There is a well known sociologist, Egon Bittner, who posited that in a democratic society the capacity to use coercive force is the defining feature of the police. It isn’t unlimited authority – it is limited by legislative action, court decisions, can only be used in the performance of duty, not to settle personal disputes and we can’t use it maliciously or frivolously. Force use is an awesome responsiblity. We know that and respect it.
Because force use is a serious matter to be carefully considered, we expend considerable resources in training our personnel according to the most current best practices of our profession. Force use training isn’t about target practice although we do train with firearms to achieve accuracy, we train the thought processes of officers to make effective, ethical and safe decisions for themselves and the community. We train on pistols according to the state standard, we train on hands-on contacts, conducted electricity weapons (also known as Tasers), rifles, shotguns, Kinetic Energy Impact Weapons (bean bag) and aerosol restraint spray. They are all tools we use. Each force use, defined as anything more than simple handcuffing, is reported in detail and analyzed for performance improvement, compliance with the orders governing the type of force use and where we can improve our training. One interesting fact that you may not have known is that injuries to officers correlate very closely to injuries to arrested persons. Poor tactics are bad for everyone.
Internally we have an instructor group that teaches and trains our officers. We train them to make sure that they are up to speed and use them as a resource to make decisions on equipment and policy. They meet periodically to discuss what we are doing, how it can be improved and plan ahead. These are serious decisions that we need to carefully consider. An example of what can go wrong is the current situation in Albuquerque, New Mexico where there was a large and violent protest on Sunday over a police incident in which a mentally ill, homeless man was killed by the police. But we live in challenging times, consider the actions of the military police officer who found and engaged the shooter at Fort Hood yesterday. The officer happens to be a woman. Given what has been revealed about her actions, I can say with some certainty that she acted as she was trained to save her community.
Force use by the police is an important issue in any community. Our group reminded themselves yesterday that what they do and how they do it impacts how our community views us and the trust they have in us.