Improving Police Use of Deadly Force

th-1The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), of which I was an early member nearly 40 years ago  has issued a recent report on “Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force.”

While I have been critical of our nation’s police leaders for not standing up and adequately responding to the present crisis involving the use of deadly force, PERF has stepped up to show us a way beyond Graham v. Connor.

It is one of the most important documents PERF has produced in recent years, because it provides guidance on a fundamental issue that is confronting and confounding police:

  • How to restructure the training of police officers on use of force.

When I first joined PERF, we were the voice of police professionalism and improvement. I am confident PERF can be so again today. And with this report, we (as I rejoined last year) are on the right track!

It is important to note that while the vast majority of police officers are performing their jobs admirably and courageously, there are certain types of situations that can be improved to reduce the use of deadly force — use of force policies are negotiable with the community being served. This is especially important in situations in which people are behaving erratically, but do not have a gun.

  • Time and distance coupled with new tactics and training can help produce outcomes that result in saving lives – both of officers and suspects.

As part of this important study regarding the use of force, PERF called together nearly 300 police executives and other experts to discuss strategies for de-escalating incidents and restructuring training on use of force.

They also surveyed 280 police agencies on their current training programs. And they went overseas to observe force training in Scotland, because they have had great success in handling situations involving mentally ill persons armed with a knife or other edged weapon.

Here are some of the key points in this report which hopefully will help our nation’s police regain the trust which has been lost:

  • “The training currently provided to new recruits and experienced officers in most departments is inadequate. We need more integrated, scenario-based training that mirrors the real-world situations that officers face.
  • “Policy and training are important, but this is also a question of police culture. For example, the traditional thinking that police officers’ job is to go into a situation, take charge, and resolve it without delay is not helpful in situations where we want officers to ‘slow it down.’
  • “Certain elements of training or culture should be eliminated or rethought, such as ‘the 21-foot rule.’
  • “These issues are not theoretical; many departments are already beginning to implement them.
  • “On certain issues, we can learn from other nations’ police departments.
  • “We need to learn more about ‘suicide by cop‘ incidents.
  • “Use-of-force training must continue to change as we learn best practices from our efforts to resolve these difficult situations.
  • “Finally, we owe it to our officers to improve their training. Comprehensive, integrated, scenario-based, realistic training will help officers understand how concepts like de-escalation, crisis intervention, defensive tactics, communication skills, legal issues, and other aspects of use-of-force training fit together when they are confronted with difficult situations.”

Read the full report HERE.