generate more public interest towards the law enforcement community than news
stories and events stemming from allegations that police used excessive force to
effect an arrest. This issue is arguably more inflammatory than allegations of
police corruption. If that notion doesn't seem to resonate with you, ask
yourself when you last saw people rioting over a police corruption allegation.
In contrast, civil unrest is quite commonplace in response to the perception
that police have used force excessively.
If there is a
silver lining embedded within this troubling issue, it can best be summed up in
perception that excessive force has been used is generally just that,
a malleable issue. It can be managed, if not controlled.
issue will involve simple, logical but systematic utilization of existing
under-utilized asset in this effort is commonly the agency's training staff.
discuss the issue of perception in more detail. Though it's conspicuously
doubtful that we'll be able to change everyone's perceptions of how police
enforce laws, we can reasonably expect to influence most people.
It's been said
that contemporary policing must rely more on the utilization of information than
upon coercion. If information is power, as we've often been told, then
disinformation might well be just as powerful. There are people and
organizations whose purpose appears antithetical to that of the law enforcement
establishment. That issue in itself isn't very negotiable, so we needn't waste
time or effort concerning ourselves with it. However, we shouldn't concede
advantage to those who would undermine our public trust through deliberate
disinformation. We literally sit atop mountains of information potent enough to
counter most of what our harshest critics allege about us.
If your agency
has been compiling use-of-force statistics, have they been utilized for anything
more than internal auditing? These statistics generally reflect the lopsided
disparity between the number of arrests we effect, and those few that involve
the use of force. Fewer still are those incidents that involve the use of
so-called, "injuring force." In all recent studies recently observed,
it appears that the perception of race-based disparities in force usage has no
basis in fact. OK, you know all of this, but does the average citizen that you
serve? More than likely not. We've often unwittingly contributed to the
perception that police comprise a secretive subculture, reluctant to cooperate
with any effort at external oversight. Using information proactively might
actually serve to attenuate misconceptions of police.
contemporary police trainer, quite commonly, is a vastly underutilized resource.
His or her depth of understanding of salient issues far exceeds the level of
knowledge held by his/her recent training predecessors. Professional police
training organizations have truly uplifted standards, and greatly enhanced the
dissemination of once closely held information. If you haven't already fully
tapped into this resource, you may wish to waste little more time in doing so.
management parlance, problems are assessed by weighing their severity against
their frequency. The police use of deadly force is relatively infrequent, but
its repercussions are severe. Conversely, the use of handcuffs and/or aerosol
subject restraints is relatively frequent, but with consequences that are much
less severe. Recent civil litigation (Davis v. Mason Co.) suggests that merely
training officers to achieve competence in the mechanical components of force
application (firearms, baton, aerosol, etc.) isn't in itself adequate. There is
a growing expectation that police have also acquired the ability to discern
when, and to what extent, force can be used reasonably. Here we have a
perceptual convergence between what standards both the public and judiciary
might hold us to.
In response to
rising expectations, the most proactive training we see at this juncture is
training that is task oriented. Traditionally, training geared towards achieving
competency in use-of-force related tasks has merely dealt with the mechanical
aspects of force application. Preparing officers to use force judiciously is
best addressed within the context in which force-related issues are decided.
Scenario-based training should be task-related training, and task-related
training will vary according to the officers individual assignment.
What can you
reasonably expect to achieve with this undertaking? Naturally results will vary,
and will generally be dependent upon resource allocation and the degree of
competency your officers begin this endeavor with. There are a number of glaring
(and embarrassing) deficiencies endemic to law enforcement training that we
might finally address. We've known that most of the felonious deaths of police
occur at night, and that many of the most questionable police shootings of
suspects occur at night, yet we've done little if anything constructive to
address the problem. We continue to train almost exclusively under daylight
conditions. We know that an average of 40% of those officers feloniously slain
every year are either in plain clothes assignments or were off duty at the time
they were slain, and yet we do little to properly address concealed-carry
firearms training. There's much, much more of course, and yet within your
training staff lies a wealth of indigenous solutions.
In changing how
the public perceives our methodology and objectivity, consider exercising one
additional option. In an effort to foster a sense of openness, and better
understanding, allow members of the public and media to observe certain aspects
of your agency's training. The most innocuous method for doing this is to allow
community activists and journalists an opportunity to indulge in a few scenarios
served-up from a video-based firearms training system (such as with FATS, Range
2000, PRISM, CAPS, etc.). Turn down the lighting (literally), and expose the
uninitiated to how quickly and decisively deadly force decisions must be made by
and substance needn't require competing strategies and resources. Effectively
managing one (substance) might well assist in addressing the other (image).
©2004 The Police Policy Studies Council. All rights reserved.