By Ray Williams
April 26, 2021
Violence in America is a daily occurrence. And part of that violence involves the police as we have seen in the George Floyd killing by a police officer. There have been too many lives lost to police killings. And in particular, black men. But in most cases, it isn’t because individual police officers are consciously racist or think black lives don’t matter. It is because officers perform the way they are trained to perform. And it’s because many police departments have developed a warrior persona and culture. Add to that the increasing militarization of police departments, and the problem becomes pervasive.
The Problem with Police Training
Seth Stoughton is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina and a former police officer. He is co-author of Evaluating Police Uses of Force. In an article in the Atlantic,Stoughton says: “Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement’: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift.”
Stoughton also says the following:
- “What is the warrior mindset? In its most restrictive sense, it refers to the mental tenacity and attitude that officers, like soldiers, are taught to adopt in the face of a life-threatening struggle. In this context, the warrior mindset refers to a bone-deep commitment to survive a bad situation no matter the odds or difficulty, to not give up even when it is mentally and physically easier to do so. So narrowly defined, the concept is difficult for anyone to criticize. Unfortunately, the homage paid to the Warrior has expanded that uncontroversial definition beyond all recognition. The warrior mindset has mutated into the warrior mentality.”
- For warriors, hyper-vigilance offers the best chance for survival Stoughton argues. Officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as a potential armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. Because the enemies’ identities are unknown, everyone is a threat until conclusively proven otherwise. A popular police training text put it this way he cites: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” That plan is necessary, officers are told, “because everyone they meet may have a plan to kill them.”
- Stoughton contends that counterintuitively, the warrior mentality also makes policing less safe for both officers and civilians. Either through formal training or informal example, officers learn to both verbally and physically control the space they operate in. It is essential to set the proper tone for an encounter,and the tone that best preserves officer safety is widely thought to be one of “unquestioned command.” Even acting friendly, officers may be told, can make them a target. But like the use of physical force,the assertive manner in which officers set the tone of encounter can also set the stage for a negative response or a violent interaction that was, from the start, avoidable. From the warrior perspective, the solution is simple: the people with whom officers interact must accede, respecting officers’ authority by doing what they are told. The failure to comply is confirmation that the individual is an enemy for the warrior to vanquish, physically if necessary.
- Officers aren’t just told about the risks they face, Stoughton argues in an article in the Harvard Law School Review. They are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance. And as they listen to the fallen officer’s last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing: “I won’t ever let that happen to me.” Modern policing has so thoroughly assimilated the warrior mythos that, at some law enforcement agencies, it has become a point of professional pride to refer to the “police warrior.” This is more than a relatively minor change in terminology. Though adopted with the best of intentions, the warrior concept has created substantial obstacles to improving police/community relations. In short, law enforcement has developed a “warrior” problem.
- Stoughton describes how more pointed lessons come in the form of hands-on exercises. One common scenario teaches officers that a suspect leaning into a car can pull out a gun and shoot at officers before they can react. Another exercise teaches that even when an officer is pointing a gun at a suspect whose back is turned, the suspect can spin around and fire first. Yet another exercise teaches that a knife-carrying suspect standing 20 feet away can run up to an officer and start stabbing before the officer can get their gun out of the holster.
- There are countless variations, but the lessons are the same, Stoughton says: “Hesitation can be fatal. So officers are trained to shoot before a threat is fully realized, to not wait until the last minute because the last minute may be too late.” But what about the consequences of a mistake? After all, that dark object in the suspect’s hands could be a wallet, not a gun. The occasional training scenario may even make that point. But officers are taught that the risks of mistake are less—far less—than the risks of hesitation. A common phrase among police: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Maria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. A veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who also served in the Israel National Police, she has conducted research on police forces in multiple countries, and has also written many books on terrorism and policing, including Critical Issues in Police Training.In an article entitled “U.S. Police Training in Use of Deadly Force Woefully Inadequate,” she asserts that In U.S. police department budgets, most funding goes tosalaries and equipment, and virtually nothing to training.” It’sa deadly formula,” she says. “The majority of police officers are overwhelmingly trained with a focus on the technical part of use of force, and are not trained enough in the emotional, psychological, physiological aspects of use of force.”
Haberfeld argues that the police in England and Wales fire their guns only a few times in a year because most are not armed.The British police have units thatare armed, and if there is a situation that would require an armedbackup, then the backup is called for. Police forces in U.K., in Ireland, in other countries where police forces are not armed, they have a much more extensive, in-depth training than in the U.S.
Arthur Rizer, a former military and civilian police officer and federal prosecutor, is the director of criminal justice and civil liberties policy at the R Street Institute. Officer David Franco (Ret.) spent 21 years with the Chicago Police Department and now speaks on behalf of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a nonprofit group of police, judges and others in criminal justice who support evidence-based public safety policies. They wrote an article, “Warrior Policing Undermines U.S. Law Enforcement,” in which they argue, “Our experience tells us that there are fundamental issues with law enforcement training that contribute overwhelmingly to the violent encounters we continue to witness. These encounters are examples of a misguided approach to training that deliberately pits cops against the public. Young officers today leave the academy with a sense of fear and mistrust that can lead directly to encounters that escalate into violence and tragedy.”
Police Training and “Bulletproof Mind”
For years, one of America’s most popular police trainers has taught officers how to kill with fear-based warrior tactics.
Dave Grossman’s “Bulletproof Mind” has been teaching law enforcement agencies across the United States militarized tactics in which officers are told to see themselves as “at war” on the streets. The retired Army ranger and former West Point instructor has been teaching his classes for more than two decades. Since retiring from the US Army in 1998, Grossman has traveled to all 50 states to teach his Bulletproof courses to law enforcement agencies, according to his website. Grossman’s bio on the website says he’s on the road “almost 300 days a year” teaching seminars.
He focuses on a concept he’s dubbed “killology,” or the study of killing, and uses it to teach officers to kill with less hesitation. “I am convinced from a lifetime of study, for a mature warrior who has prepared their self’s mind, body and spirit for a lifetime, for a mature warrior whose killing represents a clear and present danger to others, it’s just not that big of a deal,” Grossman said in 2015, while speaking in front of a group in a segment filmed for the 2016 police militarization documentary “Do Not Resist.”Grossman also enticed his audience by noting that killing can lead to great sex.
“What does a predator do? They kill. Only a killer can hunt a killer,” Grossman said at one seminar filmed by The New Yorker. “Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defense of innocent lives?” And that’s what Grossman is doing: Preparing police officers to interact with the public they serve by telling them they are “warriors,” by insisting that “WE. ARE. AT. WAR,” and by encouraging them to question any previous training they’ve undergone,” the organization said in 2018.
His overly aggressive style prepares law enforcement officers for a job under siege, where they’re front line troops who are “at war” with the streets. Officers need to be prepared to battle the communities they’re told to protect,Grossman has said. Grossman is part of a larger industry of controversial militarized and fear-based police training educators, that also includes psychologist William Lewinski at the Force Science Institute in Minnesota, whose work has been called “pseudoscience” by the American Journal of Psychology.
Law enforcement agencies including the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and hundreds of other jurisdictions have taken Grossman’s courses over the last 22 years, Grossman told Men’s Journal in 2017.
Agencies have started turning away from the courses in recent years, after it was discovered the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile had taken one of Grossman’s courses.
In an article by Stacey McKenna focusing on the issue of de-escalation of potential use of force by policy, she cites data to show that black people are about three times more likely than white people to be killed by a police.
The 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the surge of civil unrestthat followed prompted then president Barack Obama to assemble the President’s Task Forceon 21st Century Policing. A resulting report called for nationwide changes in lawenforcement, with the aim of promoting “effective crime reduction while building public trust.” De-escalation was one strategy that subsequently gained many new followers.
Although the approach is widely employed to reduce violence and aggression in health careandmental health settings, its application for law enforcement is poorly defined. In a policing context, de-escalation aims to decrease the use of force against civilians by teaching officerstechniques to slow things down and use time, space and communication to find an alternative—practices that run counter to much law-enforcement training.
De-escalation has become one of the types of training most frequently requested by police departments in recent years, says Robin Engel, a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice. A recent CBS News poll of 155 departments indicates that at least 71 percent of them offer some form of de-escalation training, although it is not always mandatory. Many departments in cities where such uses of force have taken place—including those in Seattle and Phoenix—require their officers to undergo training in de-escalation.
In 2016 Campaign Zero—a law-enforcement reform initiative developed by Black Lives Matter activists—helped conduct an analysis of 91 police departments in the largest U.S. cities. The study found that de-escalation mandates were associated with lower rates of policekillings and fewer officers being killed or assaulted in the line of duty—even after accounting for a number of departmental and social factors.
But what is increasingly clear, Robin Engel says, is that even effective de-escalation training is probably an insufficient solution if it is used on its own. “We know that training alone doesn’t change behavior,” Engel says. “So you need a strong use-of-force policy that emphasizes the use of de-escalation tactics. And you need to couple that with accountability and supervisory oversight—and then add in the training component. Agencies that have been doing [these things] are [anecdotally] reporting success.” Similarly, Campaign Zero reports that the departments with the lowest rates of police killings and officer deaths employed four or more of the organization’s “Can’t Wait” strategies aimed at reducing the use of force. In addition to de-escalation mandates, this campaign calls for measures such as banning choke holds and changing how the use of force is reported.
“Law enforcement is the dumping ground. When you don’t know who to call, you call the cops,” says former police officer Kyle Kazan, who is now a speaker for LEAP (Law Enforcement Availability Pay). “You have to take a step back and ask, ‘What does society need law enforcement for?’ We need to rethink how we handle society’s challenges.” He argues that ending the War on Drugs, increasing funding for dedicated social workers and outreach workers, and ensuring that officers are held liable for their actions within and across departments would better position law enforcement to help communities.
The Militarization of Police
By now, the public may be eerily accustomed to local police officers looking like a paramilitary force. Plentiful footage has been provided by the media of officers stationed at protests across the country, clad in military gear— helmets, tactical dress, flak jackets, and carrying assault rifles, looking ready for combat—instead of the traditional uniforms worn by public servants. Top civilian Pentagon officials in the Trump administration described the public spaces across America in which they march as a “battlespace” that state governors must “dominate.” We’ve seen scenes where police are pointing weapons at demonstrators’ faces, shooting them with rubber bullets, dousing crowds with pepper spray or tear gas, and using excessive force, all while clad in military garb, undermines the safety and trust of the people the police are sworn to protect. It’s notable that police have been using tear gas on US citizens when it was classified as a chemical weapon and banned under the UN Treaty on the Use of Chemical Weapons and the Pentagon has initiated a review regarding it’s use by US troops in foreign countries (even though they have used it, convening the UN Convention to which the US is a signatory).
Although some tactical gear and special weapons may be suitable to handle a dangerous emergency, such as an active shooter, the use of this type of equipment outside of these limited and isolated circumstances should be restricted to combat zones. It is wholly unsuitable for normal policing. The streets of America are not some far-off battlefield, and our police are not an occupying force. The military’s function is to fight foreign enemies, which requires specialized weapons, gear, and tactics. Domestic police, however, are meant to protect individuals and uphold the rights that every American is afforded under the Constitution, including the rights to free speech and to assemble. By definition, civil servants such as the police, are not members of the military and are, instead, civilians charged by the government with the responsibility of protecting and serving the people in their moments of greatest need. These roles, however, can become dangerously conflated when civilian police don military gear and carry specialized weapons.
Over the last three decades, the militarization of policing in America has grown exponentially, transforming an already troubled culture in many parts of law enforcement for the far worse. The result of this militarization—where local police take on the appearance, armament, and behavior of soldiers at war—is that the public is both less safe and less free. And those who encounter militarized police, whether in their daily lives or at a demonstration, are far more likely to end up dead or injured as a consequence of an officer’s militarized mindset.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program, allows law enforcement agencies to get their hands on Department of Defense technology, and the Bush-era War on Terror, American police have received a startling amount of heavy-duty, military-grade hardware. In fact, between 1998 and 2014, the dollar value of military hardware sent to police departments skyrocketed from $9.4 million to a startling $796.8 million.
How Did Police Become Militarized?
It all began during Prohibition in the 1920s. Organized crime got its first foothold in American life thanks to the lucrative black market in liquor. This was also the golden age of bank robbery with figures like Bonnie and
Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger becoming folk heroes. The Thompson submachine gun and the Browning Automatic Rifle were increasingly used by these crime “stars.”
On the flipside, the Prohibition Era saw domestic police departments using automatic weapons, armored vehicles, and ammo developed with the express purpose of being able to penetrate the early bulletproof vests worn by gangsters of the era.
Overall crime increased by 24 percent during the first two years of Prohibition. This included a 9 percent increase in theft and burglary, a 13 percent increase in homicides, and a 13 percent increase in assault and battery. Because the police were busy fighting the scourge of demon rum, it was difficult for them to target crimes unrelated to this.
In fact, a study of South Carolina counties that enforced Prohibition versus those who didn’t found a whopping 60 percent increase in homicides in the counties that enforced the law. A few decades later, America saw another wave of police militarization during the race riots, including the Watts Riots and the 1967 riots in Detroit, as well as increasingly militarized organized crime—thanks in part to the beginnings of the War on Drugs.
Incidents like the 1986 FBI Miami shootout and the North Hollywood shootout of 1997 were game-changers for law enforcement weaponry and equipment—due to officers not having sufficient stopping power during these notorious shootouts.
What Is the 1033 Program?
The 1033 Program was enacted in the wake of the 1997 North Hollywood shootout. Created by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, it allowed law enforcement agencies to get their hands on military hardware. Between 1997 and 2014, $5.1 billion in material was transferred from the Department of Defense to local law enforcement—with ammunition being the most common requisition. About 8,000 law enforcement offices were participating in the program as of 2014.
What Is Civil Asset Forfeiture?
Civil asset forfeiture (CAF) is a major driver in the militarization of the police force. Put simply, CAF is a legal principle that allows police to seize money and property from suspected criminals, which they can do without a warrant because the suspect’s property doesn’t have the presumption of innocence. CAF is effectively a legally allowed form of theft by police officers. Here is a short list of military hardware purchased with CAF funds:
- $5 million helicopter for the Los Angeles Police Department
- $1 million mobile command bus for Prince George County, Maryland
- $227,000 for a tank in Douglasville, GA
- $54,000 for 27 M-4 assault rifles in Braselton, GA
SWAT Teams: The Military of the Police
Begun in 1965 in Philadelphia, SWAT teams were conceived as a way to restrain urban unrest, deal with hostage situations, or handle barricaded marksmen.
SWAT teams—possessing military dress and armaments such as launchable ballistics, sniper rifles, and armed rescue vehicles—were designed to be used in extraordinary, emergency situations, such as a hostage situations. But with the advent of the war on drugs, followed by the war on terror, money and equipment became increasingly available to law enforcement, leading to an alarming increase in the number of jurisdictions with such specialized units.
Today, it is rare that SWAT is deployed to handle a genuine emergency. Instead, there has been an unnecessary expansion in the use of specialized force like SWAT teams to execute search warrants in non-high-risk scenarios or based on faulty information which has led to the injury and death of innocent people, including children and infants.
The number of SWAT raids in the US grew dramatically from about 3,000 in 1980, to a whopping 50,000 SWAT raids in 2014. Some more startling facts about SWAT teams:
- 62 percent of all SWAT deployments were for drug raids.
- 79 percent of these were done on private residences.
- Only 7 percent of all raids were done for situations SWAT was invented for—namely barricades or hostage situations.
White Supremacists and Extremists Infiltration of Police Forces
The FBI has long been concerned about the infiltration of law enforcement by white supremacist groups and its impact on police abuse and tolerance of racism, the unredacted version of a previously circulated document reveals. The FBI threat assessment report was released by Rep. Jamie Raskin, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee, ahead of a hearing about the white supremacist infiltration of local police departments.
The unredacted version of the first document sheds further light on the FBI’s concerns, as early as 2006, about “self-initiated efforts by individuals, particularly among those already within law enforcement ranks, to volunteer their professional resources to white supremacist causes with which they sympathize.” “Having personnel within law enforcement agencies has historically been and will continue to be a desired asset for white supremacist groups seeking to anticipate law enforcement interest in and actions against them,” the report notes in a section that was previously redacted. Another previously redacted section warned of “factors that might generate sympathies among existing law enforcement personnel and cause them to volunteer their support to white supremacist causes,” which could include hostility toward developments in U.S. domestic and foreign policies “that conflict with white supremacist ideologies,” the report warns.
Some redactions do not seem to be justified, for instance, the FBI’s conclusion that “white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement can result in other abuses of authority and passive tolerance of racism within communities served” — an apparent recognition of the potential harm to the public posed by white supremacist individuals embedded in police departments.
In a report published by the Brennan Center for Justice, former FBI agent Mike German detailed law enforcement agencies’ longstanding failure to respond to affiliation with white supremacist and militant groups in their ranks, as well as the long history of law enforcement involvement in white supremacist violence.
Since 2000, law enforcement officials with alleged connections to white supremacist groups have been exposed in more than a dozen states, while hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have been caught expressing racist, nativist, and sexist views on social media, “which demonstrates that overt bias is far too common,” German noted in the report.
The report notes that over the years, police links to militias and white supremacist groups have been uncovered in states including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. Police in Sacramento, California, in 2018 worked with neo-Nazis to pursue charges against anti-racist activists, including some who had been stabbed, according to records. An Orange county sheriff’s deputy and a Chicago policeman was caught wearing far-right militia logos; an Olympia, Washington, officer was photographed posing with a militia group; and Philadelphia police officers were filmed standing by while armed mobs attacked protesters and journalists.
“Efforts to address systemic and implicit biases in law enforcement are unlikely to be effective in reducing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system as long as explicit racism in law enforcement continues to endure,” German wrote in that report. “There is ample evidence to demonstrate that it does.”
In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremism and its relationship to “violent radicalization” in the United States. The report’s principle researcher on the subject, Daryl Johnson stated: “Federal law enforcement agencies in general — the FBI, the Marshals, the ATF — are aware that extremists have infiltrated state and local law enforcement agencies and that there are people in law enforcement agencies that may be sympathetic to these groups.”
An investigation published in 2019 by the Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers are members of Confederate-sympathizing, anti-Islam, or anti-government militia groups on Facebook. Within these private groups, members often are openly racist. Police officers have also been linked to groups like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, who believe in defending white Americans from “enslavement” and are actively hostile to immigrants. The investigation identified active-duty and retired police officers as active members in explicitly racist Facebook groups such as “Veterans Against Islamic Filth” (the group deliberately lowercases “Islamic” in its name) and “PURGE WORLDWIDE (The Cure for the Islamic disease in your country).”
The Plain View Project, a database of public Facebook comments made by nearly 2,900 current and former police officers in eight cities, suggested that nearly 1 in 5 of the current officers identified in the study made public posts or comments that appear “to endorse violence, racism and bigotry,” as reported by Buzzfeed News and Injustice Watch in a study of the database. For example, there are 1269 identified problematic posts from active duty Philadelphia police officers on the site. Of the 1073 Philadelphia police officers identified by the Plain View Project, 327 of them posted public content endorsing violence, racism and bigotry. Of those 327, at least 64 hold leadership roles within the force, serving as corporals, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, or inspectors.
The history of racism and white supremacist membership in law enforcement agencies is long and well-documented. In the 1990s, a federal judge found that there was a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of Los Angeles police deputies – self-styled “the Vikings” – that existed with the knowledge of police department officials. In 2015 and 2016, the San Francisco police department attempted to fire at least 17 officers after investigations revealed they were sending racist text messages.
The Ku Klux Klan historically – and even in recent years – has had ties to local law enforcement. In 2014, a police department in Central Florida fired two officers, one of whom was the deputy police chief, for being members of the Ku Klux Klan(commendably, the information in that case came from the FBI via the Florida Department of Law Enforcement). In 2015, a North Carolina police officer was pictured giving a Nazi salute at a KKK rally.
In 2018, Buzzfeed News reported that at least 319 NYPD employees committed offenses, including harassment and assault in some cases, that were sufficient cause for termination between 2011 and 2015, but for which they were not fired. “Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily,” according to the news outlet. Some officers who declined to be identified told Buzzfeed the internal investigations into the actions were “rife with favoritism, racism, and pressures to just plead guilty.”
And yet US agencies lack a national strategy to identify white supremacist police and root out this problem, German warned. Meanwhile, popular police reform efforts to address “implicit bias” have done nothing to confront explicit racism. As the calls to defund police have grown in recent months, law enforcement alignment with violent and racist groups only adds further fuel to the movement, German said. “In a time when the effort to defund police is getting some salience, the police are behaving in such a way as to justify that argument.”
What’s to Be Done?
Stoughton makes a number of practical and desirable changes to incorporate into police reform:
- Stoughton says the Warrior Police idea has created problems for law enforcement, but the Guardian concept may offer some solutions that enhance both officer and civilian safety in ways that increase public trust in the police. This has not gone entirely unrecognized in law enforcement circles.The guardian mindset takes both a broader view and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. As a result, it instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified, they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate.The guardian mindset emphasizes communication over commands, cooperation over compliance,and legitimacy over authority. And in the use-of-force context, the Guardian emphasizes patience and restraint over control, stability over action.
- The second suggestion Stoughton makes is to emphasize tactical restraint through both training and after-action review of use-of-force incidents. Tactical restraint has received significant attention and criticism recently, and so requires slightly more explanation. Simply put, tactical restraint instructs officers to avoid avoidable risks when doing so is consistent with the police mission. Tactical restraint doesn’t teach officers to run away from violent confrontations; it teaches them to approach every situation in a way that minimizes the threat of having it turn violent in the first place.
- The use of force, including deadly force, will sometimes be necessary. But when violence is avoidable and when avoiding it doesn’t sacrifice the police mission, officers should be required to use tactical restraint even when that means holding their position or temporarily withdrawing. From the Guardian perspective, the value of this approach is that it minimizes the risk to civilians by reducing the chances that the officer will find himself in a situation that requires a high level of force. In short, because officers are safer, civilians are safer.
- Stoughton argues that the use-of-force training should also emphasize de-escalation and flexible tactics in a way that minimizes the need to rely on force, particularly lethal force. Police agencies that have emphasized de-escalation over assertive policing, such as Richmond, California, have seen a substantial decrease in officer uses of force, including lethal force, without seeing an increase in officer fatalities when it investigates police agencies for civil rights violations.
- More comprehensive tactical training would also help prevent unnecessary uses of force. Instead of rushing in to confront someone, officers can be trained that it is often preferable to take an oblique approach that protects them as they gather information or make contact from a safe distance. Relatedly, a temporary retreat—what officers call a “tactical withdrawal”—can, in the right circumstances, maintain safety while offering alternatives to deadly force.
- Officers must also be trained to think beyond the gun-belt. The pepper spray, baton, Taser, and gun that are so easily accessible to officers are meant to be tools of last resort, to be used when nonviolent tactics fail or aren’t an option. By changing officer training, agencies could start to shift the culture of policing away from the “frontal assault” mindset and toward an approach that emphasizes preserving the lives that officers are charged with protecting.
- Finally, Stoughton says, police executives need to move beyond the reflexive refusal to engage in meaningful review of police uses of force. Police may act in the heat of the moment, although not nearly as often as is commonly believed, but that should not insulate their choices from review. If anything, it should lead us to review more thoroughly the factors that led to that heated moment. That review should be focused not on pointing fingers, although holding officers accountable is certainly critical, but on identifying the factors that contribute to the ultimate use of force.
- Police reform requires more than changes to training, Stoughton argues. The policing mission needs to be focused on keeping communities safe and free from fear—including from fear of officers themselves. There are deep racial tensions in law enforcement that will only be healed through a long-term, sustained commitment to cooperative policing and community engagement.
Stoughton says: “We need to rethink the many legal, structural, and social impediments to investigating officer-involved violence and the institutional reluctance to accept independent oversight, particularly civilian review. The path to real and lasting change is daunting, and it will involve many years and many steps. One of those steps must be changing the way police officers are trained.
Walter Katz, Deputy Director of the Inspector General’s Office that oversees the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, has suggested that police shootings be reviewed by applying the Human Factors Analysis and Classification system used to investigate plane crashes. The emphasis is on identifying that factors that contributed to the error so that the error can be prevented from happening again. Officer training should be constantly revised to incorporate the lessons learned from those reviews.
The following recommendations are drawn from Demilitarizing America’s Police: A Constitutional Analysis, the 2016 report of The Constitution Project’sCommittee on Policing Reforms:
- The role of local police as “guardian” must be effectuated and reinforced through law enforcement training, policy, and culture. As part of this effort, the federal government should continue to reiterate the peacekeeping role of police officers, as distinct from military personnel.
- To protect the rights of community members, as well as to promote constitutional policing by law enforcement agencies, the federal government must ensure that, prior to any state or local law enforcement agencies’ use or acquisition of military and tactical equipment, the agencies adopt and.adhere to specific, written policies and protocols on training, deployment, use, data-keeping, and reporting regarding the equipment.
- All federal agencies that provide for the transfer of or funding for tactical military equipment should make these data, policies, and procedures publicly available.
- Widespread and general training of police officers directly by military personnel should be prohibited.
- The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) endorses the recommendation of the 2015 Law Enforcement Equipment Working Groupthat certain equipment and weapons be designated as “prohibited” from being transferred to state or local law enforcement agencies. The following items should be prohibited: Tracked armored vehicles; Armed aircraft of any kind; Firearms of .50 caliber or more; Ammunition of .50 caliber or more; Grenade launchers; Bayonets; and Camouflage uniforms.
- The federal government must not lend or transfer any tactical or military equipment, including weapons, to any law enforcement agencies working exclusively in K–12 schools. In addition, all law enforcement agencies— whether or not the agency exclusively serves a K–12 school—that have acquired any tactical or military equipment should be prohibited from using, storing, or displaying such equipment in K–12 schools.
- Local law enforcement agencies should engage in more community outreach, focusing on getting to know the members of the communities they serve and protect. For example, officers may want to engage in “know your rights” presentations at community centers or schools, either with local activist groups or by themselves.
- Recruiting efforts by local law enforcement agencies should emphasize crime prevention, peacekeeping, and public safety, rather than the tactical use of firearms and military experience as key factors in successful policing.
- Law enforcement agencies need not ignore the value of technical and firearms experience of applicants, but the focus on military experience in recruiting may undervalue other important skills that are necessary for a community-based policing model.
- Training required of state and local law enforcement candidates and officers must be augmented to entrench a “guardian” mindset among peace officers. Training at the local level should: Include a component to help officers identify, confront, and discard biases that affect the way they interact with community members; and Emphasize communication and interpersonal skills, such as interviewing, investigation, and professionalism, as much as firearms training and other tactical, weapons-focused skills.
- The current rate of SWAT deployments across the country poorly supports the public safety needs of law enforcement and communities, increases tensions between the police and those they serve, and is fiscally irresponsible. Accordingly, the use of SWAT must be properly circumscribed.
- States should work to create standards for law enforcement regarding the deployment and training of SWAT teams and other tactical teams. Any such standards, at a minimum, should include the following: Policies limiting the use of SWAT and other tactical teams to situations in which there is a serious threat to the lives of community members or police, requiring corroborating evidence other than, or in addition to, an anonymous source in making that determination.
- States should enact laws that require law enforcement agencies to report data regarding the use of SWAT teams
- States should enact laws that require law enforcement agencies to report data regarding uses of deadly force, excessive force, and other circumstances involving potential constitutional violations. Data should include information regarding the victim’s race, religion, and other protected.
- States should also collect information such as witness statements as well as figures regarding settlements and awards paid in litigation for police misconduct and wrongful death lawsuits. Data should be publicly available with redactions to protect community members’ identities.
The U.S. has struggled with the ongoing problem of violence and racism for decades (and some would say much longer). Part of that problem appears to be, according to the evidence, is the mission and conduct of police forces, with particular importance to the issues of police training, militarization and connections to white supremacy groups. Numerous reports and recommendations have been made for the wholesale reform of policing as an urgent priority. The safety and well-being of Americans may depend on what actions are taken.
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