It’s Time to Get Serious About Reducing the Number of Citizens Killed By Police

“Unless we significantly reduce this rate (a yearly average of 1,000 citizen deaths by police), we will do little to raise the level of trust and support that our police need to effectively respond to crime and become true community peacekeepers…”

On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott, an unarmed man, was fatally shot in North Charleston, South Carolina, by Police Officer Michael Slager. 

It is no longer acceptable that during the last six years we have not been able to reduce the number of persons killed by police. Our rate of using deadly force (that is, deaths/100M population) compared to other democratic nations in the world finds us in first place with 33.5 deaths/100M population.

This is a national embarrassment when compared with Canada with (9.8), Australia (8.5), Netherlands (2.3), New Zealand (2.0), Germany (1.3), and England and Wales (0.5).

We are way off the chart. Unless we significantly reduce this rate, we will do little to raise the level of trust and support that our police need to be effectively respond to crime and become true community peacekeepers.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: If we want police to be more restrained in their use of force; to use less deadly force, we are currently training them incorrectly and not long enough:

Let me put forth my credentials for those of you who may be new to this blogsite: I was a street cop in a major urban city, and taught defensive tactics. Later, I served as a chief in two cities during my 30+ year career. In addition, I have expert ratings in three Asian martial arts. I know what I am talking about.

We continue train warrior-cops when we need to train peacekeepers. Since 9/11, we have improperly trained a generation of police officers. What we are seeing today is the result of that error.

Police training has concentrated on the use of firearms to solve interactional problems — aim and shoot “center-mass,” then continue to shoot until the threat is eliminated. This almost always results in the death of a suspect and an outraged community.

A “use of force continuum,” was once the standard. It consisted of a series of actions from verbal command to grip control, followed by baton strikes, takedowns, and body restraint. The teaching being that as a suspect’s resistance increases, the officer uses just enough force to overcome the resistance. It seems that today’s use of force teaching jumps too quickly from verbal, to firearm, to death.

In order for a free and democratic society to work, citizens need to be confident and assured that their police are committed and trained to respect and preserve their lives — and to use deadly force only when it is an absolute necessity, the standard in the European Union.

Along this line, we need to develop control methods that use “less than deadly force” and train police in those methods as do police in the Czech Republic and Sweden. This should include a robust pursuit and creation of new technologies to control dangerous people without putting their lives in danger.

This must also involve training in “de-escalation” methods and create a work culture which supports “peer intervention.” By that I mean when a police officer is about to make a mistake other officers, who may be standing by, are encouraged to act to stop what might happen. (This involves a change in organizational culture. In this new culture, however, officers pledge to each other the following, “It’s okay for you to intervene, to stop me, if I am about to do something that will embarrass me, cause me to lose my job, or cause me to end up in jail.”)

All this will require a strong commitment (and funding) in order to develop solid, fail-safe technologies and teaching methods that will enable persons to be arrested by police without loss of life.

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[See my earlier blog on this subject: “Re-thinking Center-Mass Shooting.”

Some recent research supports ICAT Training to de-fuse critical incidents.

  • ICAT not only reduced use of force and reduces injuries to citizens, it also actually made officers safer. 
  • ICAT training with the St. Louis Metro PD was associated with a 28% reduction in use of force by Louisville officers, a 26% decline in citizen injuries, and a 36% reduction in officer injuries!

Suffice it to also say that we, as a nation, ALSO need to do something to control the proliferation of handguns. Interested? You can begin with “Why America Needs to Ban Handguns.”