Those changes were made in the wake of a shooting incident that was captured on video and shown on television: When 44-year-old drug suspect Winston Hayes' SUV lurched forward and hit a police car, deputies unloaded their weapons, firing 120 shots. Four bullets ended up hitting Hayes (who survived), one hit a deputy sheriff, 11 hit patrol cars and 11 hit five homes in the neighborhood (one of them ended up tearing a hole in a homeowner's hat).
"This tragedy caused a lot of consternation and spurred a change in our policy," says Michael Gennaco, who heads the Office of Independent Review at the LA sheriff's department. 'We made it more stringent only to shoot at vehicles as a last resort, when you have no alternative."
And it seems to be working. Last year, there were 15 high-round incidents, which are described as any situation in which a deputy fires more than six rounds. So far this year, there have been 10 such incidents.
Some experts believe that even more could be done to reduce the number of incidents.
Joseph McNamara, a Hoover fellow at Stanford University, was a police officer in the Harlem section of New York for several decades when the neighborhood was one of the highest crime precincts in the city. Later, he led the police departments in Kansas City and San Jose.
"Four times I came close to pulling the trigger and thank God, I didn't," McNamara says. "It's only two and a half pounds of pressure. You can't undo that decision. When the blood is pumping, in the heat of the adrenaline, you've got to maintain your self-discipline."
McNamara believes that high-round incidents occur due to the increased firepower that police departments have been using in the last few decades and because of inadequate training.
"Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the culture changed and the stress began to be placed on officer safety," according to McNamara, who says he remains haunted by an incident that happened eight days into his tenure as police chief in Kansas City.
"An officer shot and killed a 14-year-old black boy -- the kid was barely over five feet and he had broken into an unoccupied home and someone called the police. He was unarmed and he was running away and the officer fired a shotgun and killed him," McNamara says.
Against the advice of his colleagues, McNamara went to the funeral for the boy as a gesture of sympathy. "I got two cartons of hate mail that I still keep in my garage."
As a result of the incident, McNamara instituted new guidelines for the department that restricted when an officer could shoot. Previously, an officer could fire on any felon who was fleeing.
"If you don't tell them what to do, how do they know what to do?" he said.
Back in New York, a "deeply disturbed" Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems to agree. At a press conference today, the mayor said he believes police officers used "excessive force" when they fired 50 shots at Bell.
"It's unacceptable or inexplicable how you can have 50-odd shots fired," said Bloomberg, who emphasized that "everything will be done to prevent future incidents like this from occurring."