The number of reported cases in recent years where a police officer used deadly force in a controversial incident has spiked. Amidst heightened nationalism and racial tensions in the United States, these cases are picked up by the media and made into an opinion debate in the public eye. The central concept discussed is whether police authority is abused in such instances of excessive force in unwarranted situations. Police culture is significantly criticized citing decades of violence. In an effort to establish guidelines and public trust, various districts have taken measures from changing policy to improving training.
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However, many of the incidents follow similar trajectories with the police arriving at the scene and using deadly force in unclear circumstances, leaving the victim (usually African-American) deceased. The public outcry follows the family demands investigation. During the inquiry, it is determined that the victim was not armed or using any direct threat against the officer. Usually, the victim was merely showing resistance to the directions given by the police officer, and some gesture was perceived by the police as dangerous, causing shots to be fired. Despite this, the officer is acquitted during the trial many times, causing more public protest.
Similar unfortunate events like the shooting in Tulsa or the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson (an incident which sparked public protest about the topic) incentivize further tension and possible confrontations as certain groups believe that racial profiling plays a tremendous role in the shootings and other police encounters.
The attempt by LAPD and other districts to develop de-escalation policies is a healthy step towards more efficient police training and improving public image. Statistically, officer use of deadly force in unwarranted situations has spiked to unprecedented levels, leaving civilians as victims when the job of the police is to serve and protect. De-escalation policies place the value of human life first, both of the police officer and the civilian they are encountering. The approach used currently is extremely reactive and relies on instinct which in turn may hinder reliable judgment of the situation.
Psychologically speaking, even the most open-minded and progressive people have unconscious prejudice. Relying on that rather analytical thinking creates these situations, so police are encouraging passive dialogue, accurate evaluation, and use of non-lethal methods for pacifying the situation. Also, instincts and training usually allow an experienced police officer to differentiate a life-threatening situation from a simple tense, confrontational one. The new de-escalation policies carefully state that if there is an imminent threat, deadly force is nevertheless approved. Their life is uniquely valuable too.
However, now training suggests and even awards those who consider the circumstances in which another life is also preserved. Now, encounters will be investigated more carefully to determine further judgment. It is important to note that most police disputes happen with civilians who have no intention and even fear hurting the officer. Often, the citizen is confused and afraid, while yes violating the law, nevertheless creates miscommunication.
If the policy is violated, there should be a careful, unbiased investigation into the incident. While public outrage may be pressing, only a fair investigation can reveal all evidence. Any police officer deserves the fairness of trial reserved for others who violate the rule of law under which everyone should be equal. Of course, police are also held to a higher standard as they are trained in both policy, psychology, and the use of weaponry.
Any possible deviation from regulation that’s not a minor mistake should be punished by suspension and further consequences if criminal intent is proved. If the public sees this tough abidance in police regulation, the department will receive more respect. In turn, the understanding of appropriate policy and de-escalation procedures will reduce the number of shootings. It is often a matter of mindset established by training, and if “sanctity of life” is taught, eventually it will take hold in the real world and police culture.