On Police Reform
To create the sort of police force our public deserves requires civility, seriousness, & resourcesBy Jim Glennon | Sep 23, 2016
I keep saying the same two things over and over and over after the police fatally shoot someone, in particular black men, whether armed or unarmed:
- We need to wait for all the information to come out before we make definitive statements, condemn the officer, declare racism as the predominant factor in the decision to shoot and start tearing up neighborhoods that result in injuries and property damage.
- If the shooting winds up being unjustified, in the vast majority of cases the inability to deal with real stress is almost always the primary factor for why the officer pulled the trigger unnecessarily. And yes, implicit racial bias may contribute to that stress in some cases.
Unfortunately, waiting for facts is inconvenient during election season. Advertising money doesn’t wait either.
Charlotte, N.C.: I’ve read that nearly 30 cops and members of the National Guard were injured over the past several nights. Property was damaged, and buildings and cars were burned. Stores were looted. Two civilians were killed.
We don’t even know what specifically happened that led to the shooting of a black man by the name of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte police officer. We do know a gun was found and the police say that Scott pointed a gun at the officer (the family’s attorney says the video is inconclusive). Meanwhile protestors are arriving in droves from all over the country, accusing the entire law enforcement profession of racism. It doesn’t seem to matter that the officer who shot Scott is himself black.
They don’t seemed bothered by all that we don’t know. Pundits, politicians, and activists are adhering to their tired scripts. No one seems to care that their words incite violence. They don’t care that they are driving a greater wedge between police and the communities they serve.
I think, sadly, that some in this country—particularly in the media and activist groups—get a kick out of the chaos they foment. Chaos sells.
They claim that they want to see change for the better. But do they really? Change requires work. It requires empathy and nuance and, more than anything, listening to each other.
Suggestions for Improvement?
I’ve heard some suggestions from the pundits and activists. Some of the following are commonplace.
More civilian involvement: Have civilians ride with the police. Have civilian oversight. Give a civilian unit, unarmed, the opportunity to handle nonviolent situations, such as domestic disturbances, loud noise complaints, suspicious people, loitering, etc. If they run into trouble or can’t handle the issue then they can call the armed officers.
I’m all for those suggestions. 100%.
Questions do arise, however. How will they be trained? Who will train them and for how long? How much money will it cost? What would you pay them during the training and how much once employed? I’m assuming these would not be volunteer positions. Would they make as much as the cops? Would they unionize? And who, exactly, would be in charge of them? Certainly not the police!
Invest in training: Another recurrent demand is that officers need to be trained better in areas of de-escalation and conflict management. They need to train extensively in dealing with the emotionally disturbed. They have to take courses dealing with implicit bias.
I love these ideas. I’ve advocated for them for many years. More than that, it’s what Calibre Press, my company, teaches every day.
Cops have to stop training like military warriors: It’s a fallacy that cops train like warriors. Few make it to the shooting range more than a couple times a year and hand-to-hand combatives training is often nonexistent at the departmental level.
In reality what the police need is to train under stress. They need to experience real stress in a training format. But there’s a huge problem: This sort of training takes lots of time, money and commitment.
What the public knows about what police officers actually do is totally skewed by TV, movies, and video games. The majority of people, it seems, really think they could and would do the job better than those currently employed in police work. They watch Bad Boys II and then some YouTube footage of a cop in the streets and they connect the dots.
This is of course ridiculous.
Real fights, facing real guns (or potential guns), sharp knives, and determined violence is stressful. Dealing with intoxicated and emotionally disturbed people is stressful. Split-second, life-and-death decisions: STRESSFUL!
Danger cues that are subtle: a glance, a movement, an odor, a method of breathing, a noise, a feeling—the sort of thing bodycams don’t always pick up. The public has no understanding of what it feels like to deal on this level. And this is where we fail our officers and ultimately the public.
Teaching officers to understand the need to balance their many decisions under high stress situations should be our absolute top priority. It’s what we should constantly focus on.
But we don’t.
The Focus & the Obstacles
The majority of the academies around the country, I would guess, are at the most 12 weeks long. Some are more, even up to six months. The amount of information disseminated during that time is mind-boggling. And even if it’s great training—and much of it is—continuing education after graduation is woefully lacking.
We simply don’t invest enough in our police for what the public expects of them. Manpower issues, budget cuts, fear of liabilities, and the sheer number of subjects necessary to be addressed is monumental and time-consuming for police agencies and full-time cops.
Where do your trainers come from? From outside or inside the organization? How do you cultivate the best for your agency? And even once you get the expertise you need, here’s the hard part: scheduling!
Most departments find themselves short-handed due to budget restraints, retirements, and/or the inability to recruit qualified candidates. Add to this days off, vacations, court schedules, and officers on disability—you can see why so many departments only get by with minimal staffing and overtime scheduling. Overtime is expensive, leaving no money for—you guessed it!—training.
This is why so many police agencies adhere to the state requirements for qualifications and nothing more.
Law enforcement in some quarters has a bad history and that’s on us. We need to evolve with the times and accept our shortcomings. We need to address unethical behavior, and the reality of implicit and explicit bias that may be illicit in nature that on rare occasion leads to unwarranted deadly force. When cops shoot or kill without sufficient cause, they need to be prosecuted according to the law. Police are civilian peace officers.
I don’t expect people on social media to tone it down. But I do expect people holding public office and sitting in newsrooms to define what sort of talk is out of bounds. We need to bring civility back to this conversation. And if we truly want a better police force, we need to get serious and invest in it.
Screaming when mistakes happen is easy. And mistakes will happen. As well-intentioned as most cops are, they are human. Now, on this basis, we can re-think the system. You in?