I just watched another set of videos (body cam video and bystander video) of a use of force incident. It was very similar to the gazillion others I’ve watched: suspect is given a command by LEOs, suspect fails to comply, officers take appropriate action, suspect resists, officers use necessary force (which isn’t pretty) and suspect is detained. You know these videos well. In fact, you’ve probably lived your own version of these videos more times than you can count.
As to be expected these days, the focus of media outlets and, in this case, the department, is on the response of the officers. Once they restrained the suspect, they let the adrenaline flow through their mouths with unnecessary threats and foul language. The act of subduing the suspect, though justified, was ugly and the words that followed just flamed the fire of misperceived injustice.
The chief spoke of being disappointed in the officers and even used the word “disgusted” in describing how he felt about their actions. I’m sure this incident will result in some sort of sensitivity class or de-escalation training. Since this was a mixed race event, white officers and black suspect, racial profiling training and other minority awareness classes will probably be required as well.
Law enforcement agencies are rapidly increasing training for officers on how to be more sensitive, patient and understanding. This kind of training can have very positive results as long as it is balanced.
And this is where I have a problem.
It is often not balanced. It is frequently overemphasized and since most departments have limited resources other training needs are sometimes being overlooked.
While this type of sensitivity training can be good, it will never offer a full and lasting solution. Why? Because, as the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” We spend a lot of time, money and effort working on improving officer responses, and this is good, but we need to spend much more time teaching all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or whatever, to simply comply with the orders of law enforcement officers.
I realize this is not a politically correct statement, but when I watched the video I mentioned above (as well as most others) I couldn’t help but think, “If she would have just complied with the officers in the first place, none of this would have happened.” Our society keeps glancing over this fact.
When I get pulled over (and yes, I do get pulled over), I comply with everything the officer demands. If he asks me to step out of the car, I step out. I don’t argue. I comply. I owe it to myself and to the officer to put our safety first, and this means compliance. If I feel I am unjustly accused, that can be taken up in the safety of a courtroom at a later date. There is no good reason not to comply with the demands of a law enforcement officer, even if he or she is rude, verbally abusive or just flat out wrong. If I am being verbally abused, I can file a complaint later. But there on the side of the road, I must comply. We must comply!
There will be some in society who will decry that blind compliance to authority means a loss of freedom and liberty. And they are correct. But I am not writing about blind compliance to authority. I’m writing about complying with law enforcement officers in a traffic stop, during an investigation, at a crime scene and so forth.
Society needs to hear the message of the importance of compliance. And society needs to understand that when they don’t comply, painful things can happen. We can focus on de-escalation and sensitivity training in law enforcement, but we must have an equal effort to train our communities in respect for authority and compliance.
I propose that with every de-escalation and sensitivity training session, there also be a community outreach effort. Not just having coffee in the community or giving children sticker badges, but a real effort to educate the public on the importance of complying with law enforcement for the sake of everybody’s safety. This will be difficult to do in today’s climate. Our society doesn’t like to hear facts and especially not if the truth is harsh. After all, what department wants to make it clear to their community that if you do not comply with an officer’s attempt to detain you, then asphalt pressed against face is a likely outcome? But we need to get it done in some way.
Society needs to be reminded of the consequences of poor decisions just as much as law enforcement officers need to be trained to make proper decisions in their words and actions. We need to keep showing society the softer side of policing, but we must also make clear the reality of appropriate law enforcement responses. But how?
Most departments have some sort of community outreach liaison group, maybe a Clergy and Police Alliance, or a Citizens on Patrol organization. These groups can be most effective in delivering messages of the department to the community. In fact, a message that comes directly from the department to the community regarding the importance of complying with officer commands will most likely be received negatively. It could be seen as suppression. The same message, or even training, from members of the community to other members of the community could have lasting and positive impacts.
So if you have these type of community groups within your department, it’s time to provide them with the resources needed, a plan of action and put them to work. And if you do not have these groups within your department, it’s time to begin.