Acknowledging that police are too quick to shoot, why are so few presumed criminals shot in the legs as they flee? Taking that question a step further, when multiple officers are present, why do they all feel the need to get into the action? Seventeen shots into the body of an unarmed man is unforgivably aggressive.
Are we happy with that picture in the mind of the public?
I understand that the police are frightened, it's a dangerous game. But so are those on the other side of a traffic-stop or knock on the door and fear is neither an excuse nor a reasonable cause for excessive force. We are not a military dictatorship and dare not present that image.
According to a CNN report, Forty-eight officers were shot and killed on the job in 2020, compared to fifty-one in 2019. Thirty of those officers were killed by a handgun, thirteen by a rifle and one killed with his own weapon. The type of weapon used in the four other deaths is not yet known.
That’s the total in fifty states, across police forces totaling somewhat more than 800,000 officers. One officer killed among every 16,666 officers each year and arguably one too many, but hardly a cause for sleepless nights, much less a reason for such excessive force.
American police kill far more than other countries
In the latest year such statistics were available, American police killed eleven-hundred of our citizens. Canada killed thirty-six, Australia twenty-one and Germany eleven. England and Wales killed three and New Zealand one.
Small wonder unarmed blacks are terrified
If you want stories, there are stories—too many of them for this article.
Driving while black, walking while black, out late at night while black and just being in a majority white neighborhood while black are all reasons to fear being killed by police.
Let me ask you this. I’m white and (probably) the majority of my readers are white. How would you feel if seeing blue flashing-lights in your rearview mirror meant that any slight movement might get you shot and killed? Reaching for your car registration in the glove compartment? Reaching for your driver’s license in your back pocket? Even getting out of your car when ordered to?
There’s a reason for that trend in policing
With today’s recruitment policies, one in five police officers is literally a warrior, returned from Afghanistan, Iraq or other assignments. The military does very well with training warriors. They are the good guys and you are the bad guys. You are the enemy. They do not reason with the enemy. They do not persuade the enemy. They kill the enemy before they themselves get killed. We Americans on the streets may be law-abiding or law-breakers, but we are not the enemy.
The Justice Department and the International Association of Chiefs of Police put out a 2009 guide for police departments to help with their recruitment of military veterans. The guide warned:
“Sustained operations under combat circumstances may cause returning officers to mistakenly blur the lines between military combat situations and civilian crime situations, resulting in inappropriate decisions and actions—particularly in the use of less lethal or lethal force.”
It's less lethal to talk through a traffic-stop without a combat-crouch and gun drawn. If necessary, it’s less lethal to put someone down with a leg-shot or a shot to the shoulder or arm. It’s almost always lethal to unload your weapon into someone’s chest. Just 6% of the American population at large has served in the military, but 19% of police officers are veterans. Ronald L. Davis, who headed the Justice Department office that dispenses grants to hire cops and study policing in the Obama administration, said
“I reject the notion that a returning veteran, who has seen combat, should cause concern for a police chief. I would even hire more if I could.”
Davis was an officer in the Oakland Police Department for 20 years and later served as chief of the East Palo Alto, California Police Department for eight years, but I’ll bet my boots he was never in the military.
We don’t need to defund the police
If anything, they need more funding and fewer official duties. Study after study shows that domestic disputes and matters that relate to mental health, homelessness and vagrancy should be removed from police responsibilities and turned over to mental health specialists. The police should be called in only when they ask. We desperately need to get back to ‘Serve and Protect’ and that can take many forms. Stop outfitting our cops like swat teams, put ‘em back in blues, with just a sidearm, handcuffs and baton. Bring back the beat-cop, walking or on bicycles if that fits the need (works great in Philadelphia). Anything is better than squad-cars with the windows rolled up. Get rid of all that military gear the Department of Defense unloaded on police departments. I guess Ron Davis was behind that as well. In civil disorders, begin as low-key as possible and leave the face-masks, shields and tear-gas back at the station. When facing civilians, don’t over-dress for the occasion. Retrain for attitude— serve and protect means just that. Until police reaffirm their trusted role as protectors, hold weekly public meetings with neighborhood cops--a whole new concept-- to hear what citizens have to say. Train beat patrolmen to talk with storekeepers, mothers with kids and double-parkers. There is a huge public-relations responsibility in policing
What Chiefs of Police tell us
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the largest organization of policing executives, published a survey of 50 police chiefs in 2009 about their experiences integrating returning soldiers. 14% reported more citizen complaints against veteran officers, 28% reported psychological issues, and 10% saw excessive violence.
So we need to begin serious retraining, taking away the military gear and dealing with the police unions. If need be, fire the force and rehire to do away with the decades-long union protection of rogue cops. Certainly we need a National Police Academy to even out the hit-or-miss training found in police departments today. Yeah, it’s a big job with hundreds of thousands of officers, but begin at the top with captains and work down from there. Policing is a top-down business. If you need an MBA to go to work on Wall Street, certainly it’s not too much to require Police Academy accreditation from those who ‘serve and protect’ us on a daily basis.
Reform doesn’t happen in the dark
We sure don’t need more ‘commissions to study the problem’ and produce a report. Progress begins in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, as Campbell Robertson details in a New York Times article. Open the link and read it. This is important stuff. Don’t throw bricks and firebombs at the cops, it only hardens the positions. Demand meetings and create dialog where there is none. Lower the rhetoric, but don’t take no for an answer and for god’s sake, get off the streets. There’s been too much destruction and too little construction. The point’s been made and we need to move on before all demonstration credibility is lost.
Photo Credit: the sun.com