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Maybe we could give them axes instead


A national law enforcement organization released an important report calling for police departments to rethink their training and policies on use of deadly force, with less emphasis on "Shoot/Don't Shoot" decisions and more training on ways to de-escalate situations before a decision to use deadly force ever becomes necessary. The recommendations in the report, from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), are wise, humane, and actually give you some hope that America's police departments could be reformed into something the nation could be genuinely proud of. Needless to say, the report is doomed to be derided by the usual Git Tuff Law-N-Order mob as a bunch of criminal-coddling pabulum, since everyone knows the police are there to bust heads and terminate bad guys, even when they're 12 years old and not holding a real gun.

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The report was distilled from a May 2015 conference involving "nearly 300 police chiefs and other law enforcement executives, federal government officials, [and] academics" from around the nation, as well as some visiting police officials from the UK, where most police manage crime without even carrying guns. Chuck Wexler, PERF's executive director, writes that while many of the highly publicized police shootings in the last year may have been ruled to be legally justified, that hardly means they were always necessary, since there are often "missed opportunities to ratchet down the encounter, to slow things down, to call in additional resources." Wexler's executive summary emphasizes the need to change police training and modify police culture, and highlights police departments that are taking steps to get their officers to unlearn their reflex of instantly going for the gun.

One of the biggest problems, he says, is training, especially in terms of how police officers are taught to interact with people who may be mentally ill but can be talked down instead of shot to death. Part of the problem is the fragmented nature of training in police academies, where cadets might first get firearms training, then several weeks later a brief discussion of legal/constitutional issues, and, almost as an afterthought, some mention of ways in which they might avoid using force in the first place.

Consider this somewhat depressing chart from the report, showing the number of hours dedicated to various aspects of police training:

Hey, there's nothing in there at all about creative means of planting evidence

Wexler calls for teaching cops that they have many tools to use before it's ever necessary to pull their sidearms:

We owe it to our officers to give them a wider range of options. “Shoot/don’t shoot” training does not provide the full range of issues that officers need to consider. The question posed to officers in training should not be “shoot or don’t shoot.” Instead, officers should be trained to ask themselves a series of key questions as an event unfolds, such as “What exactly is happening? What is the nature of the risks or threats? What powers do I have legally and within policy to respond?Do I need to take action immediately? Am I the best person to deal with this? If I take a certain action, will my response be proportionate to the seriousness of the threat?”

Policing culture, Wexler says, needs to shift from an emphasis on not only protecting the life of the officer, but of valuing all life in the community. Yes, even the civilians! While the police mantra, "Your most important job is to get home safely to your family at the end of your shift," is worth preserving, it's also not the only consideration for an organization whose existence is supposed to be about protecting the whole community:

[A] number of police chiefs have called for a rethinking of the practice of emphasizing to officers on a daily basis that they face potential deadly threats at every moment. Why? Because some of the officer-involved shootings that have been most controversial seem to reflect training that has officers think solely about their own safety, rather than a broader approach designed to protect everyone’s lives.

Of course, there are other cultural shifts that would help. For instance, encouraging cops who aren't having to deal with an active shooting situation to call for backup before jumping in with guns blazing, a practice that can save lives but is undercut if officers think they'll be seen as weak because they couldn't handle the situation themselves. Think Tamir Rice: Nobody reported shots fired, and the cops could easily have pulled up 20 feet away instead of right next to the kid, which would have allowed time to find out that he had an Airsoft pellet gun, not a real handgun.

Oh yes, and then there's the guns thing. Get ready for the NRA to decry PERF as a bunch of liberal Second Amendment haters, since Wexler acknowledges that while there's much that can be learned from police in other countries who are able to avoid resorting to deadly force, those foreign cops don't have to deal with the deadly reality of American policing:

[T]he United States faces much more severe problems than most other countries, stemming from the widespread availability of inexpensive, high-quality firearms to almost anyone. Regretfully, even people with long criminal records or histories of severe mental illness can easily obtain powerful firearms in the United States.

No, Wexler doesn't say he wants to take your precious guns. He's totally thinking it, though, the fascist. But even with all the guns out there, cops don't need to be so shooty. Want to have your mind blown? In Scotland, it's been three and a half years since police have used deadly force against a suspect, despite receiving 1.8 million emergency calls annually. In too many American departments, that might be seen as proof that cops lack ambition.

Or maybe it's a sign that American paranoia about the need for everyone to have a gun, to ward off a police state, has actually handed us a very deadly state of policing.

All in all, it's a hell of a good read and even includes plenty of examples of American police departments that are turning from a shoot/don't shoot culture toward an emphasis on slowing down and de-escalating situations whenever it's safe for officers to do so. No, Wexler isn't suggesting that cops try sweet reason with an armed lunatic has already opened fire on them. But the gun doesn't have to be the first choice, either.

We'd like to see police departments follow the advice of Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues, who ended every morning's briefing with "Let's be careful out there." After actor Michael Conrad died, "Sarge" was replaced with a different sergeant, whose catchphrase, "Let's do it to them before they do it to us," embodies just about everything that's gone wrong with American policing.

[HuffPo / Police Executive Research Forum]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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