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Posted December 8, 2011 | comments 2 Comments

United Bank robbery report: Police acted appropriately

Department: Officers 'acted with bravery' and helped to identify suspect quickly

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Officers who fired upon robbery suspect James L. Whittlesey during an Oct. 14 bank heist did so appropriately and within policy, according to a Winchester Police Department investigation.

The officers also "acted with bravery and their actions led to the swift identification of the suspect," a news release issued by the department Wednesday states. Police did not release the names of the officers who fired their weapons at the suspect. The department does not release officers' names as matter of policy, according to Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher.

Whittlesey, 51, last known to live in Maryland, faces federal counts of armed bank robbery and related firearms charges for the heist at the United Bank on Berryville Avenue. Warrants obtained by Winchester police charged Whittlesey with attempted capital murder of an officer during the incident. Authorities also accuse Whittlesey of firing a weapon at city police officers while fleeing the scene.

Whittlesey, who remains at large, also faces a federal charge of armed robbery for the Aug. 12 heist from the M&T Bank on Limestone Road in Wilmington, Del.

The TV show "America's Most Wanted" also plans to show a segment on Whittlesey during Friday night's episode on Lifetime.

"We're very proud of what they did that day," Sanzenbacher said Wednesday. "They remained calm. They followed their training."

Part of the training involved knowing to reload their weapons on the run before they ran out of ammunition, according to Sanzenbacher. One of the responding officers did just that, the chief said.

"They took into consideration the school was in the background and children playing so they withheld their fire and it was just bad luck that he got away," the chief said.

The department has nearly completed its semi-annual firearms training. The session involves training officers how to use their firearms in stressful situations, such as a bank robbery, identifying targets and reacting, Sanzenbacher said.

"Hopefully all that training and emphasis we put on good shooting technique and good tactics paid off," the chief said.

Whittlesey fled from the bank, entered a vehicle and tried to drive away from the scene. The suspect crashed the car a short distance away, but Whittlesey still eluded the officers. The chief added that officers had no way of knowing at the time the suspect vehicle came to rest that Whittlesey had a way to evade capture.

But as Sanzenbacher noted, the quick response to the situation by the first officers helped law enforcement identify Whittlesey as the within three hours of the incident.
As a result, authorities obtained a photograph of the suspect that they then circulated to the media and the community.

As per department policy, the officer-related shooting prompted an administrative investigation. The department recently concluded its investigation.

"This analysis includes many factors that include; a review of the circumstances leading to the officer's decision to use deadly force, an accountability for each shot fired, and a review of the background the officer faced to insure the decision to fire would not endanger innocent bystanders," the release states. "Officers must prove each shot fired met the department's rules and regulations for the discharge of the firearm in order for the investigation to find such action fell within policy."

The department now can look into honoring the officers' efforts in responding to the robbery.

"Now that we've resolved that there were no administrative violations, then there's a commendatation review that once a supervisor submits an officer for it goes before a commendation review board that makes a recommendation to me, and we'll certainly be going through that process," Sanzenbacher said. "It kind of all gets put on hold until we're sure there are no administrative charges."

2 Comments | Leave a comment

    According to this report, multiple officers fired on the suspect, at least one fired enough rounds to warrant a reload of his weapon. "They remained calm. They followed their training." It appears Winchester PD has a void in their training regime. All officers shared one thing in common. They all missed. "The chief added that officers had no way of knowing at the time the suspect vehicle came to rest that Whittlesey had a way to evade capture."
    I think it safe to say that as he fled from a bank he just robbed, with police hot on his heels, escaping would be his intent. The car had doors and windows, which makes escape a distinct possibility. To feign surprise sounds dis-ingenious, or an indication the hiring bar for police and reporters might need to be raised a little.

    I think Malarkey needs to re-read the article, "...reload their weapons on the run before they ran out of ammunition...", it is called a Tactical Reload. It means the officer reloaded BEFORE running out to ensure they had the maximum number of rounds. It shows the officer was using his/her head and thinking tactically. I also feel that it is an assumption that the officers missed, without Whittlesey in custody. The fact that he wrecked the car shortly after makes me wonder if the officers did in fact hit their target. Time will tell.

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