Educate your community: 3 use of force core values for police
The more we explain to people why we do what we do, the better chance we have of turning around false narratives surrounding our profession
I have had many recent conversations with friends and other well-meaning citizens regarding the use of force by police officers. These discussions made me realize how law enforcement has failed to explain to the public how and why we use whatever force we use in a given incident.
There is no consistency or standards in law enforcement regarding use-of-force techniques. Every agency is different. Every situation is unique. Just take a look at the comments section of any use-of-force video posted on Police1 to see the differing of opinions regarding what type of force is used in a particular situation.
Realizing that we will never all agree on what type of force should be used, I created a list of three values I refer to as the gospel of use of force. If police departments develop a practice of communicating and educating citizens and the community about these three core values, I believe we will see an enhancement of neighbor relationships, help change some perceptions of the law enforcement profession and improve overall public trust.
1. Priorities of life
Hostages, innocents, officers and suspects are the order I was taught and still firmly believe we should follow as a profession. Sharing this with citizens and our communities may help them better understand why officers use a particular force tactic when dealing with suspects.
In terms of the priorities of life, the safety of officers is above that of a suspect who is attempting to harm people regardless if they are unarmed or mentally ill. Does this mean that we shouldn’t try to de-escalate situations involving unarmed or the mentally ill? Absolutely not. We have a duty to de-escalate these situations, but we should not put their safety before ours.
It is incumbent on us to communicate this to citizens to help them understand why we don’t charge into a room where a person who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is alone and armed with a weapon or why we run towards gunfire when others are running away.
2. We are human
Lt. John McClane did an excellent job of dodging bullets, shooting down a helicopter with his last bullet and defeating heavily armed suspects with his bare hands and a handgun in the “Die Hard” movies. Unfortunately, none of us are John McClane.
Given that police officers are human, we are susceptible to all the same human things as everyone else. We get angry. We feel pain. We get sick. We have family issues. We make mistakes.
The law enforcement profession does not do a good enough job of admitting when we make mistakes. The consequences of not admitting our faults have contributed to the perception that we are all corrupt and cover for each other all the time.
Obviously, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, this perception is reinforced when the general public reads in the media that their municipality is paying out thousands of dollars for an alleged act of police misconduct, but admits no wrongdoing.
To the average citizen this looks like we did something wrong, but are unwilling to acknowledge our mistake. We need to do a better job of projecting the human side of our profession to the public.
3. The optics of using force are not pretty
Since force is never going to look pretty, techniques should be used to end physical confrontations as safely and quickly as possible. You can go on YouTube and see countless videos of police officers attempting to arrest uncooperative suspects using optic friendly techniques that only serve in prolonging the confrontation and increasing the likelihood of injury to both the officer and the suspect.
Law enforcement, as a profession, could do a better job of communicating to the public that using force is always our least desirable option, but when we do use force, it’s not going to look pretty regardless of our intentions.
As a profession, we may not agree on what use-of-force technique should be used in a given incident, but we can come together as a profession and shed light on these issues to better inform the community we’re serving.
If we communicate and educate our communities about the three core values listed above, maybe we can make some head way at changing the current false perception that all we want to do is harm innocent people.
To get started, police departments could use their social media sites to publish videos of their use-of-force instances after the legal process has concluded. Publishing these videos, along with a detailed explanation, could help educate the public about the gospel of the use of force.
In addition to publishing the videos, agencies could continue to facilitate citizen and youth academies.
The more we explain to people why we do what we do, the better chance we have of turning around this false narrative surrounding our profession.
This article, originally published on 11/07/2016, has been updated.