Over the last 18 months, the law enforcement community has faced tremendous criticism for excessive use of force. The Chicago report, released in January 2017 by the Department of Justice, cited that the Chicago Police department is guilty of using excessive force and is in need of reform. This report and review is one of many sweeping the nation. Large cities like Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles have been in the hot seat. Small towns in South Carolina, Florida and Texas have also faced their share of criticism.
The public, legislators, congressmen and even President Obama were quick to blame the departments and call for reform, without reflecting on how the excessive use of force issues and concerns about training were a direct result of the 2010 federal and local government budget cuts. Without the budget for proper training, public relations drastically decreased and the distrust between communities and police departments created a dangerous environment.
Community trust is at an all-time low and with it, is the morale of police officers. On May 14, 2015 the LEO Affairs website published an article stating that the “anti-police climate across the country is affecting police departments, with morale at an all-time low.” Officers are not feeling the support. According to the LEO Affairs article, “the fear of legal and political backlash, similar to those experienced in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore, is hurting morale. This has also caused officers to step back from engaging in proactive policing, because they are seeing the violent criminals they arrest almost immediately returned to the streets.”
It seems that the law enforcement community is defenseless. They are being targeted simply for the uniform they put on each morning as they set out to do their jobs to protect and serve. Chiefs of the departments and the mayors of the towns do their best to support the officers that work hard every day for their communities, but in the end the blame always lays on the departments instead of the lack of funding for adequate training. These situations create a tense and difficult environment for Chiefs as they try to understand the perspectives of their officers and the communities they serve.
On December 9, 2016, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer announced that an officer used “inappropriate tactics” in the fatal shooting of an unarmed teen. In the article published by the Los Angeles Times, it is evident that the Chief was faced with an unfortunate dilemma and had to grapple with trying to understand both his officer’s perspective and that of the community. Even though Dyer acknowledged that his officer’s “use of deadly force was objectively reasonable” based on what they knew at the time he went on to conclude that his officer was also at fault.
“I have wrestled with this decision perhaps more than any decision I have wrestled with as a police chief,” Dyer said. “I wrestled with it because I know these police officers have an extremely difficult job to do in a very dangerous environment and when you look around our country today and the number of officers being shot and ambushed and killed, it made my decision even more difficult.”
Dyer said he doesn’t want to lose the public’s trust as well as his officers’ support.
“That is a very, very difficult balance for a police chief and when I render a decision like I did today,” he said, “I try to take everything into consideration and to be as fair and objective as I possibly can in doing the right thing for the right reason for this department and for this community.”
While critics of law enforcement are quick to lay blame without offering solutions or accepting responsibility there is a dearth of information and research available on potential root causes.
This leaves one to wonder, how did we get here? What changed? Many people are quick to site social media and cell phone videos. While those items helped bring light to the issue, the real problem started in 2010. Severe budget cuts to departments across the nation nearly eradicated training programs. Not to mention, departments had to cut staff and learn to have fewer officers on duty.
In a USA Today article in 2010, Kevin Johnson wrote:
Nearly 70% of police agencies cut back or eliminated training programs this year as part of local government budget reductions, according to a survey this fall of 608 agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. The cuts include a wide range of programs, from ethics and basic legal training to instruction on the proper use of force. Harvey Hedden, executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association, says the cuts are “alarming.”
The article continues to detail the decisions departments were faced with and the tough choices they had to make. Hedden stated, “In a lot of cases, training determines whether someone survives or not.”
Fast forward to 2016, and everyone is screaming for reform and training. Committees, advisors, conferences and task forces have been formed across the nation. Each one proclaims to have solutions and new standards in training. An emphasis is being placed on new technologies, like IES simulators. Grants are being issued for body cameras, so departments can review each situation with better clarity.
It’s important in this call for reform that we don’t lose sight of the tried and true practices of basic defensive tactics training and de-escalation of force strategies that have withstood the test of time. RedMan Training Gear, along with defensive tactics training instructors around the world, have been living and breathing the Use of Force Continuum conversation since 1980. RedMan Training Gear and its network of trainers powered through the budget cuts and continued to improve their methods and refinement of training to include new standards and technology.
RedMan Training Gear enables trainers to de-compartmentalize skill sets by allowing fully integrated scenario development that challenges each officers abilities to use all of the resources at their disposal from empathetic verbal persuasion and unconditional respect to OC Spray, Batons, TASERs, and ultimately, deadly force using the RedMan WDS Suit and marking cartridges.
With phone cameras, body cameras and new technologies emerging at a rapid pace, no department can afford not to train their officers. Every move, every decision is subject to being reviewed and watched thousands of times. We need to make sure officers are empowered with the right decision-making skills and tools they need to be successful and confident. Every second counts in the line of duty. Officer and community safety is the number one goal.
We are happy to see that law enforcement training is finally getting the voice and attention it’s always needed. We are hopeful that budget allocations and resources will remain a priority at the Federal and Local level. It’s time for the law enforcement community to get the much needed support they deserve.
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