Our View: Police make right call

It's simple. The police responsibility to keep the public safe makes shooting at those using vehicles as weapons a dangerous business.

Knuckleheads at the wheel of vehicles they are using to ram police cars, run roadblocks or directly threaten officers on foot would seem to be prime candidates for deadly force in self-defense. But the rub is in the succinct explanation by Anchorage Chief of Police Mark Mew -- it's a dynamic situation with everyone moving and bullets flying. There's too much risk to innocent bystanders and other officers.

So now shooting at the drivers of vehicles made dangerous won't be the first option.

Mew, Sgt. Derek Hsieh of the police union and others believe there's a better way. Officers will receive training in the new response procedures to those who make weapons of their wheels, and while neither Mew nor Hsieh wants to describe those tactics in detail, they say the methods will be aggressive.

In general, police will aim to, as Mew put it, "contain and immobilize" the vehicle. In other words, respond with sufficient force and know-how to take a one-ton pickup out of play as a weapon.

That gives responding officers more control of the situation. If a suspect can't make a projectile of a stolen pickup, his options are fewer and arrest easier. Gunfire is much less likely, and the public and officers are safer, as are any passengers in the suspect's vehicle and, for that matter, the suspect himself. Deadly force will remain an option in extreme situations but the idea is to use smarter, more effective means.

Mew said the tactics are not tested here but have worked in other jurisdictions. He added that firing a weapon, while an option, isn't always the best way to control a volatile situation with the suspect at the wheel of a vehicle -- one that's often stolen. Mew wants to make sure that "we're not putting our socks on over our boots" when rushing to respond to that kind of incident.

Hsieh said police are changing what the military calls "rules of engagement." But this is policy, not an absolute. Police will train to carry out the new tactics but not every situation is the same, and police in the field will still have their full array of response options -- with sometimes only seconds to choose. As both officers stressed, bad actors should be under no illusions that their lives just got easier.

The aim is to catch the suspect and at the same time protect the public and cut the risk for everyone on the scene. That's the police doing their job.

BOTTOM LINE: APD makes good call on vehicles used as weapons.