Where To From Here?

We are now over four years past Ferguson and the rate of police uses of deadly force continues to be about 1,000 persons a year; that’s two to three fatal shootings each day and twice as many as the FBI has reported the years before Ferguson and before journalists starting counting persons who died after encountering police.

In a nation so enamored by firearms and the Second Amendment, this may not be a big number. However, a recent survey found that there are now more guns in American than people. (As a trade organization, the NRA has done very well and “bump-stocks” have now gone back on the market one month after the Vegas shooting.)

When I look at the data surrounding deaths by police, I see that about over one-half of them involve suspects who possessed a firearm. These deaths are understandable; when a person points a firearm at a police officer we can understand why they were shot.

But the number I have been concerned with is the 34% of police fatal shootings that occur involving persons who are not brandishing a firearm and the 52% of the shootings which involve persons of color. It is these “non-firearm” cases and deaths involving Blacks and Hispanics that worry me. And it is these incidents  in which I have strongly argued that our nation’s police must (and have the ability to) develop less-than-deadly means of control.

My argument here is simple. Our police tend to be overly-engaged in controlling persons of color in our society; therefore, they should be focused on understanding minority cultures and have a high ability to effectively interact with them and not view them as being categorically “dangerous.”

Is this too much to ask from our police who are struggling with distrust and lack of legitimacy especially among communities of color? I think not.

Instead, I urge police to be creative, think, and develop training, methods and strategies that are highly effective in contain “standoffs” involving persons not armed with a firearm. (This would also mean that police need to be well-versed in effectively interacting with mentally ill persons that account for about one-quarter of these fatalities.)

For example, I suggest training in de-escalation and using less-than-deadly weapons, containment methods, and best-practices in dealing with persons who are emotionally disturbed. These would be helpful in reducing deaths. (See my earlier blog on this subject HERE A search of this blog site will reveal more on this subject.)

If citizens in our country are to trust and support their police, which is absolutely necessary in our society, they will have to be assured that their police are respectful, fair, emotionally stable, and controlled in their use of force. When that happens everyone benefits.

For example, Prof. Tom Tyler found that when police practice Procedural Justice (when police listen, are respectful, make fair decisions, and are helpful) their legitimacy with the community increases. And when that happens, citizens not only come to support and trust their police but, remarkably, become more law abiding — a primary goal of the police function.

Our nation’s police must now work to reduce these uses of deadly force. That would save approximately somewhere between 200-300 lives each year and, in response, raise trust and support among their citizens and, particularly, those of color.