Be the smartest person in the room
All officers need to be armed with researched responses to hotly debated issues
Over the past several months I’ve had the opportunity to attend courses taught by some of the top police trainers in the country.
Despite the variety of topics covered in these courses, the trainers all had one unifying message: When it comes to police-related issues, you need to be the smartest person in the room. Why? Because all too often law enforcement’s message doesn’t get heard.
Anti-police groups have their agenda, which doesn’t include acknowledging any information outside their own message. Too often, those at the top of our organizations cannot or will not speak out on hot-button topics for fear of losing their jobs. The media, while it occasionally shares stories showing the police in a positive light, focuses on those news items that will result in the most hits, clicks and shares.
So, the only one left to tell law enforcement’s story is you. Know that most people view the police in a positive light. Understand there are those who will never change their negative mindset about law enforcement. Your message needs to be focused on those in the middle whose opinions can be swayed through a logical presentation of facts.
In order to do that you need to be armed with researched responses that address hotly debated issues. Here are a few you can use to debate some of the most common criticisms of law enforcement.
how to address the myth that Police violence is an epidemic
According to a 2011 NIJ study, there are approximately 40 million police contacts with citizens each year. Less than 1% of those contacts require use of force beyond an application of handcuffs and low-level control holds. Use of deadly force – police shootings, not just deaths – occurred in only 0.00002865% of those estimated 40,000,000 contacts.
A research study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery in March 2018 showed that out of 1,041,737 police contacts, force was only used in 0.086% (1 in 1167) of those contacts and in 114,064 criminal arrests, force was used only in 0.78% of (1 in 128) of those arrests. These low numbers indicate police are frequently deploying their de-escalation skills.
how to address the myth that Police training exaggerates the dangers of the job
Police don’t even make the top 10 most dangerous jobs by accidents lists like crab fishermen and loggers. However, when looking at the murder rate by profession, the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics lists police work as the second most dangerous profession.
how to address the myth that Police are trigger happy
The FBI’s 2012 Restraint in Use of Deadly Force study showed that when involved in a situation where they were legally authorized to use deadly force, 70% of officers chose other means to deal with the threat.
how to address the myth that Police use of force is racially biased
In a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers analyzed 5,630 Dallas Police Department use of force reports from 2014-15. They found there was no racial disparity in the use of force. This is just one of several studies that refute this assertion.
A 2018 study on use of deadly force and racial disparity concluded, “When adjusting for crime, we find no systematic evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects.”
how to address the myth that Officers should wear body cams to curb police abuses
An 18-month study conducted by The Lab – a research group created by the Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser – looked at over 2,000 officers comparing citizen complaints and use of force by officers. Half of the officers wore body cameras, the other half didn’t. When comparisons were made between the two groups, researcher Anita Ravishankar concluded, "We found essentially that we could not detect any statistically significant effect of the body-worn cameras." In other words, body cameras did not seem to create any change in how officers do their jobs.
It is also worthy to note that organizations that were calling for all officers to have body cams are now calling for a stop to camera use due to privacy concerns.
Counter negative opinions with facts
I was easily able to locate statistics and research to counter some of the commonly heard criticisms of police. The information is available to anyone who wants to look it up, whether they are a police officer or not. For those people who are on the fence regarding their beliefs about the police, this information could change their mind.
No one knows your job better than you. No one understands your job better than you. But if you don’t take the time to gain the knowledge to counter negative opinions about the police with factually based arguments, we will continue to lose ground.