Thoughts on Policing Today
Officer-involved deaths and injuries of suspects, and particularly shootings, have captured news-media coverage across the United States. Movement to defund police departments gets its fair share of press coverage too.
Logical questions for readers and viewers of such news might include: Is this something new? Does the current state of politics weigh on current news coverage? Are police racially profiling for law enforcement? Why do police sometimes use lethal force? Do most Americans really understand what is involved with “policing” and what officers face on a daily basis?
The general answer to these questions is no. Having worked in a police department writing policies and procedures, developing and taking part in officer and civilian training, let me offer some thoughts for consideration.
- Deaths and injuries of suspects have happened throughout history, so this is not a new phenomenon. Today’s extensive news-media coverage, including cell-phone video and social media, have created new channels to distribute information, sometimes without verifying facts.
- As we approach Nov. 3 with wide-ranging views, how can politics not enter into any discussion about law enforcement? What we are seeing now is politicians and the news media passing judgment on incidents without waiting for an investigation or getting the truth. Officer-involved incidents do include investigations into the actions and outcomes of such incidents. Most departments have an “internal affairs” section that provides investigation. Many departments also rely on outside agencies to handle high-profile investigations to quell the internal “bias” that can be a perceived issue.
- Many police departments have policies and procedures on racial profiling that have withstood legal review before implementation. Training of officers on all policies and procedures is ongoing and fosters accountability of police actions. Training is repetitive so officers “respond as they train.”
- If police do not have lethal force as an ultimate alternative to suspect compliance, how are officers supposed to protect themselves, others and property when suspects resist arrest, threaten or flee? Police training focuses on a “use of force continuum” that often begins with “verbal judo” to deescalate any officer/civilian encounter. Typically an officer takes cues from the person being questioned, so the suspect in a sense guides what happens next and how an officer responds. The decision to use force should be based on the facts and “the totality of circumstances” of each particular incident. Force is always the least desirable option, and only used when necessary to facilitate an arrest or protect lives and property.
- Along that line, officers have a variety of tools they can use, determined by departmental policies and procedures, as described in the use of force link above. These may include use of pressure points, take-downs, pepper spray; intermediate weapons such as batons and the Taser; and finally deadly or lethal force that may include sidearms, rifles and shotguns.
- Police training focuses on “neutralize the threat,” not “wound the suspect,” or “shoot to kill.” As civilians who legally carry firearms, we need to think along those lines as well.
- Hopefully, most civilian encounters with police have been cordial and non-confrontational. That may be the extent of how many understand “policing.” The current emphasis on demonizing law enforcement certainly may have altered general thoughts about what police actually do, based on the news people receive from multiple and often nonverifiable sources.
- Covid-19 has cancelled many department-sponsored “Citizens Police Academy” events. These classes are a great way to get first-hand perspectives of department operations, what officers do on a daily basis, the training they receive and the threats they face both on- and off-duty.
- Finally, are some police actions questionable? Of course, as are any actions involving humans, particularly in a high-stress situation. Officers, as with any human, are not and cannot be “perfect.” Add an adrenaline rush when dealing with a confrontational suspect, and unfortunate policing incidents may occur, but not on a regular basis.
Specifically regarding police shootings, a friend sent me the following:
How to avoid being shot by a cop - written back when LA still believed in law enforcement, reportedly by Cheri Lewis, Deputy District Attorney, Los Angeles, CA. (See his Linkedin profile.)
“I've devised a five-point plan to help citizens avoid being shot by police. This plan may not prevent all shootings, but very few will take place when the plan is rigorously adhered to. Here are the rules:
Rule #1: DON'T COMMIT VIOLENT CRIMES
It seems elementary, but this rule is lost on many folks. They do the crime, get shot, and then wonder how it could have possibly happened to them? They whine that it's so unfair. Well, Slick, violent crime, like jumping in front of moving cars, is a high-risk occupation, and, in case you missed it, committing violent crime makes police officers think you might not be a good person.
Rule #2: If you ignore Rule # 1 and the police confront you, DON'T RUN AWAY FROM THEM.
I know it's hard to believe, but that may make them think you're guilty of something. Hiding in bushes or closets makes some cops (mostly older ones) very nervous. They might even foolishly conclude that you're up to no good!
Rule #3: If you disregard rules 1 and 2, and the cops catch up with you anyway and inform you that you're under arrest, DON'T MAKE FAST MOVEMENTS WITH YOUR HANDS.
I know it sounds silly, but grabbing a shiny beer can, a dark-colored wallet, or one of those snazzy and real-looking replica guns may make police officers mistakenly believe that you're about to hurt them.
Rule #4: If you disregard rules 1, 2, and 3, and manage to get what looks like a deadly weapon into your hands, DON'T POINT IT AT THE COPS.
We all know that you're basically a nice person, but that may be lost on the police officers confronting you. In their paranoia, they may even believe they need to protect themselves.
Rule #5: If you disregard rules 1, 2, 3, and 4, DON'T BE ASTONISHED IF THE COPS DO NOT INSTANTLY TURN INTO YOUR PERSONAL CONFIDANTS.
They may be too preoccupied to realize that you're normally a splendid person and that you're just having a bad day. They may be too preoccupied to see that when you point a weapon at them in a threatening manner, it's just your way of crying out for help. We both know that the whole problem can be traced to the fact that your mother didn't breast feed you, but some police officers are so cynical they just don't see it.
So, there you have it. If you really apply yourself and obey even some of the rules listed above, I bet you'll avoid the vast majority of police gunfire.”
Lewis’ offered advice helps provide perspective to several recent law-enforcement shootings of suspects, and why officers may have responded as they did, does it not?
As a Gun Talk reader, continue to follow what is going on in the news concerning policing, keep an open mind, get verifiable facts, maintain situational awareness about what is happening near you and across America, vote to support law enforcement, and Stay safe, be prepared. ~ Mike
Mike now calls Northwestern Arkansas home, but has lived and worked in several states. He has been an independent contractor and consultant since 2006 specializing in risk management, emergency management and training. In addition to work as a law-enforcement planner and technical writer with the Boise, Idaho, Police Department, he has experience in journalism, crop and animal agriculture, dryland farming for 20 years in western Kansas, plant and animal diseases, pandemic influenza, agroterrorism, bioterrorism, food safety and healthcare marketing.
He has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri and has newspaper and agency writing and editing experience. At Washington State University in Pullman, he earned a master’s degree emphasizing adult education and communications, with minors in mourning dove, chukar partridge, pheasant and mountain quail on the breaks of the Snake River.
While living in Lander, WY, Mike provided photographic coverage of the One-Shot Antelope Hunt for three years, and got to meet and accompany folks such as Chuck Yeager, Carroll Shelby, Buzz Aldrin, Dale Robertson and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on their hunts.
In addition, Mike is a Federal Emergency Management Agency certified instructor and has worked and taught for state and federal agencies. He has responded to seven presidentially declared disasters, including Hurricanes Irma and Maria when they struck Puerto Rico in 2017. He also has worked and taught in Africa and Southeast Asia. Check his website at www.sampsonrisk.com.