By now, almost every American is aware that police “use of force” is under serious scrutiny. As a result of the George Floyd incident, a storm has been set into motion by forces beyond our control. This storm of anger is blaming every police officer in the United States for the actions of one.
Have there been other cases? Yes, but none like this one.
Even when we, the police, collectively condemn the actions of that former officer we are being judged by the color of our uniform. Guilty by profession.
I have been a police officer for over 23 years. Whether pinned to my patrol uniform or displayed on a chain around my neck, I have worn the badge in many ways. One thing that I can tell you for certain is that the badge has always shielded my heart as my heart has shielded my badge.
During my time behind the badge, I have served alongside some of the finest individuals whom I have ever met in any portion of my life. Have I seen police officers do things they should not have done? I have. I have even arrested some officers for things that they have done, and they deserved it.
However, I would also say that those instances are so rare that they are almost immeasurable.
What I have seen countless times, are the men and women of law enforcement place themselves between good and evil. They have repeatedly straddled The Thin Blue Line between order and chaos, often times risking their own physical and emotional safety and sometimes losing their lives to help people that quite possibly would not do the same for them.
Throughout my career, one of my specialties has been teaching police officers how to protect themselves physically. I have utilized my skills as a Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blackbelt and use of force trainer to give police officers a better understanding of how to effectively and humanely control a human being that is trying to do them harm. I have even extended these classes to the public sector for the last 20 years to give them a glimpse into our world and a better understanding of it.
As a police officer, trainer, and more importantly as a 48-year member of the human race, I was as horrified as anyone when I watched what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis. Simply put, there is no excuse for what occurred. Regardless of what anyone is accused of, it is our duty as police officers to preserve life unless we have no other feasible choice.
As a result of the George Floyd incident, we are now seeing Executive Orders by politicians that apparently override documented federal case law set forth by the US Supreme Court involving police use of force (Graham v. Connor 1989 and Tennessee v. Garner 1985).
These executive orders will only make things worse, especially when those that are making these orders have no experience in the subject matter of police defensive tactics and use of force. They are placing officers in a vacuum where they will be forced to make decisions under stress, and they will be legally blocked from using tactics that could save lives on both sides. In essence, these orders could actually create more deadly force encounters, not less.
So how do we change things? There is too much to talk about for the length of this article, but I will give some ideas on some changes we could implement in training both the police and the very public we serve.
First off, the public needs a better understanding of our job and the reality of what we do as police officers. As a profession, we do not convey that information to the public very well. We need to explain our jobs, what we do, and why we do things.
How can we expect the public to understand if they are primarily educated about us through movies/television, social media, and the news media? Citizen academies, ride alongs, use of force training seminars, and community policing efforts are critical to begin educating the public, and all of these should be continuously offered in the communities we serve.
It is common for police applicants to have attended college for a police-related degree program (Criminal Justice, Criminology, Police Science). Why not add a Use of Force curriculum built into those degrees? Why not add a White to Blue belt in Gracie/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a required course?
Graduates, who are already knowledgeable on how to control a human body, would understand how to perform under pressure and to apply use of force case law. Would we hire Lifeguards that can’t swim? Why do we hire police officers that have no idea how to protect themselves or the basic ways to safely control a person physically?
As for Police Training Academies and In-service Training programs, standards vary by agency, but overall they are laughable at best.
Defensive tactics training is a perishable skill. You need consistency to improve and to maintain skill. Academies typically teach defensive tactics in blocks (four hours one week, four hours two weeks later etc.). People can’t retain it.
There is no consistency, and often times the instructor attended nothing but a five-day course and does not have actual long term, pressure-tested training of their own to even qualify them to teach a recruit class. It is the blind leading the blind.
Recruits should be training two hours every morning of the academy for the entire six months. The amount of training would increase from as low as 50 hours to 300 hours. The training has to be realistic, pressure-tested, and with an emphasis on increasingly more “live training” as they improve.
Otherwise they will enter the street having never faced live resistance, and they will panic and resort to unreasonable tactics because they have no other options. Cops are typically taught “two hand touch,” but they play in a “tackle game,” and it does not work.
On-the-job training should continue, and should be mandatory. I don’t care if you don’t want to do it. What if you don’t want to qualify with your gun? Or learn to use an AED? Should we excuse you?
No, you’re a cop. It is part of your job. Learn it or leave.
You are a liability to the rest of us if you cannot handle yourself. You gave up that right when you accepted your badge. We have too many cops that think they get dressed in a phone both every day; they have “Superman Complex.” They think nothing can happen to them. They put on the uniform and all the gear and think they are good enough.
I say take all that shit off, stand there in your underwear. Are you still a warrior? Many are not. They are sheep in sheep dog’s clothing. If you want to be treated like a professional, then you need to train like one. Give our critics no excuses. Know your craft. Push yourself to be the best you can.
You have no control over what you will be sent to as a cop. But you can absolutely control your readiness to perform. No criminal should out work you.
Administrations: You are to blame more than anyone. Provide ongoing and realistic training to your people! And not once a year for four hours so you can check the box. Invest in them. They will die for the mission and the community they serve.
It is your responsibility as leaders to give them the very best training so that maybe they won’t have to get injured or die or take the life of a suspect. Become educated in what they are learning. Get out there with them. Experience it. Sweat with them. Lead from the front and stop critiquing from the rear.
Last I checked you have a badge too. Is it broken?
Throughout my entire career, there has been pressure by administrators (politicians with badges in many cases) for officers to produce self-initiated activity (tickets and arrests). Policing has always been a numbers-based profession. Quantity over quality.
Take some of that free time in between 911 calls and rotate cops through training. Fire Departments do it; why not us? There is plenty to do: Verbal De-escalation, Emergency Medical, Scenario Training, Simunitions, Active Shooter, Physical Fitness, Tactics, Firearms, Less Lethal, Defensive Tactics, dealing with the mentally ill just to name a few…or maybe 10 more tickets that month is more valuable to you.
Create health and wellness programs where agencies will pay or reimburse officers to train in realistic martial arts programs off duty that will help them be more capable, confident, compassionate and will reduce their stress.
Have a list of vetted instructors/academies that teach systems that are reasonable for law enforcement and transferable to their jobs. Have programs for martial arts coaches to learn about Police Use of Force so they can better understand the job of a police officer, the rules we are held to and the restrictive uniforms and gear that we wear.
The more quality training officers can receive, the better they will perform.
The Public: DON’T RESIST ARREST! Know how to deal with the police. Your time to contest the arrest is not on the street. It is in the court system. Many, if not most, of these situations would never occur if people listened and followed the directions of police officers. Resisting arrest can and will lead to injuries and possible deaths on both sides.
This is the greatest profession on earth, but we each need to respect our place in that profession. Get up and re-earn your badge every day.
When I was a rookie cop, I read a saying which I have never forgotten:
“On any given day we can choose to become the very criminal we loathe; they can never become us.”
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