My five sense worth on police reform

We must address some critical issues of grave importance to the survival of our honorable profession

There is currently discussion nationwide about “police reform,” which is much preferable to “police defunding.” With that acknowledgment, I would like to give my five sense worth on how we can advance the law enforcement profession during this call for “reform.”

My First Sense is:

There has been resistance to courses that teach the principles of Verbal Judo and professional communications. Too many officers hold on to the “my way or the highway” approach to communication because it often works until it doesn’t and then officers end up looking bad at a time they want to look to be at their best.

Police on motorcycles ride ahead of protesters taking part in a
Police on motorcycles ride ahead of protesters taking part in a "Silent March" against racial inequality, Friday, June 12, 2020, in Seattle. Hundreds of people marched for nearly two miles to call for police reforms among other issues. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

We should universally decide to develop in ourselves the skills of the professional communicator who strives for the best results in every contact. No matter how effective you think tactics like “talking down to their level” are, this sort of exchange will never be understood by the public we serve no matter how you try to defend it. This is especially true when force has to be used.

Using defensible, effective communication skills, coupled with the act of treating all people with courtesy and respect even during and after resistance, is a concept some officers resist as they argue that doing so makes them look weak.

I would argue that in today’s world, which is overpopulated by rude people acting tough, treating all people with courtesy and respect is a superpower. Besides, you don’t have to act tough if you are tough. People on the street sense it and if they don’t, you can handle that because you are tough.

The time is now to commit to training every street officer to be master communicators. When we are communicating effectively, we are less likely to need to fight effectively.

My Second Sense is:

The TASER is a wonderful tool, but it doesn’t earn you respect.

Before TASERs, suspects learned to respect officers who could overcome resistance with what I call the “lost art of empty hand control.” When you couple these skills with the determination to treat every suspect with courtesy, dignity and respect, officers earn the respect of suspects.

There are officers and administrators who when you suggest enhancing empty hand control skills, say, “Why? We have TASERs.” Officers who have become TASER lazy can be heard to say nonchalantly, “If they give me grief, I will just light them up.”

As someone who has been shot with a TASER on multiple occasions during training, I have concluded that its intensity might leave a suspect respecting the TASER, but deeply resenting the officer who, after “lighting them up,” acts tough and/or treats them disrespectfully.

By enhancing our communication skills and empty hand skills, will not only increase our safety but advance our profession. The TASER is a great tool, but should not be your only tool for dealing with active resistance.

My Third Sense is:

There are times deadly force can be avoided by expert communication, tactical and physical control skills. It is also important to be beyond proficient in the “when” and “how” to use less-than-lethal options like the TASER, as well as having less-lethal options available to every officer. By striving to ensure every officer is a master in the use of all of these options, we will have to use deadly force less as a profession.

However, there will always be those times when police officers have no other option but to use deadly force. In an era where scrutiny is at its highest, we need to redouble our efforts in deadly force training to ensure that when under stress, our officers make the right decisions and, when justified, hit who they are shooting at excluding all others.

My Fourth Sense is:

Community policing continues to be the best hope for good police-community relations, however, such efforts have often fizzled because they have been pursued as “funded programs” that have a shelf life. Community policing can’t fail when individual officers embrace it as a philosophy by realizing that he or she is a part of, not apart from, the community they serve. Possessing a philosophy of community policing costs nothing.

Every contact becomes an opportunity for each officer to represent the department in a good or bad light. Officers must see each person they make contact with as a human being worthy of their best effort. Every police officer must come to realize that we deal with complex human beings who need the police and trust them enough to call them when they are in crisis.

If every officer strives to improve their relationships with their community, even with the people you arrest, the department’s relationship with the community will improve ever so slightly with each contact, even when that contact leads to an arrest.

My Fifth Sense is:

It is time to once and for all banish the law enforcement code of silence. Some officers are not worthy of the honor of wearing the badge and uniform. There has never been a clearer time in history that demonstrates how one bad officer can endanger all. Officers with the courage to come forward to identify those officers should not be harangued as “rats” but hailed as heroes.

In conclusion, I sense that:

Every one of you must consider the critical suggestions of people like me who love this profession, as well as from some who don’t like the police so much. It is not only important to your communities, but it is gravely important to the survival of our honorable profession.

Considering the way things are at this juncture of history, don’t you think it just makes sense?

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