But it is possible that much broader and diverse factors may also be at play. Among these, police training is being prominently cited, not just for its brevity or its brutish simplicity but also for its colossal obsolescence. All indications suggest cops are out of sync, out of touch, unsympathetic, at odds with the communities they are tasked to serve and protect, and often hold themselves above the law in cases of excessive force and blatant misconduct.
While racism may certainly play a role in some incidents, the bigger picture reveals inadequate, insufficient, and outdated training methods that often encourage abuse and even unprovoked violence.
Beyond the significant policing failure revealed in the high-profile George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases, there have been a multitude of other incidents that have gone unreported simply because they had the misfortune of falling just outside of the lens of a nearby camera. If we focus only on those cases fortunate enough to capture the attention of the media, we are only witness to a small fraction of the multitude of police misconduct cases.
Consider the cases over the previous few months: the killing by police of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin; the fatal restraint by police of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York; the shooting by police of a disturbed 13-year old boy in Salt Lake City, Utah; and the heavy-handed force used by police in response to a report of a stolen vehicle in Aurora, Colorado. In this particular case, police forced the driver, a woman, and four girls (ages 6-17) out of their car at gunpoint and ordered them to lie face-down on the pavement. The vehicle, as it turned out, was not stolen. The police had mistaken the vehicle’s license plate number for that of a stolen motorcycle.
According to usatoday.com: “In almost all such cases, officers say they acted consistently with their training.” In the case of the stolen vehicle report in Aurora, it is suggested that the cops followed established protocols. According to a police spokesperson, “Standard practices include drawing weapons and requiring all occupants to exit the vehicle.... Officers drew their guns and handcuffed members of a Black family after mistaking their car for a stolen vehicle.”
The broader question we must all begin to ask: When did it actually become “standard practice” to draw weapons on occupants that are pulled over during a traffic stop? When did it become “standard practice” to handcuff all family members, including children as young as 6, during a traffic stop? “When did it become “standard practice” to force unarmed and cooperating occupants of a vehicle to lie face-down on the ground? If this is now become “standard practice,” it would seem that police training protocols and practices have drifted far from common sense and civility.
Law enforcement might insist that these new protocols are the result of a new high-stakes environment that now requires unprecedented vigilance and excessive force to assure public safety. USA Today goes on to report, “Experts [claim] that current training methods exacerbate the odds of violence by instilling in officers a fear that their lives are at constant risk.” Unfortunately, police officers serve the public in a “culture of urgency and suspicion” resulting in hasty and often reckless snap judgments, which often fail to defuse a situation, and to the contrary, result in an escalation of excessive force, often leading to a violation of a citizen’s due process and civil rights. Unfortunately, many excessive force protocols are introduced as standard operating procedures during orientation and training.
Sometimes, as in the case of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, in which Officer Timothy Loehmann shot the 12-year-old suspect seconds after arriving on the scene, it now appears that responding officers acted with hair-trigger violence before properly or methodically assessing the scene, even in those cases where they are preempted upon dispatch with inconclusive or misleading information.
It is becoming increasingly evident that police forces across the U.S. are inadequately prepared to cope with the complexities of the culturally and socio-economically diverse environments in which they serve. Consider situations where police deal with persons under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, or those struggling with psychiatric issues, training not only lags behind, it is virtually non-existent. W.E. “Dan” Libby, a retired police chief who now testifies in use-of-force cases, says that “while society’s understanding of mental illness has evolved over the past half-century, law enforcement training hasn’t.” (usatoday.com)
Consider actual training requirements for law enforcement across the county. According to a study conducted by CNN, researchers determined that barbers in North Carolina are required to complete 1,521 hours of training necessary to earn their license, while police in that same state are required to complete only 620 hours. In Florida, interior designers can only be licensed after 1,760 hours of training, yet police in Florida receive only 770 hours before licensure. In Louisiana, a manicurist may practice after 500 hours of training, yet you can become a Louisiana police officer by completing a 360-hour course. And remember Officer Loehmann who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice? His department confirmed that Loehmann and other officers at his precinct receive a whopping 40 hours of crisis prevention training before being sent into the streets. That equates to fewer hours than required to become a Starbucks barista.
Such deficiencies and wrongheaded intentions in police training may present a more adequate explanation for any violent behavior law enforcement officers exhibit in their interactions with potential subjects and the general public. While racial and cultural sensitivity must be presented as part of a training regiment, there exists a need for a far more comprehensive approach to de-escalation and risk assessment. In today’s social justice culture, hair-trigger responses and wild-west policing can simply no longer be tolerated.
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