11 July 2016

Cops comfortable with violence equal less shootings

My Great Great Grandfather, Francis "Hawkeye" McGrail, fresh off the boat from County Cork Ireland joined the Elizabeth NJ Police Department in 1896.  I joined the US Army as an MP in 1991.  About the only thing that our duties had in common was the fact that at some point you will have to put handcuffs on someone who does not want to be handcuffed to take them to jail.  All the technology in the world will never be able to change this.

Besides his uniform, there was likely very little that separated my GG Grandfather from those that he policed.  They probably had a very similar life experience and culture.  He had probably been in a brawl or two before becoming a cop.  There was also no way of finding out exactly what he had been involved in back in Ireland.

Fast forward just over a hundred years to when I became a cop.  I had to have no arrest record, not done drugs, and tons of other boxes to check.  Not one time did anyone every ask me if I had been in a fist fight, or even played a contact sport. They never asked me if I thought I could take a human life if I had to.

While attending the Baltimore Police Academy, I got a great education from the staff, especially the old timers.  But never in training, especially defensive tactics training, did I ever feel like I was in danger or made to actually "fight".  After having been involved in "Big Army" training, I knew why.  It takes a lot of money to get a recruit to day one.  There is a lot of time and money invested.  The goal is to get them on the street, not to fail them.  The one thing hanging over the head of instructors at both the academy and in service training is this, "don't let anyone get hurt".  Either they will not graduate, or they will not be able to work that night.

So, if you recruit people who have never been in a fight, don't put them in a fight in training, knowing that they will have to eventually fight someone into handcuffs, what do you think will happen?  Add to that that the vast majority of use of force training in any academy involves firearms, even though deadly force is the last resort at the top of use of force options, it is easy to see why suspects get shot.

With the exception of a few forward thinking agencies, defensive tactics training is a joke, and many officers take it that way.  There are two camps.  There are the guys who know it is bullshit and know they will do what they need to do, and more prominently those who believe that it cannot happen to them and that they can talk anyone out of anything, and that has been reinforced in training.

When the majority of your training time is spent on firearms, what do you think an officer is most likely to resort to when a situation spins out of control?  It is the same type of panic that causes someone to slam on their brakes on an icy road.  It is a big button response when you fail to recognize your other options because you were not trained to see them under stress.  You don't rise to the occasion, you default to your level of training.

Most police contacts do not start out of control, they escalate to that.  The best way to see as many police contacts as possible is to watch Cops (I know it sounds corny).  After all the out of control situations I have been involved in and seen live or on TV, most could have been prevented with the officers using decisive open hand skills earlier than they did.

My goal on the street was to to do my best to take away a person's ability to do anything that will necessitate to use any force at all.  This accomplished with good verbal skills, Constant Tactical Positioning, and as a last resort decisive, explosive, overwhelming open hand skills.

The FBI has said of slain officers time and time again that peers would describe them as "being slower to use force when necessary than their peers".    Because of the climate our country is in, more than ever officers are hesitant to use open hand force and continue to use verbal commands long after the suspect fails to comply.  They let the suspect set the tempo of the situation.  When officers do go hands on, usually by grabbing the wrist and the arms, we see how ineffective non pressure tested training is.  They have little understanding of how the human body works and how to take advantage of it.  They hesitate to use open hand strikes or baton in fear of injuring a suspect and getting in trouble only to have the situation spiral out of control to the point of them having to use deadly force. A broken arm is cheaper than a bad shooting.

You can see this played out in the Alton Sterling video.  The officers inability to control him standing, up against a vehicle,  and on the ground lead to the shooting.  Had they been able to get him on his stomach with his arms behind his back, the shooting might not have ever happened.  I don't know what the agency's use of force is, but the officer was in a position to drive his knee into the suspect's head or drop elbows into his face allowing the other officer to gain control of his right arm.  This would have been brutal to watch, but might have kept the suspect from behaving in such a way that led to his death.

The mindset of officers need to be "My goal is to take away the suspects ability to behave in such a way that causes me to use force.  If that fails, I am prepared to use explosive open hand force if it keeps them from behaving is such a way that causes me to use deadly force."  Of course, sometimes deadly force is the only option.

If this is adapted as a mindset, shootings would plummet.  Until agencies accept the fact that not all situations can be handled with verbal commands, pepper spray, and the Taser, we will continue to see a rise in police shootings as officers panic when these things do not work.  Police work is often violent, but violent does not always have to equal death of a suspect and the end of a police career.

During our two day Total Officer Survival course, we cover all of these areas and much much more.  For more information on the class or with any questions in reference to use of force, feel free to call me at 717-693-2085 or e-mail me.

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