Exchanges About Police Uses of Force and Community Relationships
Dear Sergeant, now for my ‘boat story:’
Fellow officers, we find ourselves at a crisis point today. Much of our positive work over the past decades with people of color in our community is in jeopardy. They are asking us to stop killing them. That is a stunning statement given the work we have done over the years – it is not fair, be we must seek to understand it and to realize that we are only one part of what needs fixing.
But that which faces us in both shootings has been amped up by police actions in Ferguson to Baltimore. It is a national crisis in policing and it has come to us.
We have been asked by citizen groups to review our deadly force policy; a policy that has been in effect since the 1970s. What we need to do now is to rethink this policy and how it applies to policing today, how we are training and leading our officers in the use of force, especially deadly force, and how we are communicating the work we are doing, and have done over the years, with our entire community.
We must now loudly and publicly share with our community how we respect life, and how we are committed to using the least amount of force to carry out our duties. We must emphasize that it is okay for officers to slow things down and de-escalate.
What I am proposing has great implications for our training team and I will urge them to consider new ways to incorporate scenario and hands-on training to help officers make the right decision, possess the right tools, know the most effective tactics.
For example, Seattle has put such a narrative into their new use of force policy.
In our experience following that fateful day on Sept. 11, 2001, many believe that we have become more militarized and more willing to use deadly force in confrontations. We know little about the overall data surrounding OIS in our nation who is being killed and in what circumstances.
But one thing we do know is that there is increasing anger amongst our citizens of color in what they perceive to be increased police use of force against them.
Until we have the facts, we must deal with this perception.
I need each and everyone of you to double-down with regard to community contacts and telling our story: that we are a caring, capable, diverse, and committed department that has the goal making sure OIS of unarmed persons are eliminated. We must say this and say it strongly and with belief and integrity.
As leaders, we need to be out amongst not only our officers, but the community as well. We need to dialogue about how and when we use force and that we respect the dignity, life, and work of every individual.
A warrior mentality has no place in our ranks. We are guardians; guardians of our citizen’s constitutional rights and those who are most vulnerable in our community – especially those who are poor, of color, youth, and who suffer from mental illness.
Now I am not suggesting our officers not use deadly force or place themselves in danger – only that they are encouraged to use all of their skills in dealing with deadly threat to themselves and others in the community. It is okay to back off, to de-escalate, to take cover, to use other methods and instrumentality that will not result in a death or serious injury.
We need to take the moral high ground in our city. Right now Graham v. Connor and “reasonable objectiveness” have been interpreted as some in our community and in the nation as “if I fear, I can shoot!”
As senior officers, we know how to deal with fear. We know what it tastes like, but because we are experiencing fear does not necessarily mean we have to respond to it with deadly force. Competent, professional police officers keep their fear in check, in balance, and perform their duties in a responsible manner. We know that “to fear means we can take a life” is wrong and we must face the fact that we are in the business of saving lives, not taking them.
As your chief, I need this commitment from you if we are to regain the trust and support of everyone. I need you to be with me on this.
We all know we cannot do good work in our community without trust and support. Otherwise, we will end up like a Third World, third-rate, police department. We are better than that.
So, I need your commitment, your willingness to stand with me on this, and ramp-up our engagement with community groups, neighborhood associations, service clubs and other neighborhood residents in your districts – this includes groups that may be distasteful to you like YGB.
Are you willing to join me in this? I need you totally with me. We belong to the community. We are their police. And we can do this if we all work together and hold up the traditions of this great police organization. As leaders, we fix things that are not working. That’s our job.
The healing begins with us. It happens and each and every respectful and controlled interaction we have with our citizens from this day forward.
Now I’d like to honestly hear from each one of you as to what you think about this strategy. How you see yourself responding to it and leading your teams forward.
I am, of course, interested in any additional immediate things we should be doing.”
I hope this has been helpful… Stay in touch!