Over the past year we have witnessed the deaths caused by police officers on duty that have led to demonstrations across the country and anguish for many families. The images above are of just some of the victims, and really focus on those of color when there are white victims, too. But this is not just about the emphatic point that “Black Lives Matter” or even the greater/counterpoint that “All Lives Matter”.
Those tenets are indiputable…or should be.
It is also indisputable that some lives lost at the hands of police were of persons who themselves were an active and real threat to the officers or someone else.
That begs the question as to how police officers are trained to deal with situations that have the potential to harm them.
The answer is, not very well.
I have read a number of articles in which even police officials admit that when police violence is a problem for a department, such as most notably in Baltimore recently, training of those officers may have been deficient.
So I was intrigued by this article about police training, specifically about trainees viewing videos in which cops get killed during routine traffic stops. They are shown so that the officers are aware that any stop can turn deadly, especially if they neglect the protocols they are taught.
One training officer states that “98% of the time nothing happens”.
That number is ridiculously wrong.
Look at it this way. Around 34,000,000 speeding tickets are written in the United States every year. And that does not include stops for broken taillights or illegal turns, or ignoring traffic signs, and it does not include all the other possible encounters law enforcement may have that could put them in danger.
Yet, in the 21st century, fewer than 200 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty each year according to the “Officer Down Memorial Page” which tracks such deaths and lists the specific cause of each one.
Those causes include heart attacks, job related illnesses, drowning, vehicle pursuits, and other causes not the direct result of an assailant.
Let us allow that there may be a thousand or two thousand of other incidents when an officer’s life was on the line due to the unmitigated and unmistaken intent of the suspect, armed and dangerous, and ready to kill.
Yes, those situations are scary and yes officers should be trained to deal with them, and yes officers should be aware of them from the get go.
But no, the focus in training should not be that using your deadly weapon should be the is the first choice of action in response. For when that is your training that is how you will respond to persons who pose no threat to anyone such as Tamir Rice or John Crawford III or Amadou Diallo or Dontre Hamilton or Akai Gurley or…….well you complete the list.
Am I trying to minimize the danger in being in law enforcement? No, that danger is minimized by fact. At least the type of danger that is the be all and end all of these training videos, whcih can be quite graphic. It is easy to imagine that officers develop a mindset whereas their normal and very human desire to remain unharmed may lead to an overreaction to circumstances.
Here I am granting the benefit of the doubt in many of these shootings of unarmed civilians where the truth is, our law enforcement agencies frequently employ their own breed of psychopath, legally armed and with the authority to use that weapon and the rabid eagerness and willingness to do so, irrespective of the need to do so.
If your attitude is “shoot or be shot” you are mush more likely to do the former to pervent the latter, whether justified or not.
Proper training can prepare officers to better handle situations that could put them in danger. When they are taught that every one of over 34 million stops could present that danger when, in fact, fewer than 100 do, it is time to change the training to reflect reality.
I want my police officers to be prepared to protect themselves as well as the public. I do not want them to enter every encounter with a kill or be killed mindset.
We’ll all be safer in the long run.