Re-Engineering Training on Police Use of Force. Police Executive Research Forum, 2015.

Summary: What You Will Find In This Report

By Chuck Wexler

Over the past year, the policing profession has been shaken by controversies over the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, and many others. I don’t know anyone who would dispute that the reputation of American policing has suffered from these incidents. At times, it has seemed like every time you turn on the TV, you see another story about the police that hits you like a punch to the stomach. PERF’s Board of Directors was quick to realize that the rioting last summer in Ferguson was not a story that would fade away quickly, and we decided to hold a national conference in Chicago about the implications of Ferguson for policing. That meeting, held on September 16–17, just five weeks after the Ferguson incident, was written up in “Defining Moments for Police Chiefs,” our last Critical Issues in Policing report.1 One of the key issues we discussed that day in Chicago was the need to rethink the training that police officers receive on de-escalation strategies and tactics. As we look back at the most controversial police shooting incidents, we sometimes find that while the shooting may be legally justified, there were missed opportunities to ratchet down the encounter, to slow things down, to call in additional resources, in the minutes before the shooting occurred. It became clear that this issue of de-escalation was one of many ways in which the training of police officers can be improved. Our goal is to give police officers better tools for avoiding unnecessary uses of force, particularly deadly force. So we began planning for another national research project and conference, titled “Re-Engineering Use of Force.” The report you are holding is the result of this project. You will see that this report, like others in the Critical Issues series, consists largely of the discussions by participants at our May 7, 2015 conference. Nearly 300 police chiefs and other law enforcement executives, federal government officials, academics, and representatives from policing agencies in the UK came together in Washington to share their views on what should be included in new approaches to training on use of force. We also fielded a survey of police agencies on their use-of-force training, reviewed research, and sent PERF staff to Scotland to observe their training firsthand. I want to mention that some of what you will read in this report may be difficult to accept, because leading police chiefs are saying that our practices need to change dramatically. As the Good to Great author Jim Collins says, we need to “confront the brutal facts,” and then act. PERF is known for not being afraid to question the conventional thinking, and that means taking a critical look at how we are performing as professionals. This is how we have made progress in policing historically. We are Summary: What You Will Find In This Report By Chuck Wexler 1. 4 — Summary: What You Will Find in This Report responsible to our communities, and to the officers who risk their lives and act courageously, day in and day out. These officers need our guidance and they need state-of-the-art principles. Here’s a summary of what’s in this report: First, the training currently provided to new recruits and experienced officers in most departments is inadequate. We need to rethink how we are training officers to handle use of force, and we must recognize that current training is not providing officers with stateof-the-art techniques to minimize use of force. A survey of police agencies that we conducted for this project revealed that we give officers many hours of training in how to shoot a gun. But we spend much less time discussing the importance of de-escalation tactics and Crisis Intervention strategies for dealing with mentally ill persons, homeless persons, and other challenging situations. Furthermore, the various aspects of use-offorce training often are handled as separate issues, with each element discussed days, weeks, or even months apart from the related issues. Recruit training may begin with a week of training in how to use a firearm. Perhaps a month later, the recruits receive training on the legal issues governing use of lethal force. A month after that, they might receive a couple days of training on strategies for avoiding the use of force. This fragmented approach makes it difficult for new officers to understand how all of these related issues fit together. Training on these issues should be more holistic and integrated. We also need fewer lecture-based training sessions, and more “scenariobased” training, in which officers are put through realistic role-playing exercises in which they must make choices about how to respond to the types of incidents they may face—such as a mentally ill person on a street corner, waving a knife. We owe it to our officers to give them a wider range of options. “Shoot/don’t shoot” training does not provide the full range of issues that officers need to consider. The question posed to officers in training should not be “shoot or don’t shoot.” Instead, officers should be trained to ask themselves a series of key questions as an event unfolds, such as “What exactly is happening? What is the nature of the risks or threats? What powers do I have legally and within policy to respond? Do I need to take action immediately? Am I the best person to deal with this? If I take a certain action, will my response be proportionate to the seriousness of the threat?” As detailed in this report, some departments have reported success in training officers to use a “decision-making model,” which is a formal system for analyzing various situations, considering the options and tools that are available for responding, making choices, and evaluating results. Second, minimizing use of force requires changes in policy and training, but that is not enough. In several ways, this is also a question of police culture. Sanctity of human life: For example, many police chiefs tell us that there is an informal tradition of supervisors telling their officers that “Your most important job is to get home safely to your family at the end of your shift.” And who would argue that officers should be reminded that their job can be dangerous, and that they should take care to protect themselves? However, a number of police chiefs have called for a rethinking of the practice of emphasizing to officers on a daily basis that they face potential deadly threats at every moment. Why? Because some of the officer-involved shootings that have been most controversial seem to reflect training that has officers think solely about their own safety, rather than a broader approach designed to protect everyone’s lives. In order to create a shift in police culture on this point, a number of departments have begun to build their use-of-force policies around statements of principle about the sanctity of all human life. For example, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department adopted a policy stating that “the department respects the value of every human life, and the application of deadly force is a measure to be employed in the most extreme circumstances.” The Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy also is adopting this approach. Summary: What You Will Find in This Report — 5 “Never back down. Move in and take charge”: For a number of years, PERF chiefs have been recommending that police try to “slow the situation down” when they respond to an incident involving a person experiencing a mental health crisis.2 By slowing the situation down, officers buy themselves more time to communicate with the person, assess the situation, develop a plan for resolving the incident, and get additional resources to the scene, if necessary. Furthermore, police chiefs at PERF meetings have discussed the concept of “tactical disengagement,” 3 which is sometime described as, “If you can calm the situation down and walk away from a minor confrontation, and nothing bad happens when you leave, that may be a better outcome than forcing a confrontation over a minor conflict.” However, these concepts of slowing a situation down, calling for a supervisor to respond to the scene, bringing in additional resources, de-escalating, and disengaging tactically are sometimes seen as antithetical to a 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. 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 conventional wisdom has been that officers frequently have to make split-second decisions that have life-or-death consequences. While this is certainly the case in situations like active shooter incidents—when time is a critical factor—there are many other everyday situations where, after an initial assessment, it becomes clear that the more effective approach is to slow the situation down, maintain some distance between yourself and the subject to reduce the chance of a physical confrontation, and begin communicating with the person to seek a resolution. If police leaders are going to change the culture on this point, they must clearly tell their officers what they want them to do, and back it up in terms of evaluations and rewards. For example, if officers’ performance is evaluated in part according to how many calls for service they can handle in a day, that can undermine the concept of “slowing the situation down” when necessary. The “21-foot rule”: As detailed on pp. 14–15 of this report, the so-called 21-foot rule was created in a 1983 magazine article to describe the distance an officer must keep from a suspect armed with a knife, in order to give the officer enough time to draw and fire his gun if the suspect suddenly charges him with the knife. The 21-foot rule was later incorporated in a training video for police produced by an organization called Calibre Press. Many police officers in the United States have heard about the 21-foot rule in their training, but few are aware of how the rule was created. Many officers have said the 21-foot rule is a part of police culture, handed down informally from one officer to another, or mentioned in training, over the generations. Police chiefs at PERF’s May 7 conference said that the 21-foot rule has sometimes been used wrongly to suggest that if a suspect moves to close the distance between himself and the officer, the officer can shoot the suspect and cite the 21-foot rule to justify the use of deadly force. This is the wrong approach, they told us at our meeting. The 21-foot rule should never be seen as “a green light to use deadly force” or a “kill zone.” Rather, officers should be given broader training in sound decision-making, de-escalation strategies, and tactics for creating time and distance, so they can better manage the incident without needing force. Third, these issues are not theoretical; many departments are beginning to implement them. 2. See, for example, “An Integrated Approach to De-Escalation and Minimizing Use of Force” (2012). Pp. 12–16. de-escalation%20and%20minimizing%20use%20of%20force%202012.pdf 3. Ibid., pp. 18-19. 6 — Summary: What You Will Find in This Report Already, we are seeing police departments in the United States revamping their use-of-force training in ways that reflect a shift toward the approaches I have mentioned above: • Police in Kansas City, Missouri are receiving training in tactical disengagement.4 • Los Angeles officers are receiving “Preservation of Life Training.” 5 • Leesburg, VA police required all officers to attend seminars, led by Chief Joseph Price, on implicit bias, de-escalation, community policing in the 21st Century, and related issues.6 • The Seattle Police Department recently won praise from the U.S. Justice Department for its department-wide tactical de-escalation training program.7 • The New York City Police Department is undertaking a massive three-day retraining of all its officers on de-escalation, communications, and tactics to minimize use of force.8 • The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has overhauled its use-of-force training to emphasize scenario-based training, de-escalation, crisis intervention strategies, and slowing down high-risk situations.9 • The San Diego Police Department is implementing a number of changes in its training of officers, including an emphasis on “emotional intelligence.” This includes teaching officers how to keep their emotions in check and not take it personally if someone speaks to them disrespectfully, for example—so that a traffic stop or other minor incident does not escalate into something more serious and dangerous.10 • The Oakland, CA Police Department is overhauling its use-of-force training to emphasize deescalation skills, officers’ management of stress during threatening situations, assessment of officers in realistic scenario-based exercises, procedural justice, and related issues.11 Fourth, we can learn lessons from other countries’ police departments. First, let me acknowledge that among the industrialized nations in the world, the United States faces much more severe problems than most other countries, stemming from the widespread availability of inexpensive, high-quality firearms to almost anyone. Regretfully, even people with long criminal records or histories of severe mental illness can easily obtain powerful firearms in the United States. Federal laws banning gun possession by those categories of persons have large loopholes in terms of enforcement. So of course, we cannot compare the acrossthe-board experience of police agencies in the United States with their counterparts in other nations with respect to use of force. Police in the 4. “KC police learning to ‘tactically disengage’ to avoid violent confrontations.” The Kansas City Star. May 8, 2015. 5. “LAPD Focuses on Use of Force in New Training Series.” NBC Channel 4, Southern California. July 13, 2015. 6. “Leesburg Police: Balancing the ‘Warrior’ and the ‘Guardian.’” Leesburg Today, June 29, 2015. news/leesburg-police-balancing-the-warrior-and-the-guardian/article_d8cc89ea-1e77-11e5-8ae9-03de28c1c8df.html 7. U.S. Department of Justice media release, April 16, 2015. “Justice Department Applauds Adoption of Police Department-Wide Tactical De-escalation Training Program in Seattle.” justice-department-applauds-adoption-police-department-wide-tactical-de-escalation-training 8. “A Look Inside How the NYPD Is Retraining the Biggest Police Force in the US.” ABC News. March 17, 2015. See also NYPC Chief Matthew Pontillo’s discussion of the retraining in this report. 9. “Could training stem police shootings? Las Vegas is a test.” Associated Press, June 22, 2015. 10. “Many SDPD reforms done, chief tells council.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 29, 2015. 11. See pp. 54–57 of this report. Summary: What You Will Find in This Report — 7 United States face far more serious threats from gang members and other criminals armed with firearms than police face in nations where possession of firearms is strictly regulated. More police officers in the United States are shot to death while performing their duties than in other countries, so American officers must approach many situations with an awareness of and concern for their safety. However, all countries have mentally ill persons with knives. So I believe we can compare our experience to other nations’ experience with respect to certain situations that occur quite frequently, and which result in a disproportionate number of the most troublesome uses of force. To mention one common example: A 911 call in which the caller reports a person on a street corner, brandishing a knife, speaking incoherently, and the caller says the person seems to be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The United States does not have a monopoly on mental illness, homelessness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and other conditions that can cause people to behave erratically and dangerously. And the United States does not have a monopoly on the easy availability of knives or other edged weapons. So I think we can compare our experience to that of other nations with respect to the scenario I just described: “mentally ill person on the street, holding a knife.” Police in the UK have a different approach: That is why PERF invited top policing officials from England and Scotland to participate in our Re-Engineering Use of Force conference. As you will see on pp. 39–50, Chief Inspector Robert Pell of the Greater Manchester Police and Bernard Higgins, Assistant Chief Constable for Police Scotland, explain how their officers are trained to resolve incidents involving persons with knives without resorting to use of firearms. In fact, police in the UK tend to place a high priority on learning how to resolve incidents without using firearms, because the large majority of constables there are not equipped with firearms. Only 3 percent of the officers in Greater Manchester, and 2 percent in Scotland, carry guns. And what Chief Inspector Pell and Assistant Chief Constable Higgins told us is that their officers manage to resolve these incidents without using deadly force against the mentally ill persons. I asked Chief Inspector Pell, “Aren’t your officers afraid that they could get killed if they’re within 21 feet of the man with a knife?” Chief Pell responded that his officers don’t see it that way. “The reality is that we’ve never carried guns, so we’ve always had to train differently,” he said. “Culturally, it’s different.” To a large extent, Pell and Higgins said at our conference, their training is based on a practical tool called the National Decision Model (NDM), which is a system that helps officers to respond effectively to all sorts of situations and problems. Under the NDM, officers are trained to constantly ask themselves questions about the nature of the situation they are facing, the threats and risks they are facing, their powers and authorities to act, their various options for acting, how their actions played out, and whether they need to begin the process again, based on new information. This type of organized, systematic thinking via the National Decision Model results in a more effective response by officers. For example, in our example of a mentally ill person wielding a knife, I asked Inspector Pell whether officers are trained not to “bark orders” at a mentally ill person, because a mentally ill person may not be able to process or respond properly to what the officer is saying. Inspector Pell explained that I was oversimplifying it. He told us, “It’s not just about ‘stop barking commands.’ It’s about communicating and trying to establish a connection, trying to engage, to break through whatever it is, to start some kind of negotiations.” So police in Greater Manchester aren’t just “checking the de-escalation box” when they encounter a mentally ill person with a knife. The officers in Manchester don’t have the fall-back option of shooting the mentally ill person, because they don’t carry firearms. So they learn the importance of making a genuine effort to learn as much as they can about the person, to engage him in conversation, and to 8 — Summary: What You Will Find in This Report look for an opening, a way to demonstrate empathy, to calm the person down, and to get him to give up the knife without any use of force, so that everyone can go home safely. This approach may also involve bringing in additional resources, such as use of Electronic Control Weapons or calling in officers who are specially outfitted with heavy shields, or the special squad of officers who do carry firearms. Chief Constable Higgins provided some mindboggling statistics about policing in Scotland. Police in Scotland have not shot a single person in the last three and one-half years, he said, adding that “we have 1.8 million emergency calls a year.” As in Manchester, police in Scotland are trained to slow situations down—to “contain and negotiate,” Chief Constable Higgins told us. He described the overall “theme” of their approach as: “What’s the hurry? Don’t feel you have to resolve every situation in a minute. By rushing it and escalating it, you’re creating a situation where you are increasing the risk to the subject, you’re increasing the risk to the community, and you’re increasing the risk to the police officers involved.” Finally, we need to take a closer look at “suicide by cop.” We need better information and better strategies for dealing with the phenomenon in which persons try to force a police officer to shoot them. In some cases, the situation is made clear to the officers, because the person repeatedly says to the officer, “Shoot me.” In some cases, including the famous incident in New Richmond, Ohio,12 the officer is told by the dispatcher that the incident may be an attempted suicide by cop. In the New Richmond incident, Officer Jesse Kidder used that key information provided by the dispatcher to courageously and successfully defuse the incident. But in other cases, it is unclear at the time whether the person is trying to commit suicide, and police may only learn later that the person had experienced severe depression or had made previous suicide attempts. We need to do a better job of identifying the signs that a person may be suicidal, and avoiding putting the officer in a position where he believes he has no alternative but to use deadly force. Dispatchers’ important role: The work of 911 call takers and dispatchers is critically important. Officers need as much information as possible before they arrive at the scene, so they can think about their options and plan a response. If a 911 caller says that a person on the street is waving a gun, and then adds, “I think it might be a BB gun,” that is critically important information for the officer to know. If the caller reports that the person is throwing rocks, or waving a piece of pipe, or seems to be concealing something, is mumbling or ranting, or does not seem to be aware of the people around him—all of these pieces of information can help the responding officers to understand the situation they will be dealing with. If there have been previous 911 calls at the same address, if the subject is a veteran, if other government agencies have been called to the address in the past—officers need to know these facts before they arrive. For responding officers, knowing that a person is behaving threateningly and may be attempting to commit suicide by cop will help them know the kind of response that may be necessary. For example, the response might include bringing in a Crisis Intervention Team and/or a supervisor, or treating the incident as a barricaded person situation. The normal one- or two-person response will be insufficient. We also know that we should provide instruction to officers about what is known about suicideby-cop incidents, and strategies for responding to these incidents. There has been some research suggesting that these incidents often involve certain factors, such as a recent traumatic change in the subject’s life and a history of assaultive behavior.13 12. See page 56 of this report. 13. A number of resources on suicide-by-cop incidents are available at See also, “How to Stop Suicide by Cop.” Pacific Standard, Feb. 21, 2011. how-to-stop-suicide-by-cop-27758 Summary: What You Will Find in This Report — 9 The policing profession should conduct additional research designed to help police identify potential suicide-by-cop situations as they are happening, and respond effectively when they occur. Summary: It’s time for an overhaul of police training, policy, supervision, and culture on use of force. As the PERF Board of Directors understood nearly a year ago in the immediate aftermath of the demonstrations in Ferguson, there has been a fundamental change in how the American people view the issue of police use of force. A year later, this upheaval in policing is continuing, and it is unlikely to abate any time soon. In my view, here’s why: 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. 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. One reason for this “disconnect” is that under the legal standard for judging a police action, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1989 precedent in Graham v. Connor, an officer’s use of force is considered constitutional if it would be considered “reasonable,” considering the facts and circumstances of the case, “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” 14 And the Court added that “the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make splitsecond judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving—about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Thus, it is a rare case in which the courts will find an officer’s use of force unconstitutional, or a prosecutor will bring charges against an officer. However, there is a growing recognition in the policing profession that a review of an officer’s use of force should not focus solely on the moment that the officer fired a gun or otherwise used force. Instead, leading police chiefs are saying that the review should cover what led up to the incident, and officers should be held accountable if they failed to de-escalate the situation in order to prevent it from ever reaching the point where the use of force was necessary. And that is the type of analysis that community members make when they watch a video of a police shooting and wonder, “Why did all those officers have to shoot that homeless man? Just because he was holding a knife? All those officers were there, they had him surrounded. Why couldn’t they Tase him, or pepper-spray him, or just wait him out? They didn’t have to kill him.” Police chiefs increasingly are recognizing this perspective, and are making a distinction between “could” and “should” when it comes to evaluating officers’ use of force. While a use of force might be legal, that is not the end of the discussion if there were less drastic options available. A decision by a prosecutor or a jury that an officer’s use of force was not a crime does not address the community trust issue. In Washington, D.C., the major cultural shift on use of force was the recognition that just because an officer could use force does not necessarily mean that he or she should do so. Use-of-force continuums: We also need to review use-of-force policies, many of which rely on outdated concepts of a use-of-force “continuum,” in which levels of resistance from a suspect are matched with specific police tactics and weapons. In the past, this was considered an effective way to provide officers with specific guidance about how to handle various situations. However, there is an increasing understanding that use of force cannot be measured in such a mechanical way. Rather, officers must be trained to evaluate the entire situation they are facing, and to make good decisions about the wide range of options that may be available to them, depending on the circumstances, including de-escalation strategies. This approach is in line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham mentioned above. The Supreme Court noted that the calculation of 14. Graham v. Connor (1989). U.S. Supreme Court, May 15, 1989. 10 — Summary: What You Will Find in This Report reasonableness under the Constitution “is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.” Thus, many police agencies are moving away from simplistic use-of-force continuums in their policies that take a mechanical approach, matching a certain level of resistance with a certain set of weapons or tools. Instead, they are focusing on a more comprehensive evaluation by the officer of the need for force, as suggested by the Court. The impact of video recordings: Furthermore, it seems that we are rapidly reaching the point where almost every significant police action will be recorded on video. A number of police chiefs have already been saying, “Any time anything happens, I just assume there will be a video of it. And I tell my officers to always work on the premise that they are being recorded all the time.” Tens of millions of people carry cell phones capable of recording video, and there is a rapid trend toward police agencies deploying police body-worn cameras. With all these video recordings becoming available, the role of the community in reviewing police uses of force will only increase in the future. Thus, we must develop new policies and training to equip officers to manage their use of force in ways that will meet a higher standard than the relatively low bar of “not unconstitutional” and “not criminal.” We must aim higher, toward a standard that has broader community support. Chief Inspector Pell from the Greater Manchester Police noted that policing in the UK faced a crisis in 2011, following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 and several other high-profile uses of force in which officers were criminally charged. Here is what Pell recalled about those days, just four years ago: “We thought we were training our officers with the right tactics to deal with the threats that were out there. But the reality was that our officers were getting themselves into situations where on a danger scale of 1 to 10, they were turning up at incidents that were 1 or 2, but were jumping straight to 8 or 9 in their use of force, with no middle ground. They were engaging in physical violence, they were being charged with criminal offenses, some were sentenced to prison, and we were losing public support. About 45 percent of the public were saying they didn’t have any confidence in us.” The police in the UK responded to this crisis with new protocols, new training, and their National Decision Model. And today, Chief Inspector Pell reports, “The reaction of the community has been fantastic. Currently we have a public confidence level of 94 percent.” Policing in the United States is more complicated, because we have 18,000 autonomous police agencies, compared to the 43 territorial police agencies in England and Wales. It will be more difficult to accomplish systematic reforms on use of force by police agencies in the United States. And many communities in the United States, unlike those in many other countries, face severe challenges from the widespread availability of firearms to violent offenders. However, if we leave aside the issue of firearms and consider the incidents in which suspects are armed only with knives, other edged weapons, rocks, or other weapons, and not firearms, we can take lessons from other nations, and we can do better in those situations. The last year has taught us that community oversight in the age of the Internet is a powerful force. The public’s demands for increased accountability and transparency will continue to work their will on our 18,000 police departments. Many police agencies already are rising to this challenge. Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood is one of the chiefs who is showing this kind of leadership. As he says on the final page of this report: What we did 20 years ago is not good enough. Society has changed, and our job has changed. People are calling us because of poverty, inequity, and all these other issues. And our young men and young women have to be able to deal with that. It’s our job as leaders—what we’re doing here today—to come up with a way to accomplish that mission. I think that the overwhelming majority of officers in this country are saying, “Lead us. Show us what you want us to do, and we’re going to do it.”



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