Questions have been raised in local media over the use of firearms by on-duty police officers, following an incident in Paphos when warning shots were fired during a traffic stop.
According to police, the incident took place in Paphos district on Thursday afternoon when patrol officers from the Crime Prevention Unit signaled a driver in Chloraka to stop for inspection but he refused to comply.
After the car failed to stop, according to police, officers fired four warning shots in the air, with a 24-year-old local male driver ending up being arrested on traffic violations. Police also said the suspect later gave written consent for a search, with officers discovering 14 grams of cannabis in the vehicle.
The incident did not take place at a roadblock but a patrol unit in Chloraka spotted a rental car described as being driven in a 'reckless and dangerous' manner
According to Cypriot law, police officers have the authority to set up road blocks if they are deemed necessary to protect public order as well as prevent or investigate a crime.
It is a misdemeanor offence for drivers to ignore a signal from a police officer to stop ahead of a road block, while police officers cannot be held criminally responsible for any bodily injury or property damage following either a driver’s failure to comply or any subsequent actions.
But Thursday’s incident did not take place at a roadblock, with an official police report saying a patrol unit in Chloraka spotted a rental car described as being driven in a “reckless and dangerous” manner.
According to police, the male driver failed to stop following a signal from a uniformed law enforcement officer. The local man then reportedly stepped on the accelerator in an attempt to get away. At that moment, police said, officers fired four warning shots in the air.
Use of lethal weapon as a last resort
Police told Knews the use of a lethal weapon in the case was precautionary and in compliance with the code of conduct, which allows law enforcement agents to discharge their firearms in certain cases of elevated or immediate danger and always as a last resort.
According to police, an officer has the right to fire a shot as a warning in an attempt to deter a suspect or suspects from attempting to escape from custody.
But the driver had not been detained at the time of the shooting incident, while media reports said the signal to stop was based on a routine stop.
An official police report did not specify whether the rental car was spotted being driven recklessly before or after the warning shots.
All shooting incidents involving police officers are investigated by law enforcement’s internal affairs, while abuse of the right to use a firearm in violation of the code of conduct can result to disciplinary and even criminal prosecution.
Police say officers who carry weapons are specially trained to use judgment before pulling the trigger as a last resort, while common examples of the constitutional right to fire a gun while on duty include self-defence, protection of colleagues and others, as well as protecting legal possession of property.
A press officer told Knews the drug squad was not involved in the traffic stop incident in Chloraka but was called to investigate following the arrest on drug charges, adding the suspect had tested positive for narcotics.