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Gun threats against San Diego police officers at five-year high

Gunfire erupted 20 seconds after San Diego Police Officer Darwin Anderson arrived at Encanto’s home.

A neighbor called 911. A woman and her dog were lying shot in a driveway. As Anderson stopped, a man approached, distraught.

“I see my mother dead there!” he shouted, pointing to a house on Iona Drive.

The police officer walked towards the 74-year-old woman. As he began to kneel next to her, a gunshot rang out. Anderson jumped. Another shot.

“Oh my God, they’re shooting the policeman,” the 911 caller told a dispatcher.

The Aug. 28 incident was the fourth time last month and eighth time this year that someone used a gun to threaten or shoot a San Diego police officer. In June, a police officer was shot in the arm while chasing a man who was fleeing a stolen vehicle. Less than a month later, a gunman shot and killed a 4-year-old police dog named Sir.

Officers faced more gun threats in 2023 than the previous two years combined, according to data kept by the department’s homicide unit. The numbers include incidents in which people allegedly threatened officers with guns, pointed guns at officers or shot at officers. This year’s total is the highest recorded in five years.

“It’s horrible,” San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said. “I seem to be getting more and more calls. “Chief, we had an officer-involved shooting. We have officers getting shot. A dog has just been killed. It’s just too common.

This is a phenomenon that also affects other ministries. In June, a man wanted for the murder of his girlfriend opened fire on Riverside County sheriff’s deputies and Oceanside police officers at the end of a chase, police said. Less than a month later, a man wanted on a felony warrant tried to fire a gun at a La Mesa police officer, but the gun malfunctioned.

As with other forms of crime, the understanding of why violence against police officers increases or decreases is nuanced. Homicide investigators noted that ghost guns, drug use and mental health issues were regularly implicated when officers were threatened by guns. The district attorney’s office found that drug use and/or mental health played a role in nearly 80% of police-involved shootings between 1993 and 2017.

Criminologists who study violence against police have noted that high-profile cases that fuel existing feelings of injustice — like the killing of George Floyd — can also lead to an increase, as can crime.

While overall crime declined in San Diego in 2022, violent crime, fueled by a double-digit increase in thefts, increased slightly.

Police officials, for their part, have blamed laws that they say fail to keep violent repeat offenders — who might be more likely to use a gun — behind bars.

The department’s data focuses on a specific type of assault on police — threats involving guns — but overall, assaults on officers in San Diego have remained fairly stable over the past two decades. In 2022, the most recent year available, about 275 San Diego officers reported being assaulted in some way, according to FBI data. In 2000, approximately 285 police officers reported assaults.

And nationwide, it’s generally a safer time to wear a badge, according to statistics kept by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. In the 1970s, more than 2,300 officers were killed in the line of duty. This figure fell by almost 30% in the 2010s, to around 1,700 people. Some of that decrease is likely attributed to better equipment, training and better trauma care when officers are injured, experts say.

Rise in ghost weapons

During the hours-long incident in Encanto, Jesse Nelson, 43, then fired multiple weapons at police, including the officer who had tried to save Nelson’s dying mother, whom he had shot. They were weapons he shouldn’t have had.

In 2000, Nelson was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder. He was sentenced to an additional two years for drug possession, which he served concurrently. He was released in 2015 and his parole ended in 2020 without any violations, prison officials said.

State law prohibits convicted felons from owning or possessing firearms. But there were at least five guns in Nelson’s house, including two AR-15-style ghost guns. He was carrying one of the rifles when a police sniper shot him.

Of the eight gun threats officers have faced this year, five of them involved non-serial firearms, said San Diego Police Lt. Steve Shebloski.

Ghost guns are do-it-yourself firearms, assembled by hand from parts often presented in pre-packaged kits. Because the parts – like an unfinished gun frame – were not classified as firearms, they did not have serial numbers. And until recently, anyone could legally purchase these coins.

Last year, however, the Biden administration changed the definition of a firearm under federal law to include its parts so they could be more easily tracked. These parts must now be licensed and include serial numbers, and manufacturers are required to conduct background checks before a sale. This requirement applies regardless of how the firearm is manufactured – whether individual parts, a kit, or 3D printers.

The new rules are being challenged in court.

San Diego city and county, as well as the state of California, have also implemented laws to make guns more traceable.

Despite these changes, ghost guns have continued to appear at crime scenes across the country. So far this year, San Diego police have seized about 1,600 firearms, more than 20 percent of which were not serialized, officials said.

“I think the biggest problem I’ve noticed, at least in the last year, is the availability of ghost guns and the number of people using them,” Shebloski said.

A decade ago, getting a gun usually meant buying one, the lieutenant said. For convicted felons, this presented a challenge. While criminals used to be able to steal or illegally purchase firearms, they now have the means to produce them directly.

“They can literally go on YouTube and find out how to make a ghost gun,” Shebloski said.

Community leaders working to reduce gun violence agreed that more guns on the streets put everyone at risk, including police officers.

“I think guns can fall into the wrong hands,” said Cornelius Bowser, founder of Shaphat Outreach. “There are too many guns on the streets and too many people have access to them. This makes things dangerous for everyone.

Repeat offenders

Asked what he thought was causing an increase in armed threats, Nisleit brought up the case of Justin Teague.

Police shot the 39-year-old man after he opened fire on officers responding to a report of car burglaries in a University City parking lot on Aug. 11, department officials said.

This was not the first police shooting of Teague. In 2003, when he was just 19, he was shot and killed by police who said he drove a stolen Honda at them while trying to flee. A year later, he was convicted of driving or operating a vehicle without consent. And in 2017, he was convicted on charges including identity theft and purchasing or receiving a stolen vehicle.

When police confronted Teague last month, he was free on $50,000 bail for a July incident involving a carjacking and evading police.

Nisleit argued that many of the people who shoot police officers are “hardened criminals who are constantly moving in and out of the system.”

“They’re really not really afraid to shoot us.”

Nisleit blamed the lax criminal justice system for taking a softer stance toward repeat offenders like Teague, who too often find themselves in altercations with police officers. He added that such encounters can be particularly demoralizing for officers.

“Morale is hurt by the fact that police officers do not feel that these criminals are being held accountable, that prisons have become a revolving door, that the justice system is not giving these people the appropriate sentence,” he said. he declared.

After the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, protesters challenged law enforcement across the country to rethink public safety. Critics have argued that the current system is inherently racist, leading to racial profiling, excessive police surveillance and excessive use of force, particularly in communities of color.

Some have demanded that departments be defunded, while others have called for the removal of certain police protections like qualified immunity, a legal defense that protects officers and deputies accused of violating constitutional rights.

Dr. Maria Haberfeld, professor and chair of the department of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said tensions between communities and police departments can be stoked by politicians and the media who amplify and normalize anti-police sentiments. Feelings that could lead to an increase in crimes against police, she said.

“Whenever a high-profile event is seen as government overreach, the police are the target of public frustration and anger,” she said. “When these high-profile events confirm feelings of injustice, like racism for example, anger rises.”

Nisleit, whose department has been criticized for failing to aggressively address issues such as racial disparities in police stops, said he supports “smart, intentional police reform.” But he argued that some new laws grant the rights of suspects before those of victims.

“Having to go see the loved ones of police officers who are getting shot, seeing the trauma, the fear on their faces — it sucks,” Nisleit said. “They are no different from any other victims of violent crime. I don’t think people pay attention to it.

Los Angeles Times

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