Designing A Less Deadly Police Force

by Dish Staff

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man

Seth Stoughton wants police training to “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 (there is no data on assaults). It is no surprise that the federal Department of Justice reviews de-escalation training (or the lack thereof) when it investigates police agencies for civil rights violations. 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.

Officers must also be trained to think beyond the gun-belt.

The pepper spray, baton, Taser, and gun that are so easily accessible to officers are meant to be tools of last resort, to be used when non-violent tactics fail or aren’t an option. By changing officer training, agencies could start to shift the culture of policing away from the “frontal assault” mindset and toward an approach that emphasizes preserving the lives that officers are charged with protecting. Earlier this year, officers took just that approach in Kalamazoo, Michigan, relying on tactics and communication rather than weaponry to deal with a belligerent man carrying a rifle. As a result, a 40-minute standoff ended with a handshake, not an ambulance. The Seattle Police Department offered an even more dramatic example in 1997, when they eventually ended an 11-hour standoff with a mentally ill man wielding a samurai sword by making creative use of a fire-hose and a ladder. The suspect was apprehended with only minor bruises, and no officers were injured.

Finally, police executives need to move beyond the reflexive refusal to engage in meaningful review of police uses of force. Police may act in the heat of the moment, although not nearly as often as is commonly believed, but that should not insulate their choices from review.

(Photo: A police officer watches over demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014. By Scott Olson/Getty Images)