DENVER (AP) — Denver police said Tuesday they have changed use of force guidelines following deadly encounters between officers and drivers, saying police can no longer fire on moving vehicles unless the driver is shooting at officers or civilians.
"We want the first reaction to be get out of the way versus pull your firearm," Police Chief Robert White said at a news conference.
Under the previous guidelines, police could fire on a car if it was simply bearing down on them and there was a chance they could be struck.
The change specifies that the moving vehicle itself cannot be considered a threat.
The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the change, saying it brought Denver in line with other departments across the country.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, a lawyer representing the family of 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez, who was shot and killed as she drove a car at police, also praised the new guidelines.
"The Hernandez family commends the Denver police for this much-needed policy change," Mohamedbhai said. "However, the family continues to grieve the loss of Jessica and the policy change demonstrates that Jessica's death was completely unnecessary and illegal."
The Hernandez shooting prompted small protests in Denver and came at a time of heightened national attention involving police use of force in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.
Last week, the district attorney decided no charges would be filed against two officers in the January shooting death of the unarmed Hernandez as she drove a stolen car toward them in an alley.
District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said the decision was made because the life of an officer was threatened.
Chief White said the Hernandez case was among four recent incidents, two of them fatal, in which his officers fired into moving vehicles that prompted a review and led to the change of guidelines.
He refused to say whether the deaths might have been prevented by the new rules, noting that internal reviews of those cases are incomplete.
White said officers will receive training on how to respond in situations where drivers may pose a danger.
Nick Rogers, head of the Denver police union, said he prefers the previous guidelines under which police could fire if they felt targeted by a car. More training could have been required to ensure those rules were applied safely, he said.
White said previous training was not as detailed as what he plans to offer officers starting next week.
The new guidelines say firing into a moving vehicle may have little impact on stopping it; could put innocent passengers at risk; and problems could be increased if the driver is hit and hurt and the vehicle is no longer under control.
Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, said the change could put police in danger, noting officers have been struck and killed by drivers.
"We did zero to work on the old policy, and because of one shooting that caused protests we shifted to a policy that's too restrictive," he said.
The Albuquerque Police Department last year ordered a change in shooting guidelines involving moving vehicles after a Justice Department report found a pattern of excessive force. The Cleveland Police Department made a similar change in 2013.