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Adapting officer training to these statistics doesn’t minimize the very real risks that officers face, but it does help put those risks in perspective.Officers should be trained to keep that perspective in mind as they go about their jobs.
Use-of-force training should also emphasize de-escalation and flexible tactics in a way that minimizes the need to rely on force, particularly lethal force.
Police agencies that have emphasized de-escalation over assertive policing, such as Richmond, California, have seen a substantial decrease in officer uses of force, including lethal force, without seeing an increase in officer fatalities (there is no data on assaults).
For example, three of the four stories mentioned on the cover of this month’s Officers’ actions are grounded in their expectations, and they are taught to expect the worst. Policing has risks—serious ones—that we cannot casually dismiss.
The officers who shot John Crawford may have honestly believed that he was raising his rifle to a shooting position even though security camera footage shows him on the phone, casually swinging the BB gun back and forth. Over the last ten years, an annual average of 51 officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty according to data collected by the FBI.
They are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation.
They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.The same may be true of the Phoenix officer who shot an unarmed man because he thought, mistakenly, that the suspect had a gun in his waistband. In the same time period, an average of 57,000 officers were assaulted every year (though only about 25 percent of those assaults result in any physical injuries).But for all of its risks, policing is safer now than it has ever been.Training also needs to compensate for the unconscious racial biases that lead officers to perceive a greater threat from black men than from others.Officers are not unique in that regard; implicit racial animus is depressingly common in society.Having served as an officer at a large municipal police department, and now as a scholar who researches policing, I am intimately familiar with police training. I’ve had long conversations with officers and former officers, including firearms trainers and use-of-force instructors, at law enforcement agencies across the country, and they’ve all led to one conclusion: American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.And as they listen to the fallen officer’s last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing: “I won’t More pointed lessons come in the form of hands-on exercises.One common scenario teaches officers that a suspect leaning into a car can pull out a gun and shoot at officers before they can react.Violent attacks on officers, particularly those that involve a serious physical threat, are few and far between when you take into account the fact that police officers interact with civilians about 63 million times every year.In percentage terms, officers were assaulted in about 0.09 percent of all interactions, were injured in some way in 0.02 percent of interactions, and were feloniously killed in 0.00008 percent of interactions.