Valentina Orellana-Peralta imagined herself in the country “The safest in the world”. She died there at the age of 14, the victim of a stray bullet fired by the police. On December 23, the recently emigrated teenager from Chile was with her mother in the changing room of a clothing store in North Hollywood, near Los Angeles, when police intervened to stop the assault. of a client by a 24-year-old man.
One of the emergency calls mentioned a man with a heavy bicycle lock; another mentioned a gun and shots. Upon arrival, the police found a woman bleeding. One of them fired three times, killing the suspect. According to the first elements of the investigation, a bullet would have ricocheted on the ground and crossed the wall of the dressing room before fatally injuring Valentina Orellana-Peralta.
Misunderstanding and criticism
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore has apologized to the girl’s family and pledged to shed some light “On the circumstances which led to this strategy”. These statements did not dispel either the incomprehension or the criticisms raised by the methods of intervention of the police.
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“It is unacceptable that Los Angeles police officers were able to open fire in a crowded store at the height of Christmas shopping without knowing for sure whether the suspect was armed”, was indignant Domingo Garcia, president of Lulac, an organization for the defense of the civil rights of Americans of Hispanic origin.
“The reflex is the use of force, notes Didier Combeau, political scientist, specialist in the United States and researcher associated with the Institute of the Americas. When the police intervene in a public place and a firearm has been mentioned – as was the case here – the doctrine usually employed is to neutralize the suspect as quickly as possible in order to limit the number of victims. “ This intervention technique spread massively after the Columbine shooting in 1999, which killed around fifteen people.
But this approach leads to tragedies. And its relevance is all the more questionable given that American police officers are regularly called in for situations involving people with mental disorders.
“About 10% of calls to the emergency number concern psychiatric problems”, Didier Combeau cipher. A total of 1,051 people were killed by the police in 2021, according to the Mappingpoliceviolence.org site, a number that has remained stable since 2013.
Better train in descent techniques
In recent years, the police departments have been trying to provide better training in de-escalation techniques, initiated in the early 2010s. “They consist in being able to assess the situation, to master negotiation methods and to have knowledge in the fields of psychology and psychiatry. », Explains David Combeau.
If the hierarchy is favorable, the police officers in uniform express reluctance. “For them, it is more difficult because it goes against the police culture which establishes that the force must remain with the law and that they must systematically have the upper hand”, adds the specialist.
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The issue of reforming police training is not new. Already in 2015, a report from the Police Executive Research Forum (Perf) noted that a police officer had an average of forty-nine hours of training devoted to defense techniques against only ten dedicated to those of communication.
The death of Valentina Orellana-Peralta is also part of a national context of increased violence. Since the start of 2021, 687 shootings have claimed at least four victims – whether injured or killed – have been recorded by Gun Violence Archive. In Los Angeles alone, 325 homicides took place on 1is January to October 23, 2021, compared to 218 over the same period in 2019.
This increase in violent acts is correlated with the increase in firearms. Nearly 23 million were sold in 2020, a record, according to the specialist firm Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. It could also be partly attributed to the uncertainties caused by the Covid-19, in a country where concern often results in the purchase of a weapon.