“30 Guiding Principles” & Not a One on Officer Safety?

February 3, 2016

The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), according to their website is “is a police research and policy organization and a provider of management services, technical assistance, and executive-level education to support law enforcement agencies.”

In the news a lot lately, PERF has been a go-to law enforcement expert group for mainstream media. The organization, according to their website, appears to have about 30 staff members, eight chiefs on their Board of Directors, and 12 people on their Research Advisory Board, eight of whom have Ph.Ds.

So, in short, a bunch of smart and experienced people.

They have written dozens of papers under their Critical Issues Series.  I’ve read them. Most make sense. Many are very good though sometimes they come across as too academic for my taste. But clearly a lot of the people involved in the organization are both smart and well-intentioned.

On January 29, PERF’s think tank issued another paper: Use of Force: Taking Policing to a Higher Standard. It begins with: “The policies, training, tactics, and recommendations for equipment detailed in this document amount to significant, fundamental changes in a police department’s operations.”

They continue: “This approach can increase officer safety, as well as the safety of community members, by teaching officers how to ‘slow down’ some incidents and avoid escalating situations to the point where officers or members of the public are endangered.”

That brief mention of officer safety is the one and only direct reference to the subject in the entire paper. In fact, none of the “30 Guiding Principles” specifically address keeping officers alive as a priority.

Perspective from the Street

More than 50,000 police officers are physically attacked annually. More than 16,000 suffer injuries and more than 120 die on-duty, with 50 – 60 (or thereabouts given the year) being the result of felonious behavior.

But not one of the “30 Guiding Principles” explicitly speaks to the most important thing to all cops: Going home. Yeah, we put ourselves in dangerous positions to defend complete strangers, but at the end of the day we all want to go home to our families. That’s what we train to do.

Let me assure you, I understand the point of the paper. I agree with many of the 30. Here are just a few:

1. The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.

3. Police use of force must meet the test of proportionality.

4. Adopt de-escalation as formal agency policy.

6. Duty to intervene: Officers need to prevent other officers from using excessive force.

18. De-escalation starts with effective communication

Let me make this clear before we move forward.

Calibre Press offers approximately 15 courses. All of them include the need for better and more effective communication, involved leaders, the treating of people with dignity and respect, and scenario-based training that addresses the physiological and psychological realities of stress.

That being said, I, as well as many other police officers and organizations have some problems with the way the PERF report is written and several of the “principles” themselves.

My Concerns

Some of the concerns.

1. It credulously and implicitly validates criticisms about this profession without questioning the premises. It’s a report, it seems, written less for law enforcement and more to satisfy our critics. I mean, is law enforcement really so out of control in this country? Are we staffed with unfeeling, heartless, racist, and gleefully violent officers? Or are these myths fed by certain members of the media and people with political agendas?

2. It’s self-righteous to assume that most of these ethics, policies and general perspectives are in any way new, novel or out of step with most positions taken by police agencies and individual officers. As several unions have pointed out, we’re already doing these things.

3. It doesn’t address at all the emotional aspect of being involved in a use-of-force event from the perspective of the officer involved. Such an event is, in most cases, life-changing.

4. It puts no responsibility on administrations for protecting officers from unwarranted and baseless accusations from the press and the public.

On the contrary some of the “principles” seem to be going in the opposite direction.

Here’s just a few examples:

3. Police use of force must meet the test of proportionality.  I’m all for that, as are the vast majority of officers. But, the “principle” literally asks officers to consider: “How would the general public view the action we took? Would they think it was appropriate to the entire situation and to the severity of the threat posed to me or to the public?”

How would the general public view the action?? … Are you kidding?

First, the general public has very little idea about what an actual life-or-death scenario is all about. They’ve never experienced it in real life and in real time. They have no concept of the genuine stress felt by an officer as he or she is trying to evaluate dozens of stimuli while a life or several lives are on the line.  They have no idea how complicated it is to access the information learned in training that limits use of force or what the law allows. They have no way to relate to an officer whose estimation of a subject’s movement must be made in the blink of an eye or the variables that must be weighed.

So with all of that going on, we are supposed to add to our list of options and decisions, “How would the general public view the action we took”?

Do these Ph.D.s really believe that the general public will judge our actions free of prejudice? All have prejudice, for or against. Some are vehemently anti-police and those voices are unduly amplified by the media. Will video—any video—of police doing their jobs convince our hyper-critics otherwise when their entire perspective on use of force is gleaned from the fantasy depictions found on TV and in movies?

Street cops don’t think so. The evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

8. Shooting at vehicles must be strictly prohibited.

In agreement: There must be restrictions on shooting at vehicles. But it’s the terminology of “strictly prohibiting” that is wrong. Over-regulating and simplifying a complicated issue is dangerous for all involved. Training and constant discussion about the issue is essential in order to prepare officers for that moment.

Just watch the Ross Jessop video out of Hamilton, Mont., from a few years ago. The driver fired at Ross’ head during a traffic stop.

Some questions.

I wonder if PERF thinks his actions were justified or, to put a finer point on it, a smart thing to do. If he doesn’t take the shot that killed the driver what other options would Ross have? Chase and engage again. If he didn’t end that threat immediately and the driver takes off, now both Ross and the felon are in moving vehicles.

So what are his options? Should he let the driver go and hope his homicidal rage abates all on its own? Should he leave the stop of the maniacal motorist to another cop?  Should he let the driver go down the street and shoot an innocent civilian? Or plow his car into one?

9. Prohibit use of deadly force against individuals who pose a danger only to themselves. 

Of course we shouldn’t use deadly force against “individuals who pose a danger only to themselves.”

Duh … ?

The problem is when the suicidal suddenly becomes homicidal. When they turn their weapon towards an officer or others. And that switch can happen in the blink of an eye. According to the Force Science Institute’s research, a subject can move a gun from their own head to pointing and firing at another in 4/10ths of a second.

I can’t type the period at the end of this sentence that fast.


Here’s some unsolicited advice for the folks at PERF: Talk to street cops, and not just chiefs, academics and advocacy groups.

Here’s why: You’ll have an easier job selling this stuff to the cop on the street—the one after all who would be affected most directly by its implementation—if you demonstrate that you’re intentions are solid.

Not your credentials, your intentions. I believe the authors have good intentions, but they’re getting lost in the delivery.

Like any relationship there has to be trust. You gain the trust of cops when they think you care about their lives and understand the reality of what they do for a living. That’s the starting point.

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