Intergenerational Conversations in Blue #4

Continuing “Intergenerational Conversations in Blue” – No. 4 of 9

Exchanges About Police Uses of Force and Community Relationships

Dear Chief,

It’s been a while since we have communicated.  Since that time, a great deal has taken place.  I read your piece in ‘The Progressive’ and wondered what you might do if you were to meet with a police management team tomorrow and tell them the boat story.  What would the plan be?  Just like my department, I am committed to improve and want to get started.

I read the long lists of demands and like everyone else cannot complete a conversation without someone offering their observations of that which must change.  Still, there is often little structure or the beginnings of plan to get started on.  I am conflicted as to where to invest our collective energy.  Where can a difference be made?  Not a ‘check the box’ approach of appeasement, but a real and lasting change that makes people safer, citizens and police.

I am not convinced the standard is the answer and I have yet to see someone put forth a comprehensive idea on what that would look like. What would the standard be?  What new policy on deadly force are you proposing?  The variables I hear us talking about, in the media, in task force committees, at PERF two weeks ago, and even in church this morning, include no less than:  Changing the Graham v. Connor standard, changing state law, department policy, citizen oversight, recruit training, in-service training, disarming police, hiring, mental health assessment of officers, and police culture to name just a few.

So I go back to my question, if tomorrow you were going to meet with your team, and tell them the boat story, to what destination would you tell them you were going?  You say that system of using deadly force must be fixed.  Tell me how. What would our first three steps be?  I am ready to get started and am confident we, as a city, can do better.

Dear Sergeant,

Thanks for hanging in with this… yes, these are and will be tough times for our nation’s and your city’s police. You present a very good question. What would my ‘boat story’ be?

First I want to offer some prefatory comments (and I have attached policies from both Seattle and Philadelphia as a result of their USDOJ investigation).

This is from my recent article in ‘The Progressive’ which I believe you have read. I think it bears to the real problem which is attitude. And I don’t say this in a negative way, but rather as a practice of the values surrounding the department’s approach to using deadly force. Taking a life is an overwhelming responsibility that must be of a sacred nature and one that will affect the life of an officer (as well as a victim’s loved ones) for years to come.

While policy is important, training makes it real, and leadership makes it happen — the way in which the policy was intended. As I recently wrote:

A much better approach [to use of deadly force] would be for police leaders to affirm their department’s commitment to the sanctity of life and discuss how they are going to change their policies and practice to reduce the use of deadly force. The public needs to know that their police are trained to de-escalate and manage conflict situations; that they are able to control their fear, and be respectful to everyone with whom they come in contact, regardless of their station in life.

Police are here to represent us. They may tell us that using deadly force in these situations is legal, and, therefore, permissible. However, if they do that, we need to tell them that even if it is permissible, it is not moral, and it is no longer acceptable…”

What I like about the Seattle policy is the preamble…

Use of Force: Core Principles. [In part] 

It is the policy of the Seattle Police Department to accomplish the police mission with the cooperation of the public and as effectively as possible, and with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.

The community expects and the Seattle Police Department requires that officers use only the force necessary to perform their duties and that such force be proportional to the threat or resistance of the subject under the circumstances.

An officer’s commitment to public safety includes the welfare of members of the public, the officer, and fellow officers, with an emphasis on respect, professionalism, and protection of human life, even when force is necessary…

[You can see the entire Seattle policy HERE.

[The next “Intergenerational Conversations in Blue” post continues with “My Boat Story”]