Within the past year alone, multiple use of force cases from the legitimate to the horrific have splashed across our nation’s headlines and our collective psyche.  And time and time again, the question of training is brought up – and whether enough time is spent on lethal and less-lethal training versus de-escalation, or verbal training.

Just this month, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) based in Washington, D.C. released what I consider one of the most important treatises on police management and training in several decades – Re-engineering Training on Police Use of Force.  This report will help serve as an impetus for critical changes in police training that are long overdue.

High-Profile Cases Bring Necessary Change

Having served for over 30 years at the San Jose, California Police Department, with the last seven years as the Chief of Police, it has been very difficult to observe how my beloved profession of law enforcement has been hammered with widespread criticism over the last year due to some extremely high-profile and controversial uses of deadly force. And yet, it’s even harder to see video footage of some police officers incorrectly handling these critical incidents.  Fortunately, as a law enforcement advisory consultant at Hillard Heintze, I have the opportunity to work and collaborate with law enforcement leaders across the country to improve police departments and the overall perception of policing in the community.  I continue to be impressed with the level of leadership exhibited by so many of law enforcement’s leaders.

Agencies, Officers and Leaders Need to be Open to Reform

As we’ve seen in many departments we’ve supported through assessments, staffing analyses or a wide range of technical assistance, reform isn’t an easy task.  One key factor of reform is having departments, especially leaders, who are willing and ready to change.  If you’ve read the PERF report, you know that the law enforcement leaders quoted in it share a common goal: a positive path forward.

Four Actions Police Departments Should Take on Use of Force

Specifically, I believe the report hits the proverbial “nail on the head” when it suggests police agencies do the following:

  1. Redesign use of force training for new officers in police academies so it focuses not only on how to use tools such as handguns, shotguns and Tasers but how to de-escalate situations in which an officer may have the time to slow down a critical situation in order to avoid using such devices, even when the usage is legally justified.
  2. Initiate efforts to assist in changing the culture of policing so the sanctity of all human life is emphasized.  This may be addressed in part by ensuring such training is incorporated in both the police academy curriculum as well as in ongoing In-Service Training for veteran officers.
  3. Revisit the use of certain “Use of Force Continuums” that actually may be serving to increase officers’ use of force due to an officer’s training that indicates a suspect’s behavior automatically deserves a specified level of force response.
  4. Recognize the need for improved training for police 9-1-1 dispatchers so they may solicit and share with officers responding to a critical call for service even greater details about the key circumstances of the situation and vital information about the subjects involved.  This effort may provide responding officers with additional key details that may assist them to slow down the situation upon arrival so more options may be considered to resolve the call safely.

These are but a few of the many highlights outlined in this excellent report.

As Law Enforcement Leaders We Can Always Do Better

Make no mistake – we regularly ask our police officers to respond to extremely dangerous calls for service and to put their very lives on the line.  And there are moments when we expect them to use justifiable and reasonable deadly force to protect themselves and others.

Yet I know also that because of the difficult circumstances in which police officers work there may be some within our profession who will view some of the PERF report recommendations as yet more criticism of those who make these life-changing decisions in a split second, and that such criticism is yet more second-guessing of those doing a difficult and dangerous job.

Point taken.  Point taken.  But as a member of this profession, I also know that we can always find ways to do our jobs more effectively and more professionally.  In fact, I believe we should demand this of ourselves, and I believe this PERF report will help us step up as leaders to do just that.

Photo Source: Huffington Post