Written by Dan Habshi
Having been a police officer for 15 years, I can honestly say that I never heard anyone in the locker room before their shift say, “Gee, I hope I get to shoot or beat-up a minority tonight.”
I know it sounds silly, but that is the exact narrative being pumped into the public’s ears by the media and political leaders.
Their mantra is, “The police are a racist machine hellbent on victimizing minorities.”
It’s a talking point that is exploited for click bait and election votes. These same people who foster racial division in America rarely look deeper into the problem to seek actual solutions.
To be honest, I can’t really blame those communities for feeling targeted. They are constantly fed videos of questionable police arrest tactics. The visual of seeing a man face down on the ground being pummeled by police for not putting his hands behind his back can certainly influence your opinion of police officers. Especially if that person being pummeled looks like you. With these circumstances, why wouldn’t the minority communities equate seeing white police officers beating minorities as being fueled by racism?
Knowing police culture, the last thing an officer wants is to get tangled up in a civil rights lawsuit and be labeled a racist; I contend that the motivation for these assaults caught on camera is not racism but a gross lack of training.
The officers are not consciously choosing to risk their careers to gratify some sick racist ideology. Officers are lacking training that would prevent these incidents from happening in the first place. They would certainly prefer being on video performing a smooth takedown of a suspect that seamlessly transitions into handcuffing; rather than looking like a cave man swinging a club. However, he doesn’t have the skills.
Unfortunately, in policing there is a tremendous lack of training.
In my state for example, a recruit in the police academy only receives 48 hours of hand-to-hand defensive tactics training. For most officers that is the only training they will receive in their entire career. Like most skills in life, grappling and fighting skills are perishable. If they are not maintained through constant repetition they are lost. So, to expect a police officer who learned defensive tactics 10 years earlier to smoothly take down a suspect and get him into handcuffs is a farce.
Police officers are not robots, but regular human beings who react to stress just like everyone else. Being in a physical confrontation is one of the most stressful experiences a person can undergo. Especially when he is armed, and the threat of a gun being introduced into the situation is ever present.
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Take the stress of battle and now add in fear of the unknown. If the officer never trains how to arrest a resisting suspect, he has no reference point; it is a foreign experience. All the stress and fear of the situation will cause the officer to fall back to his lowest level of training.
If he has no training, he will react in one of three ways: (1) Officer will grossly overreact to the confrontation and fall back to a primal mode. This is what you see in videos depicting police brutality. (2) Officer will freeze. He won’t act because he hasn’t acquired the skills through training to problem solve the situation in front of him. (3) Officer will unnecessarily retreat, risking the safety of his colleagues and the public because he has no confidence to handle the situation due to a lack of training.
If these reactions are what we as trained officers and citizens do not want from police, then what is the answer?
It’s obvious. More training.
The scope of this article is not a martial arts debate. All experts in the know recognize Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as the best form of self-defense. Constant training in BJJ provides the framework of techniques to control another human being and offers the repetition of physical contact which is necessary to take out the stress and fear of physical confrontation. Taking out the stress and fear through training will result in a more confident and professional police force. From my own experience, the more skilled the officer is in BJJ the more boring the arrest looks. The suspect is taken down, controlled, and handcuffed. There are rarely punches thrown. It is smooth and professional.
If we agree that more training is needed, and it is not happening, let’s consider who is to blame. It lies on the shoulders of the individual officers, police administrators, and state legislators.
There is a regrettable culture in policing. “What are you going to do for me?” This often is the mantra of your average officer. He expects the administration he works for to provide all the training even though he knows it will not happen. The officer is not willing to train at a BJJ academy on his own time or pay the tuition because he believes it is not his responsibility.
Whether wrong or right, I think these officers are generally lazy and are looking for an excuse not to train. I find it odd because most agencies have examples of trained BJJ practitioners who often show their superior skills during stressful physical encounters. Why wouldn’t the officers want to emulate them? Perhaps a false sense of security provided by the uniform coupled with a general unwillingness to acknowledge their lack of skills.
Except for the very rare, progressive leader, most police administrators do not provide adequate training for their officers. It is expensive to conduct if you are not creative with scheduling. With budgets always being cut, training takes a back seat. The basic police services, shifts being covered, as well as equipment needs, must be prioritized. Sadly, most administrators don’t lead by example. They have not sat in a police car in many years and there is often a disconnect with the patrols on the street. This creates a divide in which the decision makers don’t have the necessary information to diagnose deficiencies and implement reforms.
Political figures successfully push the ‘racist cop’ narrative to drum up support for elections. However, their appearance of loving of the minority community is superficial and often insincere. If, for example, a state lawmaker who stokes the flames of hatred between police and the community really cared about change, he would be sending bills to assemblies in hopes that new laws would change the training standards. Laws could be enacted to impose x amount of training hours per year, forcing the hand of police administrators.
There is enough blame to go around when looking at reasons for the degrading relationship between police and minority communities. Increasing police training will help in some way. Ultimately, it will create a more efficient and professional police force which will limit the amount of content available to the media to sensationalize which perpetuates the ‘racist police’ narrative. It’s time to make the changes in police training to show the public that it is an honorable profession and the officers are trying to make a difference for the good.
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