A Challenge to Our Nation’s Police Leaders

knife attack 3Just about every major department in our nation has been faced with pressures from the mental health community to improve their response to persons who are mentally ill, distraught, depressed, or under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

At the same time, these same departments often post operating values regarding protection, service, upholding the rights of citizens and recognition of the dignity and worth of all persons. It is now time to act on your values.

Police leaders must review their policies, practices and training regarding their department’s response to situations involving emotionally distraught or mentally ill persons are holding blunt or edged weapons and refusing to comply with police orders.

I have a sneaking suspicion that today’s practice goes back a number of years ago (1988) when some defensive tactics instructors started talking about the “21 foot rule.” Which meant that if a suspect with a knife was within 21 feet of you, they could kill you before you could draw your weapon and shoot. This old training most likely created the response to use deadly force when confronted by a suspect with a knife. At the same time  in these situations, Tasers are often not effective as a response.

As a police officer for over thirty years, I have taught defensive tactics, formulated use-of-force policies, and training curricula for police. I have always found that having only one response in a police officer’s tactical “kit bag” is too limiting. This certainly applies today with regard to how police officers respond to persons holding blunt or edged weapons. It’s time to be innovative.

In recent blogs on this site, I have questioned the use of deadly force when not confronted by a firearm. [See “Dreaming in Blue,” “Is It Too Much to Expect?,” and “Showdown in Albuquerque.”]

Taking a human life as standard operating procedure in these situations can no longer be acceptable.

We have bright, educated, creative police officers in our ranks today who should be able to innovate with the encouragement of their commanders. They should be able to come up with an effective strategy in these situations in which the end result is not a death — and, at the same, time assure the safety of officers in these situations.

If our nation’s police leaders do not take the initiative here, then citizens must demand that they develop less-than-deadly responses in these situations.

This simply must be done.

[Note: I want to be perfectly clear here that I am not talking about persons who have a firearm and pose an immediate deadly threat to officers on the scene. Sadly, in these situations police will most likely be forced to use deadly force when their commands are not followed and they or others in the community are threatened.]

So that’s the challenge. To develop a less-than-deadly response when responding to these kind of incidents.

Will you accept it? I will anxious to hear your response.