Adapt or Die: The Call for Police Reform...Is It Reasonable or Necessary?

The ebb and flow of whether "We The People" do or, do not support the police has always been up and down, throughout the history of American policing. As cries for security and law and order increase, so to do police powers. On the other hand when security and crime concerns diminish, the cries take the opposite point of view and "We The People"  decide we want to see less of the police and reduce their powers. We the police who work in service of We The People all too often lay low in hopes that this too shall pass.

Since Ferguson (2014) unfolded (I would argue it goes back even further than this, although more subtlety) there is what seems to be a robust and lasting push towards reducing police powers. Although there is much talk about police reforms in many areas (some we need) the most vocal have been the calls to change police use of force rules from reasonableness to necessary force. Is this only a spotty issue, affecting only a few states or regions of the country, or is there a nationwide push towards changing police use of force from reasonableness to necessary? If so what impact will it have on policing or more generally on the street cop who have to work and observe, orient, decide and act in the all too often uncertain and rapidly unfolding situations?

My opinion is their is a trend across America by a small but powerful and organized few, who influence many to change policing. As I mentioned above its not solely use of force related. These change agents, well intended or not. are taking a multi-pronged strategic approach. Stop and Frisk and search and seizure is under scrutiny across the country. Police abuse of civil asset forfeiture laws has shaken our nation’s conscience. The images on the news of police wearing helmets and masks, toting assault rifles, and riding in mine-resistant armored vehicles are not isolated incidents according to many, and they represent a nationwide trend of police militarization. Here in Massachusetts we just had some sweeping changes to the juvenile laws that will have a huge impact on how we police. Drug laws are changing and more and more people are coming out against drug prohibition. 

Its not just the laws being influenced or changed. Police discretion has been weakened in the name of policy and procedure which are suppose to be guidelines but all too often are interpreted, in the aftermath of a police incident as dogma. This ultimately stifles police initiative as they struggle with role confusion "what to do or not to do" in any given situation.

It is indeed conflicting and confusing times for the police profession, yet we still must do our jobs, and why we must continue to build relationships throughout our communities. To not, do so, leaves people guessing, wondering and asking what the hell is going on with the police. If left up to the uniformed, being fed their info through media outlets, policing will be impacted in a negative way, so it is up to us to bridge the gap between the people and the police or we will continue to see the growing negativity.

I believe through experience, and the research shows the vast majority of the people still have policing's back.  Most people in this country still support the police. To keep this support growing we must be aware of the trends to weaken policing. To not do so put police officers and the citizens they serve in jeopardy. Not only physical jeopardy but legal jeopardy as well.

I will be the first to say, some changes are necessary. The world has changed and technology; computers and smart phones etc. have people seeing things that they have never seen before as it relates to police reforms. Police use to be able to slow things down by delaying media knowledge and information as to what was going on, in some police action. Today before the incident is even over the social media networks have emotionally charged posts including video, spreading across the worldwide web at the speed of light!  and we all know as Mark Twain once said "a lie will travel half way around the world before truth even ties its shoes." In today's world information truth or lie travels much faster than Mark Twain time! Policing has to change, must change its methods and can no longer rely on delay tactics. Policing must be out in front of the issues, whether its a police use of force case or some other issue that alarms our communities. Failure not to breeds distrust, the opposite of MUTUAL TRUST what most of us in policing are striving for. Leaders in policing today must take joy in responsibility, educating and training not just their officers, but their communities as well.

Who wants to see police abuse of power, searches or arrests made without probable cause, or outright physical abuse by the police? I know its uncomfortable to talk about but if we are going to defend the good guys under scrutiny we must also condemn, the bad guys masking as good guys.  Who would not favor better tactical training for police officers who work the streets? Who would not favor developing cops social skills, as well as their defensive tactics skills to a high level of professionalism to be used to deescalate situations with confidence and professionalism. Who would not want more realistic firearms training, so the police on the streets have actually developed not only the physical skills necessary to fire accurately, but also the cognitive ability to observe, orient, decide and act under pressure of real life deadly encounters? If we want cops to perform in a reasonable manner under pressure, use persuasion (de-escalation) and force (escalation) shouldn't we be preparing them for it? I mean really preparing them with consistent, ongoing reality based training?

People inside and outside of policing talk about de-escalation like its some new magical thing that's been discovered. I learned about the escalation/de-escalation principle over 30 years ago. Persuasion and force (de-escalation and escalation) have been part of the ebb and flow of conflict since the beginning of mankind. I and many others have been training cops how handle dynamic encounters that include these ideas as major factors for consideration that influence their effectiveness and safety on the streets, for decades.

I must be critical of policing as well. Our dirty little secret is we preach about the high level of training police go through and continue throughout their careers, while the truth is this talk and preaching is false. A high school football team playing a game gets more realistic training than a street cop will receive in their careers.  Has policing really established the discipline to train and develop their people to the high level of professionalism needed to meet the rigors of the street? To meet the physical, mental and moral demands, conflict and violence are made up of, so they can win at low cost?  Yes, there are exceptions and a few will take it upon themselves, at their own expense and their own time to get to this level, but in general, it is just not the case.

Written doctrine, policy and procedure is not the same as training and developing our people. Its often said in policing "if it is not written down, then it did not happen." All too often in policing when it comes to written doctrine, policy and procedure, "what's written down, does not happen." Perhaps its time we do less writing and more doing, in our efforts to improve!

In a free society "We The People" have the final say in how we police. If we do not possess the strength of character and humility to reflect, dig into the weeds, and identify areas we should improve in, and then improve, the people will make the changes for us. Its happening already and its not just a regional concern, its a nationwide concern.

Police know what it takes to do this job so we must be aware of the trends, positive and negative, that impact policing and work tirelessly with our communities to ensure good sound policing can still be performed effectively.  In a real sense this come down too, how the public sees the police, how police see themselves. Are we guardians, enforcers or both – what do Americans see when they look at their local police? And do their perceptions of the police align with what officers say is their primary role?

Below are just a few links to articles, papers and books on police use of force and other police related calls for reform. These all include more links and references to more reports, so its important you READ BEYOND THE TITLES and dig deeper into this topic so you are fully informed. Every link and book I have listed here, I have read, some multiple times.

Articles, essays and research papers 

  1. Clearing the cops: Do district attorneys rubber-stamp police use of deadly force?
  2. Police Shouldn’t Ask If a Shooting Is Justified, But If It’s Avoidable
  3. Do Police Use Deadly Force Too Often?
  4. Walter Scott’s Death Should End Public’s Denial of Police Victimization of Blacks
  5. Police Use of Force: The Need for the Objective Reasonableness Standard
  6. Opinion: Law enforcement needs a shift from reasonable force to necessary force
  7. CA Reps Introduce Orwellian 'Police Accountability and Community Protection Act'
  8. Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force In The United States
  9. How PERF’s Use-of-Force Guiding Principles Were Developed
  10. EMERGING USE OF FORCE ISSUES Balancing Public and Officer Safety
  12. IACP Use of Force
  13. NIJ Police Use of Force
  14. IACP Statement on Use of Force
  15. Use of Force Policy Database
  16. Establishing national use of force guidelines
  17. New Use-Of-Force Guidelines For Chicago Police
  18. Why police shouldn't use the 'F' word to describe use of force
  19. 15 use-of-force cases every cop needs to know
  20. Deadly Hesitation
  21. Law enforcement leaders examine new use-of-force principles
  22. Educate your community: 3 use of force core values for police
  23. NYPD files charges against officer in Eric Garner death
  24. Force Science Assesses Proposed “Necessary” Deadly Force Standard
  25. The Indiana Law That Lets Citizens Shoot Cops
  26. Myths and Misconceptions About Indiana’s New Self-Defense Law

Books on Police Reform and Use of Force

  1. Unwarranted: Policing Without Permission (2017)
  2. The End of Policing (2017)
  3. Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017)
  4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012)
  5. Handcuffed: What Holds Policing Back, and the Keys to Reform (2016)
  6. To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America’s Police (2016)
  7. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces (2013)
  8. The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe (2016)
  9. In Context: Understanding Police Killings of Unarmed Civilians (2016)
  10. The Truth Behind the Black Lives Matter Movement and the War on Police (2016)
  11. Use of Force Investigations: A Manual for Law Enforcement
  12. In Defense of Self and Others... Issues, Facts, and Fallacies: The Realities of Law Enforcement's Use of Deadly Force
  13. Evaluating Police Tactics: An Empirical Assessment of Room Entry Techniques
  14. Policing Ferguson, Policing America: What Really Happened―and What the Country Can Learn from It (2017)
  15. The Ferguson Report: The Department of Justice Investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department
  16. Federal Reports on Police Killings: Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Chicago (2017)
  17. Stoning the Keepers at the Gate: Society ’s Relationship with Law Enforcement (2002)
  18. Force Under Pressure: How Cops Live and Why They Die (2001)
  19. Turning Tragedy Into Victory: Lessons Learned from Cops Who Have Fallen Enforcing the Law (2012)

Some will attempt to influence changes to policing by rioting and burning cities, others will outright try to ambush and kill cops. Some misinformed will feed upon false narrative and without ever taking the time to look at the facts, help to spread that false narrative. Some will believe it because its frankly what they believe, they saw it on the news or the even more powerful social influence nowadays, social media. Some will know its false but spread the word anyway because it fits their ideology, personal or sociopolitical views. Others will protest peacefully and attempt to change laws specifically police use of force and generally any laws that will reduce police powers or discretion to arrest or to stop and frisk or detain.

My hope is these links above when READ will help you make informed decisions.

Herman Goldstein says very eloquently:

"While improvements in policing have usually resulted from revelations of wrongdoing or the documentation of inadequacies, it does not follow that public dissatisfaction has always produced change. With monotonous regularity, peaks of interest in the police have been followed at both national and local levels by the appointment of a group of citizens to examine the specific problem that has surfaced and to make recommendations for dealing with it. In the heat of the moment the appointment of such a group has often, by itself, been sufficient to reduce public anxiety. And with a reduction in public anxiety, public interest begins to fade so that, by the time the study is completed, support to implement its recommendations is lacking." 

Sadly 40 years after Goldstein wrote these words in his great book Policing a Free Society, they all too often still remain to be true.  Its time we in policing adapt and drive the changes we need in a meaningful and lasting way beneficial to both the people and the police. If we fail to adapt, the alternative is to allow those with little knowledge and no actual experience, no expertise to drive policing to ineffectiveness.

Stay Oriented!