Editor note: Scroll down about halfway through the article to find the actual stats and data about how police are NOT the racist killers that the media wants you to believe they are.
In a recent article, I recognized American Police as “master persuaders.” A title they certainly deserve as they calmly manage thousands of enforcement actions, without so much as threatening force. In the face of this violence, and the insults and threats that accompany it, officers display high levels of emotional intelligence.
For some, this emotional intelligence comes naturally. Others hone this attribute through vital academy training; focusing on such skills as box breathing, mental rehearsals, mindfulness, and of course, managing the feeding habits of the courage wolf.
But emotional intelligence is more than self-regulation. It is the ability to empathize and influence the emotional state of another. To this end, American Police continue to use words and tactics to peacefully de-escalate some of the most volatile, time compressed, and lethal situations.
Even so, as individual police skillfully use words to de-escalate conflicts and generate cooperation, the anti-police movement strategically uses language that provokes a misplaced outrage against the police profession.
In this article I expose some of the most provocative persuasion techniques used to advance the anti-police narrative—and introduce “emotional trigger control” to inoculate you from their persuasive influence.
Emotional Trigger Control
“Emotional trigger control” is a self-regulation tool that prevents us from being influenced by emotional triggers. By identifying triggers, naming them, and developing a pre-planned professional response, we avoid exposing ourselves to their negative effects—including the provocative influence of the anti-police movement.
Those of you familiar with emotional trigger control know there is a hack to increase its effectiveness. First, choose a mild, even silly, name for the trigger. Next, listen for variations of them like you’re playing a game of “word find.” Believe me, once you’ve identified them, you will start to see them everywhere, stripped of their persuasive force.
Collectively, I have labeled the following anti-police triggers as “controversial and deeply troubling persuasion.” Of course, you are encouraged to come up with your own silly names.
In crisis intervention, “transformational vocabulary” is used by police to replace high-intensity words with lower intensity words. The effect is to de-escalate the emotional intensity of the person in crisis. “I’m angry!” is reflected as “I can tell you’re frustrated.” “I hate her!” is reflected as “It sounds like you’re disappointed with her tonight.”
Transformational vocabulary is part of the larger de-escalation approach practiced by American Police for decades. It slows the action and increases cooperation as officers guide the crisis from volatile “heart moments” (emotional experience) to cooler “head moments” (rational experience).
Field training officers are familiar with transformational vocabulary as they explain to recruits, “That isn’t fear you’re feeling, it is your body entering the optimal arousal state to identify, close with, and combat evil!”
The Dark Side of Transformational Vocabulary
Both police and their critics use transformational vocabulary, because it works. But instead of generating a calm, objective view of the facts, the anti-police movement creates, and then escalates, negative emotions. Police critics choose words to evoke doubt, fear, and anger. Descriptions may be literally accurate, but implicitly and recklessly misleading. “Unarmed” implies non-dangerous. “Teen” implies innocence. “Shot in the back” implies assassination. “White officer / Black suspect” implies racial bias. “Never pointed the weapon at the officer” implies non-threatening. Cops, and all those familiar with violence, know better.
One of the more egregious examples of transformational vocabulary is the phrase “victims of police violence,” when used to describe the entire class of people subject to police use of force. It strongly implies that American Police overall are malevolent and criminal, when in fact the opposite is true.
Other phrases, which I recognize by their “no evidence” variations, are designed to imply that police acted unreasonably, even in the most objectively reasonable circumstances.
After an officer is ambushed by armed suspects, critics may judgmentally announce, “There is no evidence that the officer attempted to call for back-up or to otherwise de-escalate the situation,” or “There is no evidence that the officer even considered non-lethal force options or tried to warn the young men.”
One of the more popular “no evidence” applications follows the shooting of armed suspects during foot pursuits. “There is no evidence that the teen ever pointed the weapon at the officer.” Of course, the law, behavioral science, and common sense don’t require an officer to wait for an armed and resistive suspect to attack first. That distinction seem irrelevant to police opponents.
Deeply Concerning Adjectives
It is hard to find a police action broadcast through the national media, without also finding repeated claims from anti-police critics that the event was “deeply troubling” or “controversial.” Of course, merely claiming an incident, policy, or training program is controversial, doesn’t make it so. Clearly justified police shootings and otherwise routine trespass investigations have been subjected to this treatment.
“Controversial and deeply troubling” descriptions are quite brilliant as persuasion tools. When someone asks your opinion on a complex political issue, confidently say “I don’t know all of the details, but I am deeply concerned.” And then stop.
You will have effectively used multiple persuasion techniques favored by the anti-police movement. You have communicated confidence, you have been vague (which allows the audience to speculate and fill in the details), you have aroused fear, and you did so from a position of implicit credibility and superiority (after all, they asked your opinion). More importantly, you did not say or commit to anything of substance.
Referring to an incident as “deeply concerning” is a non-specific critique used to “virtue signal.” It allows the speaker to appear relevant and morally superior without formulating specific objections to an event, policy, or training program. It is tantamount to political “negging.”
Negging, or being negative, is the use of negative assertions to imply superiority, and thereby create, a moral, intellectual, or social hierarchy. (The term was first introduced by Neil Strauss in his book, The Game, a guide for deceptively seducing women.) Through negging, the listener assumes that the speaker must have a sophisticated understanding of the issues, and so, if the speaker is concerned, the listener should be as well.
Racial Fuel on the Fire
In addition to political negging, watch for speculative racial bias to join the anti-police narrative. Once these two persuasion tactics are combined, the stage is set for weeks of debate on the best way to restore “legitimacy” and “community trust.” If you’re not paying attention, you may miss the obvious logical gaps in this process. Namely, the underlying police action may have involved a perfectly reasonable, even heroic, police response. That small detail is often lost in the pivot to larger social issues and irrelevant national statistics.
Left unchecked, anti-police persuasion efforts are powerful. Without ever substantiating a police problem, political leaders may demand a police solution. Police executives end up funding, implementing, and defending solutions, that have not been validated, to policing problems that may not exist.
Pivot to the Statistical Low-Ground
National statistics have nothing to do with individual police conduct. Let me say that again, national statistics have nothing to do with individual police conduct. Watch and listen as professional police critics pivot from speculating on facts, to speculating on motive, to citing irrelevant and inaccurate population-based statistics in support of those imagined facts and motives.
When a specific police incident, used to justify protests and outrage, later proves to be perfectly reasonable, watch for the “hail Mary” pivot to include, “Even so, this is part of the larger conversation of race in America,” followed by patently irrelevant national statistics. It is a pivot we have seen at the highest levels in this country.
In recognizing the statistical pivot, you will be tempted to cite opposing statistics or argue research methodology. Resist the temptation. Remember, at this point, facts won’t be persuasive. But more importantly, the pivot to national statistics and historic racism is a “strawman,” designed to distract from the specific case at hand. Don’t be distracted. And, in case it needs repeating, national statistics have nothing to do with individual police conduct.
What’s the Point Anyway?
Identifying the persuasion efforts of anti-police critics, is the first step in evading their provocative influence, managing our personal triggers, and remaining on point. Some of you are asking, what is our point?
Our point is to honestly evaluate American Police through the extraordinarily complex lens of behavioral science, law, social structure, imperfect facts, compressed timelines, and human frailty. It is to resist any effort to reduce policing to a racial math problem. It is to see the current greatness of American Policing, while supporting the commitment to constant and never-ending improvement. It is to recognize, admit, and face the enormous challenges of policing in America—without making them worse. Most importantly, it is to persuade and inspire our communities to unite in support of those who continue to honorably protect and serve.
Study destroys argument that white cops are shooting black men
If you’ve watched the debates between the Democratic presidential candidates, you’ve seen a common thread among the candidates – their anti-police rhetoric.
It’s reminiscent of the Obama years.
Take, for example, the criminal justice plan by Joe Biden, which promises that after he passes his policing reforms, black mothers and fathers will no longer have to fear when their children “walk the streets of America”.
According to him, that threat comes from cops, not gangbangers.
You may remember when President Barack Obama claimed during the memorial for five Dallas police officers killed by a Black Lives Matter–inspired assassin in July 2016 that black parents were right to fear that their child could be killed by a police officer whenever he “walks out the door.”
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has showed his disdain for law enforcement, arguing that police shootings of black men won’t be solved “until we move policing out from the shadow of systemic racism.”
Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, who claims that the police shoot blacks “solely based on the color of their skin.”
But a new study that was just dropped in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences absolutely destroys the Democratic narrative regarding race and police shootings. It completely rejects the argument that white officers are engaged in an epidemic of racially biased shootings of black men.
Turns out, according to the study, that white officers are no more likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot black civilians.
And as we’ve long known, it reinforces the fact that it is a racial group’s rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, not the race of the officer.
Here’s what it comes down to – the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects – no matter what that racial group is – the greater the chances that members of that racial group will be shot by a police officer.
It gets even more interesting. The study found if there is a bias in police shootings after crime rates are taken into account, it is against white civilians.
The authors are faculty at Michigan State University and the University of Maryland at College Park. They completed the study by creating a database of 917 officer-involved fatal shootings in 2015 from more than 650 police departments.
When examining those shootings, 55 percent of the victims were white, 27 percent were black, and 19 percent were Hispanic.
Between 90 and 95 percent of the civilians shot by officers in 2015 were attacking police or other citizens and 90 percent were armed with a weapon.
There were very rare cases of what’s called threat-misperception shootings, in which an officer shoots an unarmed civilian after mistaking something for a gun.
It’s not the first study to shoot down the idea that white officers are biased in shooting black citizens.
There’s also a shift underway right now thanks to political pressure for police departments to hire on race, based on the theory that doing so will decrease police shootings of minorities.
Buttigieg, for example, was attacked by his presidential rivals for not having more black officers on the South Bend force after a white officer killed a black suspect this June.
In that case, the officer had responded to a 911 call about a possible car-theft suspect, saw a man leaning into a car, and shot off two rounds after the man threatened him with a knife.
Back in 2016, the Obama administration pushed for police departments to lower their entry standards in order to be able to qualify more minorities for recruitment.
By that point, departments had already been deemphasizing written exams or eliminating requirements that recruits have a clean criminal record – it’s a trend that significantly intensified after.
Take, for example, the Baltimore Police Department.
They actually changed their exam to such an extent that the director of legal instruction in the Baltimore Police Academy complained in 2018. He said rookie officers were being let out onto the street with little understanding of the law.
Biden’s criminal-justice plan would take that a step further. It would require police hiring to “mirror the racial diversity” of the local community or not get federal funding.
The PNAS study concluded that this effort to increase minority representation will not reduce racial disparities in shootings. Why? Because it found white officers are not responsible for those disparities; black crime rates are.
To make matters worse, dropping hiring standards can lead to bad police work and corruption.
Just look at the 2015 Justice Department study of the Philadelphia Police Department.
It found black officers were 67 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect.
It also found that Hispanic officers were 145 percent more likely than white officers to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black suspect.
The study didn’t address whether lowered hiring standards are responsible for those disparities.
So what’s causing the belief that we’re living through an epidemic of racially biased police shootings?
Simple – selective reporting.
Look at the year the PNAS study focused on – 2015.
That was the same year the white victims of fatal police shootings included a 50-year-old suspect in a domestic assault in Tuscaloosa, Ala., who ran at the officer with a spoon; a 28-year-old driver in Des Moines, Iowa, who exited his car and walked quickly toward an officer after a car chase; and a 21-year-old suspect in a grocery-store robbery in Akron, Ohio, who had escaped on a bike and who did not remove his hand from his waistband when ordered to do so.
Because they were white, their stories never hit the mainstream media – which tends to focus only on stories that they can spin to be race-centric.
This whole idea that “police are racists” is simply increasing anti-cop tensions in minority communities. It also makes cops unwilling to engage in the proactive policing that can save lives.
Just look at the viral videos last month in Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn as people assaulted passive New York Police Department officers. The videos demonstrate that hostility toward the police in inner-city neighborhoods remains at dangerous levels.
It also pulls away from discussing real solutions to criminal justice problems, which includes high rates of black-on-black victimization.
Black men are murdered at eight times the rate of non-Hispanic white men.
But they aren’t being killed by cops – they are being killed by other black men.
If we’re going to really have a conversation about racial justice, we need to start there.
Let’s talk about police use of force. It’s time to systematically destroy the argument that cops are racist killers. And I’ll break this down pretty simply so everyone can understand.
- The U.S. population is about 314,000,000 people.
- There are approximately 670,439 police officers.
- That means there are less than 2.2 police officers per 1,000, or 2,133 officers per million.
- Police officers are less than .22 % of population.
- Officers come into contact with 17% of the population annually.
- That means 53,380,000 contacts …
- Which led to 26,000 excessive force complaints against officers.
- That’s 0.049% of contacts.
- Only 8% of those complaints were sustained.
- That’s 2,080 out of 53,380,000 contacts, or .0039%
A good friend of mine who is a Chief of Police put that into perspective:
- You are seven times more likely to be murdered …
- 15 times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident …
- 42 times more likely to be raped …
… than to have a police officer use excessive force on you.
But we’re just warming up. Let’s look at 2015 police shootings – a time during which some argue police “brutality” spiked.
990 people were shot by police in 2015. Here’s the demographic breakdown of those “victims”:
- White — 494, 50%
- Black — 258, 26%
- Hispanic – 172, 17%
- Other — 66, 7%
- Mental illness played a role in 25%.
- 25% involved fleeing suspects.
- In 75% of the incidents, the officer was under attack or defending someone that was.
- Indictments of police officers tripled from previous years.
Listen. I’m not suggesting racism doesn’t exist in law enforcement. It exists everywhere – that’s the sad truth of it.
And yes, black people in the United States are more likely to be victims of violent confrontations with police officers (per capita) than their white counterparts. But let’s dive deeper into why this is.
Statistically, minorities come to police attention far more than their population would suggest.
- Black Americans make up about 13% of the population.
- But according to the FBI, they account for about 50% of murders, and about 38% of all violent crime overall.
Chicago gives us some great examples. And let’s not forget the insanely strict gun laws there, by the way. For example, during the first eight months of 2016 (the most recent period for which the numbers are available), 2,818 people were shot — only 12 by police. (That’s one-half of 1 percent).
In cities with large black populations, homicide rates have skyrocketed during that same period:
- In Washington D.C., homicides are up 54%. In Cleveland, up 90%. Overall, homicide is up 17%.
- The U.S. Department of Justice says that Black people make up 15% of the population in the 75 largest counties in the United States, yet account for 62% of all robberies, 57% of murders, 45% of all assaults.
So what’s going on here? Are we confusing the color of one’s skin with poverty or inequality? It’s a fair argument. Black people tend to be greater offenders, statistically speaking, because they tend to be more disadvantaged, living in poorer urban areas with less access to public services.
Then of course there’s the argument about the “violent subculture theory.” This is the idea that some black communities have developed cultural values that are more tolerant of crime and violence.
I want to leave you with a few recent studies.
First, a 2016 study by Roland G. Fryer Jr., who is an economics professor at Harvard. He found that no racial bias could be detected in police shootings, in either the raw data or when accounting for controls. He also found racial bias was detected in lesser use of police force, but not deadly encounters. His recommendation?
“Black Lives Matter should seek solutions within their own communities rather than changing the behaviors of police and other external forces.”
Second, there were 6,095 black homicide deaths in 2014 according to FBI Data — the most recent year for which such data are available — compared with 5,397 homicide deaths for whites and Hispanics combined. Almost all of those black homicide victims had black killers.
Finally, police officers — of all races — are also disproportionately endangered by black assailants. Over the past decade, according to FBI data, 40% of cop killers have been black. Officers are killed by blacks at a rate 2.5 times higher than the rate at which blacks are killed by police.
Seems to me like the real problem here is socioeconomic disparities along with a public perception issue thanks to biased reporting. And let’s not forget the huge role that social media plays in disseminating false narratives and creating emotional, knee-jerk reactions.
It’s important to have very real conversations about racism in America and accountability among those who hold the thin blue line. Let’s just make sure we’re basing those conversations on facts and not feelings.
Von is the co-owner of Von Kliem Consulting, LLC, where he provides national training and consultation in de-escalation, persuasion, and professional communication for police and community groups. As a retired military attorney and former civilian police officer, Von served as Senior Prosecutor, Victim’s Counsel, Police Legal Advisor, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, and Police Use of Force Expert. He is an expert in police practices with advanced training in crisis counseling, child forensic interviewing, and Trauma-Informed Interviewing.
Von’s degrees include a Bachelor’s in Crime and Delinquency Studies, Master’s in Criminal Justice Administration, Juris Doctorate (Law Degree), and an LL.M. in Military Studies (Criminal Law). He is an Advanced Force Science Specialist (Force Science Institute) and a graduate of the Police Legal Advisor Training Program (FLETC).