The headline in the Washington Post today should have said the sky is blue but instead it said “Number of fatal shootings by police is nearly identical to last year.”
I’ve said it for some time that it is odd to continually demand changes from the most professional and well trained law enforcement officers this country has ever had and to never, ever discuss accountability from the public.
The demands for law enforcement to reform started loudly after the Trayvon Martin death which was weird considering the person that shot Martin wasn’t a police officer but no one pointed that out to anyone. It was simply the fault of rogue cops.
The demands for reform hit a fever pitch in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, despite the Department of Justice clearing the officer and witnesses telling a grand jury that they literally fabricated the story of “hands up…don’t shoot.” None of that mattered. Entire groups chanting for the death of cops emerged out of Ferguson and the town literally burned.
The lie that was “hands up, don’t shoot” was so well marketed that the media and citizens to this day refer to Ferguson as the reason cops are bad.
Three years ago, with all of that in context, the Washington Post began tracking deadly force used by law enforcement. Up until then, this data was not kept and while I would like to think the Post wanted to fill an important need for the profession, something tells me it was their “gotcha” moment.
Now, three years later, we are still waiting for that “gotcha” moment and some are still confused as to why police shootings remain the same and when I say the same, literally, they are exactly the same. In fact, on June 16th of this year, law enforcement had used deadly force the exact same times as the June 16th a year earlier.
How could that be, those that know little about law enforcement say. As the Washington Post pointed out, law enforcement has changed many aspects in recent years but they and those that continue to bash the police simply do not understand law enforcement. The truth is, long before a neighborhood watchman shot Trayvon Martin, law enforcement across the United States was in a long period of reform. Less lethal weapons, such as Tasers had become common; Mental Health training had become mandatory and education requirements were sweeping across agencies. Background checks had gone high tech and departments were embracing risk management strategies at the highest rate in the history of the profession. De-escalation training had been around for decades and stress inoculation training had developed a police officer able to handle stress like none other in our history.
There is no question that law enforcement was the most educated, most trained and more prepared than at anytime in history and that was before cities were being burned down because a violent felon attacked a Ferguson Police Officer.
There is no other profession under more scrutiny than American Law Enforcement and it was so much so that body cameras, capable of recording an officer’s entire work shift, were an expectation, not an option and all of that was before a Charlotte police officer shot a man with a gun and riots ensued.
So when the Washington Post started collecting deadly force data three years ago, I welcomed it. I knew it would show what it shows today. That law enforcement had done a tremendous amount of reform long before the public started hearing about the need for police reform and that the data would show that police are well trained and use force was at a very low level.
492 people were killed by the police so far in 2017, the same as the first six months in 2016 and to those that understand the demands on law enforcement, all know that is extremely low. While no police officer anywhere wants to shoot anyone, every cop I know can tell multiple stories of where they were legally justified to shoot, but didn’t.
That is a good thing and that tells me that the decades of reform and training have paid off and that is the exact reason the data has not changed in three years and will never change, unless the blame is shifted.
As long as criminals attack cops and others with their hands, guns, knives and other weapons, police officers will use deadly force.
There you go. It is literally that simple.
Dr. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina and someone I consider a friend, even though we often disagree, said it best. “Some places go up, some go down, but it’s averaging out. This is our society in the 21st century.”
This is indeed our society and law enforcement has done a tremendous job in training, preparing and de-escalating in that society and it is time that society changes.
This year, Tulsa police officers have fatally shot four people. That agency has one of the strictest hiring requirements including mandating a college degree while routinely providing ten times the required training a year than is mandated by the state. De-escalation training has been provided for two decades and every police officer receives mental health training every year.
So when Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said that his agency reviewed its use-of-force policy after the surge in shootings in 2016 but that there was not much the department could change, society needs to believe him. He went on to say that “We’re a reflection of the society we live in.”
He is right and many others are wrong. Continuing to tell law enforcement to reform while some in society act like lunatics is ridiculous at best. It is time that reform measures come to society and it is time that those that truly care about the issue of deadly force start speaking about this.
While it is true there are some agencies that still need to improve and I believe that every agency should do so much in the areas of training, policy and equipment that the mere mention of reform would seem silly, it should be obvious by now that that there is an unspoken truth in America and that is that our police deserve a society that acts accordingly and it is time we expect the same accountability from the public as we do the men and women that are sworn to protect that public.
Travis Yates is a writer and editor at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management & Officer Safety have been taught across the United States & Canada. Major Yates is a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the Director of Training for Law Officer (www.lawofficer.com) and the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (www.courageousleader.org), providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.