Will we consider retraining law enforcement? At this time, we approach the notion as if it is an impossible task. I think not. If we can create new laws and policies which dictate the ways we navigate certain procedures in our daily lives, then changing policy and shifting groupthink as a byproduct of a next-level practice protocol for law enforcement mustn’t be any different.
Training protocol and practices in need of urgent change pertain to the manner with which neighborhood communities of color are patrolled and policed. First when you treat people as subjects, potential perpetrators of crime, as deviant, and in adversarial demeanors, then what results or the messages conveyed and received will match that expectation. The people will view you as equally deviant, cruel and criminal-like. Before any interactions, tension and animosity will be felt, and will certainly contribute to potential charges against the ‘perp’ such as resisting arrest, either harassing or assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct, etc….
The term ‘resisting arrest’ is a subjective determination, and that determination lies first at the moment of interaction, and finally ends up in the hands of a judge. The entire process is subjective-from start to finish. School environments are not immune either, for therein begins the pipeline to prison for youth of color.
Another aspect of training which needs reform is the notion of profiling, racially based. Young men of color always seem to fit the profile of a suspect or perpetrator. Whether walking in their neighborhood or walking in a shopping district or at school or on their way home from school-suspect. Whether driving their car or riding a bicycle-suspect. What is the one factor that makes this so? First, the way they may dress…baggy pants, baseball caps worn forward or backwards, hoodies,-whether over their head or resting on their back. Loud music-rap, hip-hop, unlaced sneakers. There is not one characteristic or piece of clothing, and such are external, which may be worn on black and hispanic kids not also worn by white kids in their own neighborhoods.
However unfortunate and unfair, these are factors that contribute to ‘fitting a profile’ long before they speak. I am so bold as to challenge any one of us to dispute these facts. If black kids are seen driving in ‘nice’ or so-called luxury cars, it is assumed stolen or purchased with illicit money. Say it ain’t so! A profile should be based upon totality of behaviors within a specific context., Clothing can not be the sole or even primary reason to raise eyebrows. The way they dance, you say! Most, practically all, of the dance moves seen made by both black and white kids are the same, except black kids are the cultural originators and that is how it has always been in music and dance.
There are far too many similarities between youth, black and white, and that leaves very little to tip the scales of ‘real’ differences. What remains is location, race and attitude towards police, and vice-versa; it’s reciprocal. The manifestations of erroneous immaculate perceptions- stereotypes, have become deeply embedded in the psyches of us all and police officers, whose job demands impartiality, much too often act on these biases with authority. Training to counter implicit bias and build cultural proficiency must be important areas to place targeted focus. Since cultural competency is an ongoing learning and growth process, there must also be ongoing inservice training for ensuring competencies are utilized to the most public- friendly manners.
Whenever civilians call to report violence, and an officer finds reason to give chase after a ‘suspect’ or person of interest, police officers must acquire the keen ability to accurately identify foreign objects. Developing an effective strategy to respond to individuals who reach into their pockets, reach down in their car, or make movements that may be indicative of the presence of a weapon. Too many unarmed people, of color, have been unduly injured or killed because of faulty identification or erroneous assumptions or both. Officers then respond by claiming their presence of fear. Officers have a built-in fix to counter any claims from all civilians who are harmed, even when innocent, in the line of duty-in the name of ensuring public safety, or while apprehending a suspect. Their legally and union-supported cry is,”I feared for my life.”
Those words alone represent their way out of any alleged wrongdoing on their behalf. That is not to say that officers don’t ever fear their own safety in different situations. Certainly they do. They, too, are humans and that is a human reaction, feeling. In fact, whenever there is a civilian injury at the hands of police, despite the circumstance or details of incident, chances are in their favor that no harm shall befall them. ‘Fear’ is a powerful emotion, and as such, acting out of that fear can result in poor judgement. We’ve seen this on countless occasions.
Once again, training, training, training. Fear is natural, but responding to fear can be learned. Men and women who are ‘on the job’ know that the nature of their work is potential danger. They face life and death situations on a daily basis. What separates the officers who exercise poor judgement out of fear and the officers who can say that they have never shot or killed a suspect in their career is judgment and managing fear. If an officer asserts that he or she has a real fear of heights, then this must be conquered prior to dealing with the public at large. If after training that officer has been unable to successfully cope or manage or overcome this fear, we have two choices.
Either that officer never leaves the academy until successful outcome frequency or get rejected, held back as a cadet. Why subject the public to someone unable to truly do the job, at every level! Protect and serve. That become a potential disservice to citizens everywhere. Should we allow a med student to go out and practice medicine on the public if he or she didn’t pass the medical boards or law student who couldn’t pass the bar? After all, competencies which are taught and tested are mostly basic knowledge in different areas. That is before they choose a specialty. Are police candidates and officers immune to such criteria?
Vision testing, positive identification of weapons, the ability to distinguish a bottle of soda[shiny object at night], cell phone from gun or knife. All areas to reimagine, and place targeted emphasis during the training process. It should go without saying that unbridled prejudices, biases affecting the manner with which the job is performed, must be an area of ongoing training.There are many diagnostic instruments and tools used to identify bias, not just self-reported questionnaires or verbal interviewing techniques. None of us is immune to bias. That, too, is human. We must confront then alter them at the cadet level and revisit trainings inservice, as well. Cultural competence is ongoing, not static. If to no avail, no moving on from the academy.
Anger management, testing for substance use among officers, not just screening out those with past history of use. The critical factor is use while on the job, and this should mean ongoing testing, particularly after any police involved injury or death or shooting incidents. Even when shootings are justified, by all accounts, psych testing, and counseling sessions post incident. Challenge them to imagine alternative actions and decisions. Everyone can improve their skills and decision making. Mere questioning is not an indication of wrongdoing or poor judgment, it simply is solution focused pursuit of continued growth in order to better ensure safety for all.
Everyone who would like to become a police officer may not be cut out for the work. Some things are rightfully deal breakers and some things can be improved, but not at the expense of the public-and no longer at the expense of people of color or persons with mental or behavioral health conditions. It takes a lot of bravery and a sincere desire to protect and serve the people-all people while working under the general assumption that everyone is innocent before or until proven guilty…. especially when a person of color or poor… and even if caught in the act. Innocent BEFORE proven guilty-everyone. Train better, do better, be better, be brave, be fair. Protect and serve!