Vancouver police reviewing deadly force policy

Investigations into two recent shootings will not be affected

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Even before Vancouver police officers were involved in two shootings this month, the agency was in the midst of reviewing its policies, including its use of deadly force policy.

That fact, however, has no affect on the internal investigation the agency is conducting on the two separate incidents.

The first shooting occurred on Jan. 18, when officers from the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the Vancouver Police Department searched for Jesse John France Jr., 29, because he was classified as being a "high risk" to reoffend and he had failed to check in with his community corrections officer.

Law enforcement found France at an apartment complex in the Ogden neighborhood. France rammed an unmarked police vehicle and then "escalated" the situation before officers shot him, police said. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

A week later, an officer fatally shot a 16-year-old boy who was a suspect in a home-invasion shooting and two robberies that occurred earlier in the same day. The boy, Douglas E. Combs, had been reportedly reaching for a gun while fleeing police around 11:30 p.m., when Cpl. Marshall Henderson shot him in the back.

Henderson and the officer in the Jan. 18 incident, whose name has not been released because of his undercover position, were put on administrative leave, which is standard practice.

The deadly force policy, which was last reviewed in March 2012, states that officers are authorized the use of deadly force in two situations:

• When it is necessary to protect the officer or others from threat of death or serious injury.

• To prevent the escape of a fleeing violent felon when the officer has probable cause to believe the felon has threatened serious harm or death, or if he is not apprehended poses the threat of harm to officers or others.

That policy is based on case law that dates back more than 20 years.

Technical services division commander Dave King said that the agency was due to review all of its policies, some of which date back to 1993.

Some policies likely won't change, he said, such as where officers wear their name tags. Others though, he said, don't address things that have become more commonplace, like social media.

"Officers in other jurisdictions were using Facebook and other social media without clear direction from their departments and had gotten in trouble," King said. "We wanted to prevent that at VPD by having policies that provide direction to officers to avoid any issues."

The deadly force policy is reviewed regularly, he said. The agency has subject experts who administer routine trainings, King said, so they are constantly going over the policy. Those experts are also keeping up to date on new case laws and changes made to nationally recognized standards, he said.

After the agency lost an in-house policy staffer due to budget cuts in 2010, Vancouver police hired Thomas and Means Law Firm to review its entire policy book. The law firm provided contractual legal and risk management services to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country.

King said the review also serves as a way for the agency to make the policies available on their internal intranet, allowing patrol officers the option of reviewing policy in their vehicles if necessary.

Upgrading to that system would also allow changes to policies to be highlighted, making training the new policies quicker to implement.

Interim Chief Chris Sutter decided to go ahead with reviewing all of the agency's policies because the it needed to be done, King said.

"It may not be completed by the time a new chief is selected," King said. The new chief could make changes, King said, but "we are striving to do a great job so that won't be necessary."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.