Learning From Medicine?

My wife is a nine-year cancer survivor. When she was diagnosed, her physicians gave her a survival rate of one to two years. Since that time, the medical community has continued to research her disease, conduct trials, and offer new protocols that have kept her alive almost a decade. A good example of how problem-solving and continuous improvement has helped us and many others.

Earlier this week, we attended a fund-raiser to enable more research into her disease. Those present were clinicians, researchers, caregivers like me, and surviving patients like her. We heard about the advances that had enabled her and others to be survivors — rather than statistics. Over 30 years ago, it was a patient that helped this research effort develop at our university hospital. That one idea from a patient no longer with us have saved the lives of thousands of others.

During this incredible evening of sharing research and clinical successes, I thought about my field of policing. What if we were to develop such a love of research, trials, innovation, and clinical experiences when it came to addressing some of the problems that face us? What if we had the same commitment to lifesaving?

After all, the method is the same – identify the problem, develop solutions, choose the best, test it, and continue to improve on it. Police leaders could do the same thing. They could come together with “researchers” (academics in the social sciences), “clinical practitioners” (field police officers), “patients,” (those affected by a police action), and other supportive persons like civil rights leaders, community members, governmental leaders.

What if we identified officer-involved shootings as the problem to be solved? How could we come together to find better alternatives than the one we have today? An alternative that seems to take two rapid and fatal steps when confronting an armed person:

  1. The Command: “Stop, drop your weapon, NOW!”
  2. The Response: (When the Command is not obeyed) Police fire multiple shots “center-mass” which causes the immediate death of the subject.

In a nation well-known for its “smartness,” creativity and innovation, why can't we collaboratively, develop a better response to fatal police shootings? While the justification for the two-step action mentioned above is “I fear, therefore I shoot,” — is that really the best response for everyone?

More recently in the President's Task Force Report and PERF's "Guidelines on Use of Force," we have identified the importance of slowing things down, de-escalating these situations, and being more concerned with lifesaving while still enabling safety of our police.

While the argument that a person with a firearm, who will not disarm, most likely will be shot by police, are there other disabling methods that can be used? And what about those who have a knife or blunt weapon, is the only way to contain those persons is by taking their lives?

I would like our nation to seriously address the problem of officer-involved shootings by using one of the problem-solving methods. While the USSC decision in Graham v. Connor(1989) ostensibly permits police to use deadly force if they fear for their lives, it is simply too low a standard to use. For example, European Union members must agree to the following standard of police deadly force use: “absolutely necessary.”

Observing that fund-raising evening last week got me to think about my own field. Why can’t we encourage research into what works and what doesn’t? Why can’t find creative ways to save lives rather than argue as to why we must take them?

We have smart police in our ranks. They need our help. And the best way to do this is to encourage research, creative thinking, and methods of controlling these potentially deadly situations without having to resort to the use of deadly force.

Both our nation's citizens and our police deserve having a tested and effective way in which to respond to these difficult situations. Can we do this?