State your case: Should videos of violence against LEOs be used for police training?
These videos spike officer awareness but do they help officers prevent or respond to sudden attack?
This article is being updated with suggestions from Police1 readers. Make sure to keep reading for more police training tips and to submit your own comments at the end of the article.
Dashcam video of the killings of Constable Darrell Lunsford on January 23, 1991, and Deputy Kyle Dinkheller on January 12, 1998, became staples of police academy curricula and officer survival training sessions. At the time, such recordings were rare, but since the proliferation of smartphones and body cameras, there is increasing access to hundreds of videos depicting violent and deadly assaults on police officers.
Recently the New Mexico State Police released video footage of the February 4, 2021, slaying of Officer Darian Jarrott along Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico. But should these videos be used for police training? That is the question our columnists are debating in this month’s State Your Case. Share your thoughts on this topic in the box below.
The ground rules: As in an actual debate, the pro and con sides are assigned randomly as an exercise in critical thinking and analyzing problems from different perspectives.
Our debaters: Jim Dudley, a 32-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department where he retired as deputy chief of the Patrol Bureau, and Chief Joel Shults, EdD, who retired as chief of police in Colorado.
Jim Dudley: We can all recall the training videos that end tragically for police officers that we watched during the police academy and in-service training. The philosopher George Santayana is often cited as the origin of the phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Other iterations include: “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I still wince when I think about the films and detailed re-enactments of the four California Highway Patrol officers killed in Newhall, California in 1970 or the FBI agents shot and killed in Miami in 1986.
Viewing body-worn camera videos of shootings or other incidents that end in graphic violence to law officers can be horrific. It may cause some to look away or reject it. It may cause some to react with anger toward the source. Ultimately, we should take an objective look at the totality of the circumstances.
Still, they are necessary if we are to examine the event sequence leading to the violence in hopes of preventing such assaults in the future. It also gives the public an idea of the circumstances that lead to such confrontations.
An assessment done by law and force experts and tacticians can directly result in training and changes to safety measures to reach more favorable outcomes.
Joel Shults: I would not argue against the use of BWC review in training, I would argue against its use without context.
Since the arrival of dash cams and bodycams, police officers and lawyers of all stripes have argued that the camera doesn’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The flaws in the assumption that videos contain all the truth about an event are too many to promote a single video of a single event from a single viewpoint to make a general training principle.
One thing we’ve learned – or maybe we haven’t – is that every attack, arrest and response is unique. Shootings, in particular, are so rare and so anomalous that to make generalized assumptions about hypothetical future events and build training around them is speculative at best. There are literally millions (that’s not hyperbole, it’s biology) of sensory inputs that are involved in an officer’s lethal encounter, as well as with the attacker(s), that isolating one or a handful of training principles may miss the significance of some of the ingredients of the encounter. Even the simplified model of the FBI’s deadly mix of officer, suspect and circumstance contain too many factors to isolate.
In a recent interview I did with Dr. David Makin of Washington State University (whose work is referenced in an earlier Police1 article) we discussed the training value of BWC video. Makin and his team have viewed thousands of hours of police video in order to find patterns and sequences and variations in behavior of officer encounters. Using a scoring matrix of multiple factors, the team can identify and quantify many cause-effect or if-then behavior patterns that have significant value for training doctrines. This is an objective way to use dash and bodycam footage to establish generalized principles that can be validated for training purposes.
Jim Dudley: I understand what you detail here, Joel, in the intricacies and varying angles of a BWC video and how, unless under forensic examination (and sometimes not even then) can we understand the exact detail from the video. Still, the horrific video of the February slaying of Officer Darian Jarrott along Interstate 10 in southern New Mexico gives a clear sequence from the dash camera of Officer Jarrott’s cruiser.
Every officer can understand how a vehicle stop can degrade into a fatal event for officers. The video is clearly horrific and disheartening to any sworn officer and their friends and families who understand the potential of this happening on a daily basis. With any hope, people outside of law enforcement should see this to understand how the use of force at traffic stops is sometimes necessary. It clearly makes it understandable that an officer should be able to dictate when and where to stop, whether the driver or passengers remain inside or are told to exit the vehicle. It may help legislators and those who make law and policy to understand how vulnerable law enforcement officers are in such situations.
Recently, police chiefs and sheriffs have released BWC and dashcam videos to counter false representations by friends, families and attorneys who claim fault on the part of the officer rather than the suspect. I applaud the fact that agency leaders may release the videos before their policy timeline dictates to counter vitriolic claims and “calls for justice” under false pretenses.
In reality, the release of such video footage may heighten the situational awareness of officers and serve as reminders of the real threats that lurk during their shift every day. When BWC and dash cam videos are released in a timely manner, it may save officers from being hurt at riots and keep cities from being looted and burned.
Joel Shults: No doubt these videos spike officer awareness but do they help officers prevent or respond to sudden attack? We learn behavior from copying behavior. Police1 articles have addressed how many bad habits come from watching TV and movie cops. Watching attacks on officers can really sear those images into behavior templates, made even stronger by the vicarious emotions we experience while watching. I think brain research would say that learners who hear a lecture about what should have been done will remember the visual and emotional imprint more than the admonitions that follow. So, what we want to accomplish may be contrary to the actual effect.
Police1 readers respond: Should videos of violence against LEOs be used for police training?
Yes, they need to be used for officer awareness and survival training. Throughout my years in the military, we used videos of military personnel being killed to serve as a warning not to be complacent and how real our chosen profession is. For example, the Baghdad sniper videos.
It is up to each individual officer to continuously train and evolve learning from mistakes as well as successes. The benefit of video is priceless. Each viewer must realize that the camera does not show everything, such as what is the perception of the officer and more. Taking all that into consideration, we can view the video and see the errors and the successes. Each viewer then can build files in their brain so to speak, possibly similar to participating in reality-based scenarios, that they can draw on in future incidents. The viewer should watch and place themselves in the shoes of the officer at that time, not with 20/20 hindsight. The college professor states that he is concerned that officers will believe that there is danger always lurking, however, I would say this to him or others with similar concerns: How would you act if I told you that sometime between now and 1 year from now I am going to attack you without warning and you will not see it coming? How would you act? So yes, we need to review camera footage. Treat it with respect. Be considerate of the officers involved, they are just trying to do their best like everyone else. Be safe, never quit!
Absolutely. These videos should be regularly viewed. There is no better method to study a suspect's pre-assault actions and indicators than repeatedly viewing a video for cues the officer on-scene had no chance to capture, much less review. It is not only the gross actions but the subtle shifts in a suspect's manner and balance or body positioning that can be captured on video. Videos permit the actions of the suspect within the incident to be dissected and possible responses to the threat developed, based on the camera's perspective. As much context as possible about what the officer knew prior to arrival might be gathered if available.
However, we can never know what the involved officer actually saw or thought causing him/her to respond in the manner seen – even following an OIS where the interviews and depositions have been taken cannot give us "everything the officer saw or thought," only what the officer could remember following a traumatic event and often two or three years later. The video gives us the opportunity to build our own context, not judging the officer, but from our own boots on the ground through the eyes of the lens.
Because each officer's exposure to violence can only be individual, the viewing of these videos provides a deepening of the officer's pattern-matching catalog with possible response options. This permits a more rapid orientation to threats and a more effective force response. Sometimes officers in the video do something to solve their problem in an entirely unexpected manner giving the viewer the possibility of a new tool or method to employ if needed. In this way, the viewer has an idea of what might be successful and, sadly, what clearly does not work. Other than scenario training, which is expensive and limited, BWC and ICC videos provide the best option for familiarizing officers with a wide range of threats and tactical and force options. They are vital training tools.
I am a retired deputy sheriff with 35 years of service. As with most long-term veterans, I have unfortunately seen things the majority of people should not and would not want to see. But I am a firm believer in learning from our past, learning from other people’s mistakes, and changing our way of doing things from what we may have thought was our safest avenue. I relate this to the sports world. Every team in about every sport will watch and study film on their opponents in an effort to determine their best possibility for success. Obviously, in their failure there is only a loss of the game, however, in law enforcement, your failure could be the loss of your life. Any advantage that may help an officer survive is worth making available to them. I also feel that a video at times will tell the whole story from start to finish with the use of the in-car or body-worn cameras, with the exception of what the officer or the suspect was thinking at the time of their actions or lack of actions. Throughout my career, I can honestly say that of all the training I received or taught, the topics and information that I personally retained and was told by other officers that they also retained, involved the viewing of actual events or hearing from the officers involved in critical incidents of what that officer felt they did right and things they felt they did wrong. People always say you should learn from your mistakes, but you can and should learn from other people’s mistakes as well. Thank you. Stay safe!
Yes. There is no doubt that during my career these training videos have given me insight and have helped me and other officers survive in similar incidents. I absolutely believe that these videos should continue to be used for training. Leaving out any content is a mistake in training, you must know all the facts and be mentally prepared for anything and "expect the unexpected." I have seen officers turn their backs on suspects just as Constable Darrell Lunsford did and I reminded them what happened because of the video training. The problem in law enforcement is alfa males/females tend to think they have the situation under control and reality videos are what remind them in similar encounters to be wary, and pay attention to suspects' actions. Dave Smith's narrative and summary were great and he walks you through the incident pointing out the details. This is how all of these videos should be shown to officers in training. We all have learned from mistakes – some have been lucky, some not.
Absolutely! The limitations of body-worn cameras or dash cameras being what they are and being a known factor, the fact still remains that the majority of these videos that I've seen clearly illustrate what actions the officer was taking and what actions the suspect took prior to the attack. The example that comes to mind is the murder of the Texas State Trooper by the Mexican drug dealers. Not only did we see from the dash camera, as observers, multiple visual cues that the trooper missed, but we also saw how the subjects worked in concert and switched from English to Spanish as they made their plans. There are literally hundreds of videos of police officers being assaulted where in my opinion the videos can illustrate to future officers some of the things that might be precursors to those attacks.
Another video that comes to mind was a situation where the cover officer had the passenger in a vehicle suddenly flee from him without warning. There was no prior indication of danger or any weapons but while the officer was chasing the suspect, that suspect retrieved a weapon from somewhere on his body and without turning around, reached across his chest and stuck the firearm underneath his opposite arm and fired behind him at the officer striking him. These are the type of situations where officers can learn, maybe to not run directly behind a suspect but possibly off to one side or take some other type of action that doesn't put them directly in the line of fire in a situation like this. It also allows officers to understand that if they have reason to believe the suspect is armed, that the suspect will not have to stop and turn toward the officer in order to shoot him. If for no other reason than that, I believe the videos should be used as training resources and they should be discussed and debated in a training environment.
Each situation is different and any video must be viewed in context. Similar to viewing films at explosives school. No matter how much you view and practice when it comes to defusing unexploded ordinance each and every device is different. Police work is no different. Good training, critical thinking and a degree of good luck play a part in each and every incident.
Absolutely, the Darrell Lunsford video saved my life in a similar drug interdiction stop on the Florida turnpike. The offender tried to lure me to the trunk of his car on the pretense of retrieving his driver's license. Lunsford's video immediately flashed through my head and prevented me from making what probably would have been a fatal error. The driver and passenger both admitted their plan was to lure me to the trunk and overpower me and take my gun and shoot me. It’s the real world out there and real-life experiences of other officers caught on video are great training tools.
ABSOLUTELY YES! Anyone ever heard of "lessons learned," "after-action reports," and "debriefings"? Necessary as heck, or we are destined to repeat mistakes, or in many cases, cannot see how the LE response was appropriate and correct. It is a must. And faux political impediments to the use of these case studies has to take a back seat. It is time we stand on our hind legs and resist that.
Any kind of training is added information in my Rolodex. When I see visual and actual events it is even more so. There are so many ways to do this job both right and wrong that it is good to see and learn from others' successes and failures.
- There are two benefits to review of these videos, especially for newer LEOs. First, it shows in real-time exactly how FAST an attack occurs, dispelling any fantasy that reaction beats action. Second, it instills into the viewer that it can in fact happen to them, at any time, under any circumstances. Yes, it is horrific to view, but it is the reality of the profession we are employed in. It is an aspect of our profession that must be acknowledged and understood, and it just might save someone a lot of grief. Having 39 years (and still counting) on the street, I've experienced many incidents and learned before video even existed, which is to say I've been lucky. This is an educational tool that is essential in this day and age. It effectively debunks Hollywood. And it should not just be for us, but used also to educate the public.
- Yes, they should but the emphasis on viewing the video should be on the behaviors, threat cues and actions of the suspect, not the police officer. Many agencies view dash cam videos during roll call and the room always criticizes the officer. This is not learning! Understand the pre-contact cues and behaviors leading up to the use of force event, then you can see commonalities and learn to respond more quickly to these cues. Training scenarios can then be created using accurate pre-contact cues. Tony Blauer does a great lesson piece on how to properly view a dash cam and train from it.
- I believe that any time we can look at events in an AAR light to see what patterns there are and use these videos for guidance and improvement to our TTP, it is a good thing.
Yes, if the suspects use a unique or innovative method of attack. We can learn from the mistakes of others.
It is important to learn from the mistakes of others, however, we need officers that are confident and alert, not fearful. Seeing every video of officers violently assaulted or killed may send the wrong message and create fear, therefore, overcoming any training objective that could be learned.
I believe these videos do serve a legitimate training purpose: to illustrate to officers that they need to always keep their guard up because a seemingly cooperative subject can instantly turn into a cop killer in the blink of an eye. I'm reminded of the horrific video of the last moments of Flagstaff Police Department Officer Tyler Stewart's life, which shows just how instantly this transformation can happen.
However, there is a flip side. Georgetown University Professor Rosa Brooks recently joined the D.C. Metropolitan Police Reserve Corps to literally see the argument from the side of the police. And she stated in retrospect that in the academy, it was constantly being drilled into her mind that danger lurks around every corner, it will always catch them by surprise and they should truly: "Be nice to everyone they meet, but have a plan to kill everyone they meet." Without providing context that all situations are unique, and not all of them will end in an ambush, these visceral training videos will condition some officers to believe that danger LITERALLY lurks around every corner, and the aforementioned message about being nice but having a plan will turn into: "It's kill, or be killed." And this could cause them to possibly overreact.
Just to give a real-life example, consider the 2016 shooting of Philando Castile. Mr. Castile was carrying a lawfully concealed weapon with a permit when he was shot on that traffic stop. While I won't second-guess the officer's actions or say that Mr. Castile should have remained still and awaited instructions, it makes me wonder something.
I don't know how many police academies include a course of instruction on how to respond when encountering lawfully armed people (CCW citizens, off-duty LEOs, etc.), and how many don't have such a course of instruction and simply teach recruits to treat all armed subjects as dangerous. It makes me wonder if Officer Yanez had perhaps seen some of those ambush videos of officers during his training. It makes me wonder if when he heard that Mr. Castile was armed, perhaps he reacted as those types of videos had conditioned him to react, that an armed subject is an immediate threat and if he didn't react quickly enough, he would surely be killed just as officers had in the training videos.
Those videos of officers being ambushed or killed serve a legitimate purpose, to remind officers to always maintain situational awareness. But they should perhaps also include a reminder from instructors that you should also trust your own senses and your own judgment in a situation. And don't overreact to a situation because it looks similar to what happened in a video of a different encounter, with different people, in perhaps a different city and state. Every situation is unique, and these videos are meant to prepare officers (and, yes, maybe scare them a little because fear heightens awareness), but they should be careful that the fear from those videos doesn't become paranoia.