year, Lovett's approach appears to be working, sort of. While crime in Savannah is down compared to last year, violent crime is up. But Lovett believes those numbers will only improve as the year goes on.

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

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