I-Team: Most Raleigh Police officers involved in shootings have less than 10 years experience

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- An ABC11 I-Team investigation into shootings involving Raleigh police officers found that the vast majority of those officers have limited experience.

The investigation reviewed 26 incidents since 1999, including the Jan. 9 shooting of C.D. Ainsworth, a 26-year-old officer who had been with the department only three years (he remains in the hospital).

Data provided by RPD in response to a public-records request shows 38 officers involved in the shootings, whose experience range from less than one year to 21 years experience, but the latter is by far the exception and not the rule. Instead, more than 76 percent of officers involved in the shootings had 10 years experience or less and almost half had five years of experience or less.

In a statement to ABC11, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said, "The majority of these incidents involve personnel assigned to the Field Operations Division, which is the largest division within the Raleigh Police Department."

The chief declined to talk on camera and did not respond to specific questions about whether the trend is something her administration is cognizant of and/or feels that some change is needed.

"Officers assigned to this division have the greatest number of citizen contacts," Deck-Brown added.

Patrick Niemann, a retired RPD Major, explained to the I-Team that officers having less experience in critical incidents does not mean the officers are unprepared.

"I think the very basic argument is you can't gain experience without being out on patrol and receiving that experience. By putting new officers at desk jobs or specialty positions where they don't answer calls, it wouldn't make sense," he said.

Niemann experienced perhaps one of the worst such experiences: watching his partner, Paul Hale, being shot and killed July 11, 1997. Hale is the last RPD officer killed in action.

"As horrific as it was -- and I wish the outcome had been different -- but as horrific as it was, I think our response was the best as it could be," Niemann recalled. "The same thing for Paul. He had excellent training and experience."

Still, Niemann said the physical and tactical preparedness does not compensate for the emotional recovery needed after such a critical incident, and that's where he said RPD must answer the call.

"On just a personal level, these are good people that have tried to make a career in law enforcement," Niemann said. "They've spent a lot of time and the department has spent a lot of resources in training them."

During the course of his long career with RPD, Niemann would devote time and energy to doing just that: counseling younger officers and providing the support network needed to ensure their safe return to active duty.

"They're valuable assets," he said. "Having them back, we're not losing the experience they've already had, and we're not losing the training that's already been invested in them and their own personal experiences. We don't want to lose that."
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