Nothing to hide: Why you should invite citizens to UOF training

One of the most successful suggestions I ever made was to have my chief invite the mayor and city council members to a reality-based video course we were putting on for the department

If the police have a hard time understanding the dynamics of the use of force, how will we get the public to understand what they see? We need to have a cost-effective suggestion on teaching the public on police use of force. 

Since the Ferguson incident occurred, I’ve discussed police use of force with more people, both civilian and sworn, than ever before. As a use-of-force instructor in multiple disciplines — and a police officer for more than 30 years — explaining using force on someone who is breaking the law is still the most difficult topic to explain. 

It is complicated to explain to police officers so that they understand how to win and go home each night to their families. It is even more difficult to explain the use of force to people who have never been in law enforcement or who have never been involved in a violent physical altercation.

Force Isn’t Pretty
The use of force is sometimes a necessary part of the job we do but I have never seen a use of force that looks good. It is difficult to explain what we do but there is a new perception in society about law enforcement. 

There was a time when the police officer was respected because he was a police officer. Times have changed — for better or worse. This is a time when we need to explain ourselves and that is a paradigm shift in the culture of law enforcement. Some have embraced the idea of explaining how and why we do what we do but the culture in law enforcement has made that change difficult for most, and they have been slow to change. 

Some of our supporters even think we should shoot people in the leg or use a TASER in a battle for the officer’s life or the life of another.

We need to explain to the public what it is like when we need to use physical force to take someone into custody who does not want to comply or protect the lives of ourselves or others. 

I’ve seen the results of a 15-year-old, 90 pound girl who does not want to be arrested for robbery and the officers who were afraid to use the force necessary to take her into custody. I visited one of the officers in the hospital after his surgery to repair his broken knee. 

The fear in the minds of the officers who had to use force on a 15-year-old girl is incredible. In every class I have ever taught or attended, there is always someone who worries more about the consequences of departmental charges or a lawsuit than what happens if they lose a violent encounter. This scenario was real and it — or one like it — has happened in every jurisdiction in this country.

I have a suggestion on how we may change this. 

We Must Open Our Training
Why don’t we take the time to invite the media or citizens into our classes so they see what we really have to deal with? One of the most successful suggestions I ever made was to have my chief invite the mayor and city council members to a reality-based video course we were putting on for the department. 

They couldn’t believe the pressure they were under when making a decision. Their participation influenced even the most hardened critic to support a dramatic increase in our training budget. 

What do we have to hide? Let them attend the classes and learn alongside the officers they criticize. Let them hear the concerns, understand the laws, and see how difficult it is to tussle with someone who does not want to comply with the law while trying your hardest not to hurt them or be hurt by them.

Education is the answer when we want to correct or instruct our officers. Education is also the answer for the public. 

If the public understood decisions like Graham v. Connor or the options and restrictions placed on officers, we would do less defending after the fact and garner more support of the public who oppose us because they do not understand what we do. 

I’m looking forward to developing this relationship in 2015. Why don’t you join me? 

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