WASHINGTON — Many recent controversial police shootings could have been avoided, even though they may have been legally justifiable, according to a report issued by a top law enforcement organization this week.
The Police Executive Research Forum, a research and policy group whose members include commanders from the largest U.S. police departments, said officers generally receive far too little training in de-escalating conflict and often are embedded in a culture that encourages them to rapidly resort to physical force.
Many recent high-profile police shootings have been legally justified, but there are sometimes “missed opportunities to ratchet down the encounter, to slow things down, to call in additional resources,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the group, wrote in the report.
It’s no wonder. Disengagement and patience, the report found, are “sometimes seen as antithetical” to traditional police culture.
“Some officers, with the best intentions, think that their job is to go into a situation, take charge of it, and resolve it as quickly as you can,” Wexler wrote. “Sometimes there is a feeling of competitiveness about it. If an officer slows a situation down and calls for assistance, there is sometimes a feeling that other responding officers will think, ‘What, you couldn’t handle this yourself?'”
The study found that many police agencies give officers extensive training on how to shoot a gun, but officers spend “much less time” learning the “importance of de-escalation tactics and Crisis Intervention strategies for dealing with mentally ill persons, homeless persons, and other challenging situations.”
Wexler said it may be difficult for many police officials to accept that things “need to change dramatically.” He said the Police Executive Research Forum “is known for not being afraid to question the conventional thinking,” and a critical look at tactics “is how we have made progress in policing history.”
There has been a “fundamental change in how the American people view the issue of police use of force” since protests in Ferguson last year, Wexler wrote. Videos, he said, have played a big role in that shift.
“Over the past year, the nation has seen, with their own eyes, video recordings of a number of incidents that simply do not look right to them,” Wexler wrote. “In many of these cases, the officers’ use of force has already been deemed ‘justified,’ and prosecutors have declined to press criminal charges. But that does not mean that the uses of force are considered justified by many people in the community.”