The shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina has resulted in murder charges. The shooting in Tulsa, Oklahoma has resulted in manslaughter charges. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department deputies in California will probably also get fired and be prosecuted for police brutality. Outside of policing, the severe sentences imposed on the Blackwater contractors sends a strong message. Whether it is in policing or serving in the military the trend appears to be sanctions when things go too far! No longer will the public accept cute little phrases (i.e., Mistake of Fact Shootings) as used by Sheriff Lombardo.
As I understand it, the ‘rules of engagement’ for soldiers in our military services are set by command personnel. They are not the same for every mission or in every country. A student of mine returned from the Middle East and discussed in class that he had to follow rules of engagement that were actually stricter than those for our civilian police!
Police rules for use of deadly/other force are set at different levels of government. The federal courts set rules such as shooting a fleeing felon (Tennessee vs. Garner). The federal courts also interpret what is ‘reasonable’ force (Graham vs. Connor). The next level rules for police would be state laws (i.e., laws prohibiting choke holds).
Nevada has such a law. Moving down to city and county ordinances, there could also be written guidance for law enforcement. Ultimately, the police departments themselves are able to set restrictive rules through policies, procedures, and regulations — if they are leaders and not followers!
When rumors swirl that the South Carolina officer (Michael Slager) may receive the death penalty, that is just crazy. The death penalty is only allowed if aggravating circumstances are involved. Each state lists these in detail. I’m afraid the general public just does not understand our laws or how our criminal justice system works. This is sad. Slager made the wrong decision — a DEADLY decision and he will be punished if convicted. He certainly did not premeditate the act. He reacted to circumstances and he appears to have been just plain wrong.
When I viewed the video I thought of how the officer didn’t follow the ‘progressions’ of pulling the trigger. I know how the excitement of the moment can impact sound judgment and this is difficult to control.
After all, we are all human. Football players study videos and consider options when plays are called. Sometimes, there is an
‘audible’ called which is when a play is changed on the line of scrimmage. On pass plays, quarterbacks are taught to read the defense to go through their ‘progressions,’ which means if the first option is not available they look for the next receiver. They know where he is supposed to be and have options because of practice and repetition.
The worst thing that can happen when a QB makes the wrong ‘read’ is that they end up getting intercepted, sacked, or fumble.
I believe police officers who don’t get enough practice or ‘reps’ can get tunnel vision. If they don’t pre-plan and accurately assess
situations bad decisions are more likely. When Slager started to chase Scott he needed to “What if?” the situation.
What if he stops but won’t get on the ground? What if he stops and punches me? What if he starts to choke me or has mounted me and is punching me in the head? What if he is able to get my baton, my Taser, my firearm…and what if he just continues to run? Can I shoot him? Good decisions increase with prior practice and by experiencing real scenarios. Reality-based training is more common but if there are not consequences for officers who screw-up then the value of scenario training is reduced. I’m not aware of any department that tracks bad decisions in training — probably due to liability concerns. Rookies making bad decisions in the police academy shouldn’t graduate.
The most important consideration should be the severity of the crime because this sets the stage for everything that follows. A traffic stop for a broken tail light is different than a convicted felon selling a gun to undercover cops. A man selling cigarettes is
different than a suspected strong-arm robber who starts punching a police officer still sitting in his car. The severity can escalate
instantly. Failure to follow commands (i.e., stop running) will never justify use of deadly force. A deadly threat must exist. The mentality of follow my commands or risk death has to end. Police need to know that people will refuse to comply for many reasons and expect this.
Bad decisions, such as firing a gun in a non-deadly force situation, must result in consequences all over the U.S. When it is a ‘bad shoot’ (even if no one was stuck by the bullet or an injury sustained was non-fatal), that isn’t the end game — i.e. the Excalibur Hotel shooting. The justification for non-fatal shootings is just as important as for fatals.
Another type of ‘progression’ I first experienced in my second academy was based on a concept called Verbal Judo. It seemed so silly to me.
Officers should ASK, TELL, and then MAKE when giving verbal direction and not receiving compliance. The concept is good in theory but in reality there are many dynamics.
Police departments have had ‘bad shoots’ since the beginning of policing. Some cops have used excessive force and have been brutal and avoided accountability. The need for change is urgent and now the whole world knows!
Recent events have addressed the imbalance of power in policing.
Momentum has shifted and GOTCHA moments with video evidence of bad behavior seem to be satisfying people with past frustrations.
Professionals will accept this true accountability and endure.
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.