After De-Escalation Training, Newark Police Don't Fire A Single Shot In 2020
Police in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, had a pretty good year in terms of not shooting anyone at all in 2020, a statistic that Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose credited to the adoption two years ago of a de-escalation training program for police. However, Ambrose also said that, because the coronavirus pandemic had caused the deaths of six officers, it was also the roughest year he'd seen in a 34-year law enforcement career.
For all the stereotypes about cops facing death every time they go to work, Ambrose said the pandemic had been his greatest source of stress:
It was the unknown. It was the unknown that you didn't know with this disease that you were coming here every day, and these police officers and firefighters going out there, and we didn't know.
Of the de-escalation program, Ambrose said, "These things, it takes time for it to work. And I think it worked." He also credited the training with helping cops stay cool during the summer's protests over the murder by Minneapolis cops George Floyd.
Ambrose and Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced the achievement in a December 30 statement, saying that getting through 2020 without Newark cops discharging their weapons even once was
proof-positive that our de-escalation training is highly effective. Our officers have embraced de-escalation training and are actively employing this resource when engaging with the community. [...] Our training also played a huge role in Newark having zero violence during this year's protests of the murder of George Floyd. The community and police worked together to ensure that non-Newark residents, who came here to protest, didn't initiate any violence in our City.
That's where the unalloyed nice-time part of the story kind of ends, so if you want to feel unambiguously good about policing, don't read the rest of the article? It's like that Friends episode where Phoebe fondly remembers how her mom turned off the TV right after Old Yeller saves the day.
And yes, there is indeed such a thing as too much de-escalating, as the New Yorker's Jelani Cobb noted following the riots at the Capitol:
After making two documentaries about police brutality I never thought I would be this disgusted by a show of police restraint.— jelani cobb (@jelani cobb) 1610018746.0
Now, lest we seem like too much of a bummer, the overall trends for police use of force in Newark seem to be improving since the city entered into a consent decree in 2016 following a Justice Department investigation, back when the DOJ actually tried to reform bad police departments.
Yep, one more thing for Joe Biden's DOJ to fix, since Jeff Sessions started his time as AG by mostly giving up on such "patterns and practices" investigations, and further weakening Justice's power to rein in abusive police departments just before he was shitcanned in 2018.
Newark's record of cops not firing a single shot away from the practice range didn't last even one hour into 2021. After being dispatched to investigate shots fired at 12:03 a.m. on January 1, an officer shot and killed Carl Dorsey III, 39, of South Orange. The details we have so far don't look great. And as with most police shootings, the incident is already being Rashomoned.
A press release from the Newark AntiViolence Coalition said that, according to multiple witnesses, Dorsey was complying with police orders, and that he "had his hands up and was backing away from" plainclothes Detective Rod Simpkins when Simpkins shot Dorsey. The NewsOne site notes that at this point, there's "no indication of whether Dorsey was armed or what type of threat he posed, if any, to justify Simpkins shooting him."
Not surprisingly, the Newark police union president, James Stewart, contends that police acted "heroically" when they "heard gunfire and drove toward it, finding themselves in the middle of a running gunfight between multiple people," and that the cops "became targets and did what they had to do to protect themselves."
In keeping with a police reform law that went into effect in 2019, the shooting won't be investigated by the Newark PD, but by the state attorney general's office. So far, the AG office has only released minimal details, stating,
During the incident, Detective Simpkins fired his 9mm service weapon, striking Mr. Dorsey. Officers provided medical aid to Mr. Dorsey and he was transported by emergency medical personnel to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced deceased at 1:37 a.m.
And who knows, maybe the investigation will ultimately find that Simpkins tried all the de-escalation tactics he'd been trained on, or was in such a dangerous situation that he had no choice but to shoot, as a last resort. Sometimes use of deadly force is justified, though not nearly as often as claimed, especially when it's a white cop shooting a Black victim.
Unfortunately, as NJ.com reports, because the shooting involved plainclothes cops, there may be no body cam or dash cam footage of the shooting. As of now, the shooting has prompted protests, and the lack of details from official sources isn't entirely reassuring.
We'll add that the New Year's shooting was the first fatal police shooting in Newark since January 2019, when Newark cop Jovanny Crespo fired at a vehicle that had earlier fled a traffic stop, killing one person in the car and critically wounding another; he's been charged with manslaughter and is still awaiting trial. To get back to the "encouraging trend" side of things, that meant Newark went a whole 23 months without killing anyone.
As part of the consent decree, Newark Police was required to file monthly transparency reports on arrests, use of force, and the like, and those numbers also seem to show improvements in how often police have discharged their weapons. It's the weekend, so let's go to the shop and build a little table:
|Year||Firearms Discharge |
So that's definitely encouraging, and the sort of improvement other police departments should strive for. And there's your feel-ambivalent news for the day.
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