I-Team: Police Encounter Armed Suspects More Often

Ed. Note: The national debate about gun violence and gun control has generated strong emotions on all sides following the recent tragedies in Connecticut and Colorado. Should Americans' Second Amendment rights be restricted in the interests of public safety, or is gun violence something that no law could curb? This is Part 11 of Guns of Nevada.

LAS VEGAS -- Officer-involved shootings are among the most controversial shootings that happen in Las Vegas.

Suave Lopez, Trevon Cole and Erik Scott are three men who had little in common other than how their lives ended. The three were killed by police. Their deaths were controversial and eventually resulted in changes to the coroner's inquest system that remain unsettled to this day.

Dig deeper into the numbers and one finds certain patterns with recent officer-involved shootings.

"When you are doing stories on these shooting scenes, and you see all the little cones out there, those are spent casings. Those are discharged rounds. Where 15 to 20 years ago, you wouldn't see those cones out there the way you do today. So you know, being a police officer today is a more dangerous job than it was when I started in this business. A lot of it has to do with the weaponry the criminal element has," said Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.

The number of people shot by Metro Police with prior violent criminal convictions spiked to 67 percent in 2011, the last year with complete records. The numbers of officer-involved shootings go up and down with no clear pattern, except for one increasing trend. More of the suspects shot at by Metro Police are dying. The likely reason is police now fire more rounds during each officer-involved shooting, a Metro police study found.

Metro's study shows a disproportionate share of people shot by officers in past years were African Americans. Chris Collins leads the Police Protective Association.

"It's not the police who control the number of officer-involved shootings that we have, it is the suspects that control that. We respond with deadly force when confronted with a situation that warrants deadly force," Collins said.

There's a dangerous trend for police in Nevada. More people are shooting at them.

"That number is alarmingly high for me and the men and women we represent," Collins said. "Only because that's 29 officers we could have lost to gunfire."

An officer's greatest danger isn't a cop killer planning an ambush. Two-thirds of the time, it's a domestic violence situation that gets out of control. Local police have already exchanged gunfire three times with suspects in the first six weeks of 2013.


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