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Why the LAPD’s ‘Preservation of Life’ medal is dangerous for cops

Scores of cops have been involved in deadly force encounters and didn’t use lawful lethal force. An award only casts doubt in cops’ minds on how to properly react in a critical incident

Imagine responding to a scene of a domestic call. You knock on the front door and in an instant you and your partner are facing a man with a sawed-off shotgun. Your instinct and training tells you to draw your weapon, assess the threat, and either de-escalate the situation or use deadly force. That is the paradigm for a deadly threat encounter engrained into every officer’s training.

This reaction to deadly force has been the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court — an officer must reasonably believe it is necessary to shoot to defend himself or someone else from imminent death or great bodily harm. Law enforcement agencies have focused training on quick and accurate threat assessment for individual officers so they have the ability to de-escalate any situation and use lethal force only as a last resort.

In the past several months, the politically correct minority may have influenced a new law enforcement commendation awarded to officers who avoid the use of deadly force. One notable example is the announcement last year by the Los Angeles Police Department that it would begin acknowledging officers for resolving potentially deadly situations with non-lethal means with the so-called “Preservation of Life” medal. This may be a dangerous move, and could cast further doubt in cops’ minds on how to react to a deadly encounter. The union that represents LAPD officers called the award a “terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger.”

Training Emphasizes De-escalation When Possible
Studies have shown that an officer has one-fourth of a second to recognize a deadly threat, another one-fourth of a second to pull his gun, and another .06 seconds to pull the trigger before he is on the wrong side of a deadly encounter. We train cops that a person’s hands can kill you. We spend much time in defensive tactics and on the gun range utilizing drills to train and develop the muscle memory needed to quickly assess the threat and make the appropriate response to such a threat.

Most importantly, there are probably more drills spent on threat recognition training with the officer confronting a perceived threat that does not warrant the use of deadly force.

Why do we spend so much time engaging cops in training with non-deadly force response during a deadly force situation? Because history has taught us that the officer will have to justify his actions and face extensive scrutiny even if it’s a justified shoot. Because we know that taking a human life will forever change an officer’s life no matter how strong of an emotional barrier he or she projects.

Law enforcement officers are trained to constantly scan their surroundings and assess the data that is observed so that their situational awareness provides them the ability to respond quickly to any unlawful action. There isn’t any training conducted in the United States where officers are taught to shoot first, then determine the threat level.

A History of De-Escalating Deadly Force Encounters
I would argue that American law enforcement is the most trained and educated law enforcement in the world. On a daily basis, American cops face dangers at a level and frequency that most countries seldom experience. They do so in a society that grants liberties and freedoms to the criminal element. This factor drives the training model for American law enforcement. To put it simply, cops are trained not to use deadly force unless a deadly threat is present. Therefore, the suspect in any deadly force situation dictates the outcome.

Since the early days of modern policing, scores of officers have been involved in deadly force encounters and didn’t use lethal force when it could have been justified. The reason for this phenomenon is that cops are trained how to de-escalate every encounter they face — deadly or not. Various factors allow an officer to de-escalate a deadly force encounter: a suspect following the officer’s command, dropping his weapon, etc.

There are many more lethal force encounters that are met with de-escalation tactics than there are encounters that ended in lethal force. It’s so common, in fact, that law enforcement doesn’t even track this type of statistic.

When an officer utilizes less lethal force options, such as a TASER or pepper spray, it usually gets noted in an arrest report and likely won’t even catch the eye of a shift lieutenant. The arrest is made, the report is written, and we all go out for pops after work. Meanwhile, a good patrol sergeant may recognize the work of the officer and offer some praise before the next day starts a new tour of duty.

Why reward an officer’s actions with an accommodation such as the “Preservation of Life” award, such as has begun in Los Angeles? The standard in law enforcement training — and the practice of cops across this country — is to de-escalate a deadly force encounter without lethal force when possible but use deadly force when a lethal threat is perceived imminent. An award only serves to complicate and undermine the training and experience that every cop on the street has.

The dark cloud that has covered law enforcement these past couple of years is driven by various factors — media hype, a false narrative of racism in law enforcement, and the rare wrongful use of deadly force. This cloud will pass in time as it has in the past.

However, pandering to the political correctness minority by implementing a commendation that encourages hesitation in the face of a deadly encounter will surely get cops killed.

Command staff: Please don’t follow these agencies that are caving to a minority element just to save their own jobs by creating such a commendation that will certainly create a hesitation in an officer’s decision to use lawful deadly force. Let’s continue training our cops and allow them to do what they do best: maintain the preservation of life and peace through lawful response. Remember, it’s the criminal who dictates the outcome, whether it results in the use of deadly force or an arrest without incident.

Glenn French, a retired Sergeant with the Sterling Heights (Mich.) Police Department, has 24 years police experience and served as the Team Commander for the Special Response Team, and supervisor of the Sterling Heights Police Department Training Bureau. He has 16 years SWAT experience and also served as a Sniper Team Leader, REACT Team Leader, and Explosive Breacher.

Contact Glenn French.