SC police cadets get increased emphasis not to shoot into cars

In this still photo taken from a CJA training video, an officer created a dangerous situation by getting in front of a fleeing suspect's vehicle.

COLUMBIA, S.C. —Cadets at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy have always been taught not to shoot into vehicles, in most cases, but there’s been an increased emphasis on that lesson after an increase in those shootings.

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel was reviewing state statistics and noticed the increase. In 2014, there were 13 cases of police shooting into vehicles that were being used as weapons. There were 13 cases in 2015 too, which was almost twice the average number of cases from previous years.

The best-known case happened in July 2015, when 19-year-old Zachary Hammond was shot and killed in Seneca. Hammond tried to drive away when police tried to arrest his passenger as part of an undercover drug buy. One officer fired into the car, killing Hammond. The officer said Hammond was trying to run over him, but dashcam video showed the officer was to the side of the vehicle and ballistics showed Hammond was struck in the side and back. No charges were filed against the officer.

Lt. Dale Smith, who heads the Traffic Safety Unit at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, says cadets have always been taught not to get in front of a vehicle or behind it to try to stop it. “You create jeopardy if you step in front of a car to stop it. You’ve created that jeopardy. You’ve put yourself there and we’re teaching students, of course, not to put themselves in that dangerous position,” he says.

If an officer does fire into a vehicle and hits the driver, the car could still hit the officer or someone else. And the officer’s bullets could hit an innocent person in the car or someone else outside of it.

The increased emphasis seems to be paying off. After 13 shootings in both 2014 and 2015, there were only six in 2016.