St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon made a good call Tuesday when he tightened the department's procedures on the use of deadly force. The new policy requires that officers be able to see a target before shooting. This is a reasonable expectation that should be embraced by police and the community alike.
St. Petersburg police officers shot and killed suspects seven times this year. In September, Lelann Cooley was shot and killed after he pointed a rifle at police and six officers fired at him. Harmon cleared four officers in the incident, but the other two faced discipline. Harmon said those two did not have clear sight of Cooley nor did they see the rifle being pointed at other officers. Police union lawyers appealed the decision, and earlier this month discipline notices in the officers' files were downgraded to counseling memos.
Harmon's policy change clears up any confusion. Officers need to see whom they are shooting at before they squeeze the trigger. Of course, there are exceptions. As an example, Harmon cited the 2011 case of Hydra Lacy, whom officers did not see before shooting and killing him as he hid in an attic and killed two officers who tried to capture him. In amending the deadly force policy before he retires next month, Harmon sets at least one issue in order for the next police chief.