NEW YORK, N.Y. Jan. 22, 2017 /Troy Media/ – Police use of force continues to be a flashpoint that divides American society. But there are signs that police are moving towards a new way of thinking and long-needed reforms.
Last week, U.S. Justice Department officials released a scathing report condemning the Chicago Police Department. It found that “CPD officers engage in a pattern or practise of using force, including deadly force, that is unreasonable.”
The report blamed the pattern on “systemic deficiencies” that included “inadequate training.”
Lines in the sand have been drawn between citizens who quickly condemn almost any use of force and those who rush to dismiss any suggestion of police overreaction when force is used.
Both are knee-jerk responses and neither is helpful. Instead of focusing on the aftermath of incidents involving the lethal or perceived excessive use of force, the focus is shifting to where it belongs: the appropriate training of police officers so such incidents don’t happen.
Also last week, representatives of six police departments met with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss how to improve relations between the police and the communities they serve.
The meeting focused on the new Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics training guide. The ICAT was introduced by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) at a conference in New Orleans last month. PERF’s membership includes more than 18,000 police departments across the United States.
The guide acknowledges that “There is a growing realization among leaders of the policing profession [that] police use of force has become a critical issue that is setting back community-police relations.”
Most importantly, the ICAT focuses on giving police officers the tools for “defusing critical incidents.” While this may sound like an obvious goal, it hasn’t been emphasized in traditional police training, where “ending” and not “defusing” was often the resolution sought.
It may be a subtle difference in language and interpretation, but within that subtlety is found the fact that “ending” meant the quick and reactionary use of lethal force when a threat to officer or public safety was perceived – sometimes wrongly – in the eyes of the individual officers on scene.
PERF emphasizes “it is unfair to blame individual police officers for using force in the ways they have been trained to use it.” They receive, for example, an abundance of training in firearms with comparatively little to none given in the areas of “de-escalation, crisis intervention or tactical communication.”
The ICAT mission statement tasks officers with recognizing and adopting the “core ideal” of “upholding the sanctity of human life.” Most notably, the protection and service that is supposed to be the heart of a police officer’s mandate should extend to protecting “criminal suspects and subjects in crisis from danger and harm.”
Many of the guiding principles put forth were developed after study of law-enforcement practises in Scotland, where police are unarmed and are trained to rely on de-escalation techniques to defuse volatile situations. How those translate to the United States, where firearms are so prevalent, remains to be seen.
However, when dealing with subjects who are emotionally or mentally unstable, who may also be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it’s clear that so many of the tragedies of 2016 that resulted in a fatality could have been avoided. Preventing such fatalities means officers must be trained in alternative methods of reacting to a highly charged situation, not relying on automatically unholstering and readying their guns.
Complex problems rarely have simple solutions, but sometimes the smallest tweak in approach can result in a disproportionate and positive gain. The ICAT training model may go a long way to improving how police deal with communities that harbour resentment and live in fear of law-enforcement.
For those who hold police in the highest regard and recognize that they find themselves on the front lines of human misery, there’s no better way to honour them than by ensuring they have all the training and tools necessary. That way, we can ensure that to “protect and to serve” encompasses even the most disenfranchised members of society.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer and occasional lawyer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day. Gavin is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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