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Police Practices Questioned After Shootings

May 7, 1987 GMT

DALLAS (AP) _ Etta Collins was 70 years old, walked with a cane and, according to her sister, had trouble hearing. She was shot to death last year by a policeman responding to her burglary call.

Police said Mrs. Collins was carrying a gun, but the officer who shot her was fired for poor judgment.

Because Etta Collins was black and the officer was white, the incident brought fresh accusations that Dallas police too often shoot first and ask questions later, especially in black neighborhoods.

One local newspaper concluded Dallas police officers lead the natin in fatal shootings, though Dallas officers say they are no more likely to shoot than are police in other cities.

On Friday, those issues will be taken up by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, which is coming to Dallas at the urging of Democratic Reps. John Bryant and Martin Frost.

″The long-term interests of this city dictate that there be a balanced airing of this subject,″ Frost said.

Jim Collins, a Republican who was one of eight losing candidates in last month’s mayoral election and no relation to Etta Collins, had attacked the proposed hearing in a television commercial.

Mrs. Collins called police the night of Oct. 26, reporting a burglar next door. Police say she ignored orders to drop the weapon. She was shot twice by Officer M.E. Kraus.

Police said they found a .22-caliber pistol beside her body.

Internal Affairs Investigator James Chandler said Mrs. Collins apparently had fired her pistol at the suspected burglar next door, but it was unclear whether she pointed the gun at police.

The case, like every police shooting, was referred to a grand jury. No indictment was returned

However, Kraus was fired March 4 by Acting Police Chief Harold Warren, who was running the department while Chief Billy Prince was on a four-month stint as interim assistant city manager. Prince has supported Warren’s action.

In recent weeks, the Dallas Police Association issued a vote of no confidence against Prince, accusing him of buckling to political pressures.

The firing did not end the controversy.

″They just shoot people like they’re dogs,″ said Mrs. Collins’ sister, Arstella Whitlow.

Police say their studies show Dallas ranks 10th among the nation’s largest cities in the frequency of fatal and non-fatal shootings by police.

However, the Dallas Times Herald said its study concluded that Dallas ranks No. 1 in the number of fatal shootings per 100,000 residents.

Dallas police shot 29 people last year, killing 10 - six blacks, two Hispanics and two whites. Fifteen of the victims were black, seven were white and seven were Hispanic. In 1985, police shot 18 people and killed nine; in 1984, 20 were shot and 10 died; and in 1983, 29 were shot and 15 died.

In 1985 and again in 1986, seven Dallas officers were shot in the line of duty. One of those, in 1986, was killed.

″We haven’t attempted to use (these shootings) as an excuse,″ said Chandler. ″It’s one more piece of the puzzle to show why there is the number of police shootings. The criminal element is more prone to be armed.″

Two other incidents have fueled the debate about the department:

- A white officer and a black man being detained for a traffic violation died in a shootout last year. Police said another black man, Charles Tillis Jr., intervened on behalf of the black suspect, who was a friend.

Tillis was charged with murder but acquitted by a jury after testimony from a police officer that the dead policeman was often confrontational and abusive to suspects.

- A white Dallas policeman shot and killed another white officer from a suburban police department during a drug bust that went awry Dec. 12. A grand jury on Thursday found no reason to indict Officer Darren Coleman, who shot Officer Ronald Cox.

Shortly after that shooting, Dallas police reviewed their training procedures, including a temporary halt of the ″shoot-don’t shoot″ exercise in which rookie police are asked to make split-second decisions on firing their guns.

″There is some kind of mentality of the policemen in Dallas,″ said the Rev. Johnny K. Bryant, pastor of Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church, which serves the neighborhood where Mrs. Collins lived.

″If they would shoot one of their own - he was white - that should say something to them. And they don’t even understand that. It’s so unfortunate they shoot first and ask questions later,″ Bryant said.

Ira Bernstein, a psychologist and member of a board that reviews citizen complaints against police, backs the men and women in blue.

″Have you ever had a gun pointed at you?″ he asks. ″Hey, I consider myself a good dues-paying liberal. ... But by the same token, I’m not going to shed too many tears at a guy who points a gun at an officer and is killed.″