Coffee and Conversation: Police Make Mistakes But Seldom Admit Them! What's Reasonable?

This article “Police make mistakes but seldom admit them” is focused on a couple of use of force cases out of Connecticut and is interesting in a couple of ways. First the title is true we in law enforcement do make mistakes and we do not like to admit our mistakes. The reason however is not to deceive anyone or to lie about our actions, but instead in my view the main reason is we do not know how to explain a judgment call in the heat of the moment decision to those outside of our profession.

Explaining use of force related issues has always, in my view, been a weakness in our profession. Yet, it is difficult to explain the loss of life in rapidly unfolding and complex circumstances in a world that has been taught, learned and cultured into the belief that everything has a explicit answer. Not true! Things just do not add up perfectly in the world of violence.

Another interesting factor in this article is the apparent disconnect between the realities of police training and what is perceived on the street by the community.

“In a recent newspaper essay a retired state prosecutor, John M. Massameno, wrote that he was appalled by the Lawlor and Smith cases and argued that Connecticut should have a law instructing juries reviewing shootings by police that there is a greater chance that force will be used against officers than against others and that officers have been trained accordingly.”

I agree that there is a greater chance that force will be used against officers but disagree with the assertion that officers are trained accordingly. The realty is law enforcement despite its improvements in training, does not get anywhere near enough consistent training. People, politicians and even some law enforcement and prosecutors' believe cops are highly trained. Another mistake not admitted in our profession!

Instead law enforcement emboldens the image of highly trained when the reality is only a small percentage of law enforcement officers would meet the professional standard of highly trained. I am not talking about college degrees, although they are important. Instead I speak of consistent ongoing training related to applying the cognitive and physical skills needed to effectively deal with violent encounters. The consistent training is just is not there and made available to the masses of our profession.

To bridge this GAP between mistakes and admitting them, we must possess strength of character and admit our mistakes this includes law enforcement who must admit what it can and cannot do. We must admit mistakes as they happen and why they happen in the world of violence mistakes get made and people die, including cops! Even with the best intentions that is the reality of our profession.

Good faith judgments and intuitive decisions are needed in conflicting and violent encounters and should not be treated and judged the same as a history lesson in class or from reviewing a movie. Cops are required by law to make reasonable decisions, in violent encounters not right or wrong decisions.

Also those in the community who see a decision made by a cop in the heat of the moment, through the lenses of a camera or broken down in a linear way step by step in a court room as one in the same thing, your mistaken. It’s not even close! It looks good, sounds good and even makes sense when time is plenty and risks are low, but “admit it” It’s not the same.

"The law," Massameno wrote, "should not criminalize officers' good-faith mistakes in judgment."

True cops make mistakes but most often they’re made in the heat of the moment, in rapidly changing and complex situations. The sadder fact is the bigger mistakes are made in the aftermath of incidents not only by those in law enforcement but by some community members and politicians who have the luxury of time to get it right and instead let their emotions, biases, political and social views cloud their judgment. We all must admit these mistakes and why they happen, as this admission helps build trust and helps us evolve as professionals and as a community.

Mistakes and admissions are a two-way street of cops and community in my view. It’s time we admit that, learn from it and continue to evolve in two-way understanding so we are all more effective in reviewing and learning from these types of use of force cases. .

Just some thoughts on a difficult topic, this morning the day after Christmas, what do you think?

Stay Oriented!

Fred