Friday, September 23, 2016

oblique approach

"The Runaway"
Norman Rockwell

There's an article in The Atlantic which can be read online -- "How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths" -- written by Seth Stoughton, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina.

----------------------------- [excerpts] ---------------------------- ...American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they're trained to do is part of the problem.

Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.  Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the "first rule of law enforcement":  An officer's overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. ...

Officers aren't just told about the risks they face. 

They are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. 

They are told that the primary culprit isn't the felon on the video, it is the officer's lack of vigilance. 

And as they listen to the fallen officer's last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing:  "I won't ever let that happen to me."  That's the point of the training.

...Officers are taught that the risks of mistake are less -- far less -- than the risks of hesitation.  A common phrase among cops pretty much sums it up:  "Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six."

In most police shootings, officers don't shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred.  They shoot because they are afraid. 

And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it. 

Not only do officers hear it in formal training, they also hear it informally from supervisors and older officers. 

They talk about it with their peers. 

They see it on police forums and law enforcement publications. 

For example, three of the four stories mentioned on the cover of this month's Police Magazine are about dealing with threats to officer safety.

...Police training needs to go beyond emphasizing the severity of the risks that officers face by taking into account the likelihood of those risks materializing.

...For all of its risks, policing is safer now than it has ever been.

...In percentage terms, officers were assaulted in about 0.09 percent of all interactions,

were injured in some way in 0.02 percent of interactions,

and were feloniously killed in 0.00008 percent of interactions. 

Adapting officer training to these statistics doesn't minimize the very real risks that officers face, but it does help put those risks in perspective. ...

Use-of-force training should also emphasize de-escalation and flexible tactics in a way that minimizes the need to rely on force, particularly lethal force. 

Police agencies that have emphasized de-escalation over assertive policing, such as Richmond, California, have seen a substantial decrease in officer uses of force, including lethal force, without seeing an increase in officer fatalities....

More comprehensive tactical training would also help prevent unnecessary uses of force.  Instead of rushing in to confront someone, officers need to be taught that it is often preferable to take an oblique approach that protects them as they gather information or make contact from a safe distance. 

Relatedly, as I've written elsewhere, a temporary retreat -- what officers call a "tactical withdrawal" -- can, in the right circumstances, maintain safety while offering alternatives to deadly force.

...Police reform requires more than changes to training, of course.  The policing mission needs to be focused on keeping communities safe and free from fear -- including from fear of police officers themselves. 

There are deep racial tensions in law enforcement that will only be healed through a long-term, sustained commitment to cooperative policing and community engagement. 

We need to rethink the many legal, structural, and social impediments to investigating officer-involved violence and the institutional reluctance to accept independent oversight, particularly civilian review. 

The path to real and lasting change is daunting, and it will involve many years and many steps.  One of those steps must be changing the way police officers are trained.

[published Dec. 12, 2014]


(Will we be able to wait "many years" for police force members to stop stalking and executing the public? ...maybe turn up the velocity a bit, on the "lasting change"....)


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