What About the Community?

 

“When we start suggesting what police should and should not do, let’s remember there are two audiences: police and those who are impacted by them.”

I have been thinking about a recent on-line article by a former colleague of mine, Prof. Pat Solar, about police use of deadly force.

For me, it was an apologia for police and ways to maintain what is currently being practiced and not  what needs to be done.

Here’s the first part of his article which appeared on the “Police One” website this past week:


Police use of force is a serious issue in any democratic society. Citizens expect police to keep the peace, but when citizens see the violence this sometimes requires, they often feel compelled to voice their shock and outrage.

“When a police officer is compelled by circumstance to use deadly force it is a tragedy both for the target of the force and for the police officer. However, there is a premise underlying the current push to ‘raise police use of force to a higher standard’ as outlined in the 2015 PERF report that is misguided.

The public seems to believe there is an epidemic of police use of force in this country, but that belief lacks any objective support. (Photo/PoliceOne)
“The public seems to believe there is an epidemic of police use of force in this country, but that belief lacks any objective support.

“The public seems to believe there is an epidemic of police use of force in this country, but that belief lacks any objective support. Passion rather than rationale is driving current discussions with little informed thought about the likely consequences of further limiting the power of the police.

“Modifying police use of force policy by insisting that officers exercise restraint in dealing with objectively threatening and dangerous individuals comes with enormous risk. This is not just risk to the officers themselves, but to the community, to the police agency and to the municipality…”

Further on. he quotes Mildred (Missy) O’Linn, as a “nationally recognized expert on police risk management.” She soundly criticizes the PERF report on “Guidelines on Use of Force” by irreverently calling the report from leading and educated police chiefs as a “politically motivated, irrational and unrealistic approach to use of force… Perhaps this lack of understanding is based on isolation in academia, or perhaps it has to do with a pure political agenda. It certainly is not premised on any concern for the safety of law enforcement personnel or even for the law abiding citizens that are in need of the assistance of law enforcement protection.” 

[You can the his full posting HERE.]


For me, his argument is two-fold: police kill infrequently and to raise the low-bar standard of Graham v. Connor is to invite even more litigation against cities and their police. This is a reason not change? I do not agree.

Of course, far too common to basic police thinking, is that police should have great leeway in enforcing the law in times of trouble. What Prof. Solar fails to take into account what the community may have to say about all this. It’s as if they don’t rate a seat at this table.

What if the community decides that “absolute necessity” is to be the standard they want their police to use when deciding to use deadly force against a citizen? What then? What will police do in response?

What is needed today, however, is less apology and more discussion and willingness to engage in serious, respectful dialogue with those served – community members.

Police should be willing to sign-on to the high value of being committed to saving lives at all costs. They should also be willing to develop, and offer to the community, less-than-deadly instrumentality, methods and strategies to deal with non-complainant suspects who are not immediately threatening them with a firearm; many of whom are suffering from a mental illness.

The times must change. Why? Because unless our nation’s police implement stronger controls on when they will use deadly force (“I feared, therefore…”) they will not raise the necessary level of trust they must have in order to effectively police the neighborhoods in which they are more frequently present. It’s a rather simple principle offered by Robert Peel and associates over 150 years ago: “The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.”

In the meantime, let’s encourage academics like Prof. Solar, especially those who were once cops, to start offering methods and strategies that will effectively raise trust, support and cooperation among those whom police serve.

The university is not a place where the status quo should be encouraged, especially to young, prospective police officers, but rather the high levels of practice police can aspire and achieve in a free and democratic society.

When we start suggesting what police should and should not do, let’s remember there are two audiences: police and those who are impacted by them.