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Rare Officer-Involved Shooting in Santa Monica to Prompt Look at Protocol
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 19, 2016 – A shooting Saturday involving a Santa Monica police officer and a burglary suspect hiding behind a car is likely to lead to a period of “reflection” for a police force that rarely opens fire but is keenly aware of the intensifying national controversy over police shootings of black men, a spokesman said Monday.

Kenneth Whitfield, 35, who lives in Palmdale, was arrested by Santa Monica police patrolling a northeast neighborhood in response to a series of residential burglaries and “hot prowls,” according to police.

At about 3:45 a.m., officers discovered Whitfield “lurking” around 23rd Street and Carlyle Avenue.

Dressed in dark clothes, Whitfield, who is black, was “walking up and down various residential driveways, peering into residential windows and attempting to open car doors,” police said.

“As officers attempted to make contact, Whitfield concealed himself from the officers behind a parked car,” police said. “During the approach and in response to Whitfield’s actions, an officer fired one round.”

Police said Whitfield was subsequently taken into custody without injury or incident. What prompted the officer to fire at the scene is unclear, and no further details were available on Monday.

“The incident is still under investigation,” said Lt. Saul Rodriquez, a SMPD spokesman.

Once the investigation into the Whitfield incident is concluded, Rodriquez said, the SMPD will take a broader look at officer-involved shootings.

He said the department is confident of the way it handles such incidents, as rare as they are in Santa Monica. And due to the gravity of such shootings, the department would normally review them, Rodriquez said.

But “given the climate” of national turmoil over police killings of black men, that will especially be the case now," he said.

“It will involve a lot of reflection,” Rodriquez said. “Are there training needs? We will look at whatever is needed, at what we can do better.”

The nation’s unrest over police shootings involving black men has been intensifying since the 2014 riots following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black man, by white police in Ferguson, Missouri.

Two more black men were fatally shot by police this month, one on July 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, outside a convenience store, the other a day later during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.

Cellphone videos of the shooting in Minnesota of Alton Sterling showing him pinned down by officers although he was not brandishing a gun he possessed, flooded the media and sparked public anger.

The July 6 fatal shooting of Philando Castile was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend and spurred demonstrations nationwide.

The following day, a black sniper named Micah Xavier Johnson fired on a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five officers and injuring nine others.

Then on Sunday, a 29-year-old black man ambushed Baton Rouge police assigned to a peaceful protest over black killings by police, killing three officers and wounding three others.

The last officer-involved shooting in Santa Monica took place on June 7, 2013, Rodriguez said.

In a highly publicized incident, officers fatally shot John Zawahri, 23, after the heavily armed gunman went on a shooting spree that left five victims dead("Fifth Victim Dead in Santa Monica Shooting Spree," June 10, 2013).

Two SMPD officers and a Santa Monica College police captain were awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor in March at the White House for their response to the rampage ("Santa Monica Officers to Receive National Medal of Valor," May 16, 2016).

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