Friday, February 14, 2003

Against all odds

Questions remain in l shooting


I feel for Andre Sherrer's family. They lost him twice.

Once, years ago, to a life of crime. And again, last Sunday morning, when he was shot to death fighting a police officer.

The odds were high that this would happen.

Once Sherrer decided as a young man that robbery was a sure way to get what he wanted, the odds were good that crime would hold onto him. And once Sherrer had been caught, convicted and imprisoned for 14 years, the odds were greater that, upon release, he'd return to old ways.

He beat those odds for only a few months. Since being paroled in July, Sherrer, 34, held a job in construction, friends said.

No one knows why he decided to break into a Northside sporting goods store about 4 a.m. Sunday. But bad judgment kicked in again.

And one beat cop was ready.

Officer Michael Schulte volunteered to respond to the burglar alarm and, he said later, saw Sherrer run from the store with merchandise.

Sherrer rolled the dice and ran. Officer Schulte was determined to catch him.

Judgment calls

According to police procedure, before officers engage in a foot pursuit, they're supposed to quickly assess the risks: Are the dangers to themselves, other officers, the suspect and community worth it? Is the suspect armed? Is the alley too dark or unfamiliar?

Schulte made a judgment call.

So did Sherrer, who, Schulte said, beat Schulte with his own baton in that alley. Schulte shot him five times.

Sherrer's family plans to bury him Saturday. And our community is asking, again, why this had to happen.

We have a community-wide agreement to improve police response to crime and citizen complaints about police. But we've yet to implement some key parts. We've missed deadlines for setting up the Citizen Complaint Authority, for instance, and we've yet to fully roll out the community-police partnership called Community Problem-Oriented Policing, or CPOP.

Police did revise their procedures, in part to make such foot pursuits less deadly. Yet, our odds of another deadly confrontation between police and runners are still high.

Blame not useful

People seeking a reason for this one won't get it. The questions can't be posed to a dead man. Why did you try to steal again? Why didn't you try harder to stay clear of crime? Why run down that dark alley?

Others are asking valid questions of the police. Why did Officer Schulte go after this man alone? What happened in that alley? Why so many shots? What could have been done to lessen the danger?

These are legitimate questions. We shouldn't discount them because they come from boycotters or from grieving family members. I bet investigators are asking the same things.

But these are ancillary questions. Even if we had answers, they wouldn't guarantee that a fatal chase won't happen again.

I'm not going to blame Officer Schulte. If what he says is true, he was doing his job and defending himself.

Blame is not a useful response. Action would be better.

We should redouble efforts like CPOP and the "Peace Down the Way" coalition, two efforts to foster cooperation between police and community members. We also should include and support groups like the Society for the Advancement of Reforming Felons, which helps ex-cons get housing and jobs.

Sherrer faced tough odds coming out of prison, and he caved in.

The Tristate faces tough odds for gaining a safe, more just community. We can't cave in.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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