A Higher Standard For Policing

imagesAs a current member of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) I was invited to attend this meeting in Washington yesterday but I was unable to attend. I sure wish I could have been there because it seems our nation’s police leadership is moving ahead on the vital trust-busting issue of police use of deadly force. I am encouraged!

Here’s an excerpt and a link to Friday’s article in the Washington Post:


“Roughly 200 of the nation’s most prominent police chiefs, Justice Department and White House officials, and police training experts convened in Washington on Friday to discuss policy proposals which, if implemented broadly, would amount to the most drastic police reform in decades.

“During the forum, titled ‘Taking Policing to a Higher Standard’ and held in the seventh-floor meeting rooms of the Newseum, top officials from many of the nation’s largest police departments were urged to implement new training and departmental policies that supporters believe could lead to a decrease in the number of fatal shootings by officers each year — a topic near the top of the national consciousness in the 18 months since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

’This is a defining moment for us in policing,’ Charles Ramsey, the recently-retired commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, told the room. Ramsey, also a former D.C. police chief, was one of several prominent policing officials who said departments must act proactively to change their use-of-force policies instead of waiting for one of their officers to be involved in a controversial shooting.

“Privately, several of those in attendance remarked that the shift in attitude of top police officials toward reform seems a direct result of the protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, Chicago and elsewhere and the resulting increase in media scrutiny of police use of force.

’We need to raise the bar for all police departments,’ said Chuck Wexler, who runs the Police Executive Research Forum, a policing policy think-tank that organized the gathering.

“Accurate national statistics on fatal police shootings were unavailable until last year when The Washington Post launched a database to track them, documenting 987 fatal shootings by on-duty officers in 2015.

“Wexler presented The Post’s findings to the gathering of officials and said that even after removing all shootings in which the person killed had a gun, there were still hundreds of preventable fatal shootings last year.

“We can impact about 300 of those,’ he said.

“The goal of reform, organizers said, should be to address the large number of shootings that are ‘lawful but awful’ in that they do not amount to a crime but that they spark community outrage and could have been prevented.

“Among reforms discussed at length were retraining all officers in de-escalation tactics and abandoning training that teaches the ‘21-foot-rule’ — a turn of phrase taught to nearly all current U.S. police officers that is often interpreted by officers to mean they are justified in shooting any suspect with a knife or edged weapon who comes within 21 feet of them.

’It almost gets to the point that officers are thinking “my safety is more important than the safety of anyone else’s’ ….,” said Tom Manger, chief of police in Montgomery County, Md. ‘We’ve got to change the culture of American policing. … Our goal should be to have everyone go home safely at the end of the day.’

“How any department handles an officer-involved shooting or other use of force incident varies depending on the department’s policies, local union contracts and state laws.

“In an attempt to address the lack of national standards governing police use of force, Wexler proposed to the chiefs 30 ‘guiding principles’ — which include prioritizing the preservation of human life, adopting de-escalation as a formal agency policy, quickly releasing information about any use of force incident, and training officers that it is their duty to intervene to prevent another officer from using excessive force.

’It’s important for us to recognize the gap that exists between what is acceptable in community standards of use of force … and what is acceptable under the law,’ said Scott Thompson, chief of the Camden County Police Department in New Jersey.

“Currently, almost all fatal police shootings, especially those during which the person killed has a weapon, are ruled legally justified, based in part on the 1989 Supreme Court decision that established the ‘objectively reasonable’ standard. It excuses an officer who perceives a threat that any other objectionably reasonable officer would perceive, even if the shooting itself violates policies or protocols or the threat turns out to not exist.

“’There is a real mismatch between what community standards are, what the community expects, what they think the law should be, versus what the training and the law allows for,’ said Vanita Gupta, Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general for civil rights. Gupta said a national conversation about police objective reasonableness was potentially ‘revolutionary.’

“One provision that drew significant discussion and push-back among the chiefs was a policy guideline calling for all police use of force to meet a proportionality standard, which called for officers to consider how the general public might view any use of force in determining whether it is appropriate…”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.