Instead of having apathy until an ‘incident’ occurs, will new scrutiny of police training improve policing and public trust?
‘Post-Ferguson’ reports suggest overall government was bad in Ferguson, MO. What was ever done about it? A police incident was the ‘spark’ that ignited the flames, but maybe the police are the ones who should have been protesting — carrying signs that read, “Hands Up — No Leadership.” Why? Because Officer Wilson was probably doing exactly what he was TAUGHT to do and who could have predicted the lying witnesses? If we want our police to be ‘one’ with the community and the community to be ‘one’ with their police we have to understand what has brought us to this point.
In the near future, legitimate leaders, community activists, and even a few ‘radicals’ may be consulted about what to teach and also reach a consensus about what to expect from our police. Citizen involvement and ownership may be a new model of police training. How will this help? Will it result in more informed citizens and reduce the outcry after an incident such as the one in Baltimore?
Six Baltimore officers are under investigation after a suspect (Freddie Gray) died of a severed spine a week after his arrest. His crime (as far as we know right now) was to have ‘eye contact’ with the police and then fleeing on foot. Gray was Black. The Mayor, Police Commissioner, and State Attorney in Baltimore are also all Black. Two of them are female. I don’t know the racial composition of the officers involved, but that shouldn’t matter — should it? The bottom line is whether police caused the death, whether the force and tactics used were reasonable. Baltimore officials should get the facts from
their investigation and then act — if necessary.
But what if a guy like Reverend Al Sharpton had been in charge of Baltimore PD academy? What answers would he be giving right now? Would he be held to account for what the police were taught and whether it matches up with their conduct in the field? Will trust be improved when citizens are confident that incidents will be carefully scrutinized?
Hard-charging cops like the word ‘proactive.’ It means going out to look for opportunities to perform their jobs! For administrators, it should mean having foresight and preventing problems before they occur. The Las Vegas Sun published a report this week, which can be found at http://lasvegassun.com/news/
Are claims in the article that Metro has now become a ‘role model’ (for agencies struggling with accusations of racial bias) an example of Metro administrators being proactive or were they forced to act?
Being forced to act is not LEADERSHIP! I recently read a thought-provoking column entitled, Police Warriors or Community Guardians by Seth Stoughton in the Washington Monthly. This law school professor in South Carolina was a police officer for
five years and he proposes that deadly police encounters can be prevented without sacrificing safety but this will require changes in the very mindset of POLICE TRAINING. Below are some excerpts: …(Killings by police) are not isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a systemic problem: a police culture that trains and encourages officers to adopt a “warrior mindset.” As a former officer, I’ve been immersed in that culture. As a scholar who studies policing, I’ve seen how the warrior mindset, though adopted with the very best of intentions, has led to unnecessary violence and undermined police/community relations. In short, modern policing has developed a “warrior” problem… Unfortunately, the concept has mutated far beyond its original, limited meaning. Instead of applying to only the most dangerous and daunting situations, the warrior mindset now instructs officers on how to approach every aspect of their job. From their earliest days in the academy, would-be officers are told that their primary objective is to go home at the end of every shift. But, they are taught, they live in an intensely hostile world — one that is, quite literally, gunning for them.
Officers learn to both verbally and physically control the space they operate in. They learn that it is essential to set the proper tone for an encounter, and the tone that best preserves officer safety is widely thought to be one of “unquestioned command.” Even acting friendly, officers are told, can make them a target.. failure to comply is confirmation that the individual is an enemy for the warrior to vanquish, physically if necessary… The result is avoidable violence.
…Another model — the Guardian — may offer some solutions. So what’s the difference? Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting… it emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority.
If we are going to reconsider what we TEACH our police then consider Stoughton’s practical suggestions for training Guardian Officers instead of Police Warriors, which included the following:
Non-enforcement Contacts Officers should be required to initiate non-enforcement contacts with community members… and teach officers communications skills that they will use countless times over the course of their careers.
De-escalation Training …talking to people, managing conflict without violence, is a learnable skill that all officers would benefit from having.
Integrated, Scenario-Based Training De-escalation is an effective tool in tense situations; but, like unarmed combat, it requires practice in a dynamic, high-pressure environment.
When an officer is seriously injured or killed, police trainers across the country engage in an in-depth analysis in order to learn from the incident so it never happens again. We should demand the same approach when civilians are seriously injured or killed.
When violence is avoidable and when avoiding it doesn’t sacrifice the police mission, officers should be required to use tactical restraint even when that means holding their position or temporarily withdrawing.
The article concludes, “Earning public trust will take years, if not decades, and it will require deep changes to police training, culture, and accountability mechanisms. But we can, we must, start now. We should start by rejecting the concept of the Police Warrior and adopting instead the Guardian Officer”
Isn’t it time to ask where Metro stands developing GUARDIANS rather than warriors?
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Norm Jahn is a former LVMPD lieutenant, who has also served as a police chief in Shawano, Wisconsin, and has nearly 25 years of police experience. Jahn now contributes his opinions and ideas to help improve policing in general, and in Las Vegas in particular, through his weekly column in the Las Vegas Tribune.