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“Police, Warriors Or Guardians?”: Replacing The “Warrior” Mentality Of Police Training With A Self-Concept Of “Community Guardians”

The almost constant examples we are experiencing of police officers gunning down unarmed suspects of late–or treating the communities they patrol as enemy bastions to be approached with overwhelming military force–are a particular shock to those of us who thought the principles of “community policing” had taken deeper root in the culture of law enforcement agencies. That’s clearly not the case. And in fact, to get back to something like community policing will require a serious reorientation of police training. The task is explained in depth at Ten Miles Square today by Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who is also a former police officer.

Becoming a “warrior” on hair-trigger to answer violence with violence has become central to police training, says Stoughton:

In this worldview, officers are warriors combatting unknown and unpredictable—but highly lethal—enemies. They learn to be afraid. Officers don’t use that word, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But officers learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because they are afraid, and they afraid because they’re taught to be.

As a result, officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. A popular police training text offers this advice: “As you approach any situation, you want to be in the habit of looking for cover[] so you can react automatically to reach it should trouble erupt.” A more recent article puts it even more bluntly: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Add in racial stereotypes and limited experience with the community an officer is “protecting” and you can understand how regular interactions between cops and citizens have entered a frightening world remote from the trust-based assumptions of community policing.

Stoughton suggests replacing the whole “warrior” mentality inculcated by police training with a self-concept of “Community Guardians.”

[W]hat’s the difference? Both Warriors and Guardians seek to protect the communities they serve, of course, but the guardian mindset takes both a broader and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. It instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified; they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. It emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. In the use-of-force context, the Guardian mindset emphasizes restraint over control, stability over action. But the concept is even broader; it seeks to protect civilians not just from crime and violence, but also from indignity and humiliation.

Stoughton offers some practical steps for how to train police officers to be “Guardians” rather than “Warriors,” including special training in how to de-escalate confrontations and how to safely exercise tactical restraint. But the starting point is admitting we have a real problem when public servants are trained to think of the citizenry as a mob of potential killers.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 17, 2015

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Community Policing, Police Abuse, Police Shootings | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ending Police Brutality Isn’t Up To The Communities”: Want To Stop Police Brutality? Start Disciplining Officers

As they strive to solve the public crisis of police use-of-force incidents, illuminated again by the deaths of several black victims last year, officials from the White House on down have coalesced around “community policing.” When it comes to influencing the national conversation on a local issue like this, it doesn’t get more official than the U.S. Conference of Mayors, or USCM. The non-partisan organization is comprised of more than one thousand mayors representing the nation’s largest cities. Its mission is to shape national urban policy and the positions adopted at their annual meeting are distributed to the President of the United States and to Congress.

On January 30, the USCM released a report on strengthening “police-community” relations in American cities. The six-page report came full of recommendations for everything from “youth study circles” to new equipment. The report was completed with the help of a working group of police chiefs, including Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, the man appointed by President Obama to chair his Task Force on 21st Century Policing in response to rising unrest around around the issue of police brutality.

Absent from their suggestions, however, was a single mention of officer discipline.

A full page is dedicated to the imprecise goal of “Addressing Racial and Economic Disparities and Community Frustration with and Distrust of Governmental Institutions.” The use of “distrust,” however, is disingenuous. While black citizens do report having less confidence than white ones in police, the overwhelming majoritymore than three-quartersreport having some to a “great deal of confidence” in police. Trust isn’t the issue here.

What the #BlackLivesMatter protests made clear is that communities of color are increasingly fed up with the over-policing of our neighborhoods, extrajudicial killings of unarmed black people and the failures of the justice system to hold killer cops accountable. To ignore those complaints and suggest that the issue is merely one of distrust is dishonest, and it evades the very obvious fact that police brutality is a national problem that persists, in part, because cops can get away with it.

I’ve commented before on “community policing,” but it’s worth noting again how troubling that term is. “Community policing” reframes the conversation around police reform from one that addresses police brutality to one that addresses the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color, as though they’re mutually combative. The relationship between the two isn’t the issue. It’s the manner in which law enforcement relates to communities of color that’s proven deadly, time and time again.

Comedian Chris Rock provided an apt analogy for this during his recent New York Magazine interview.

“If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner.”

Similarly, ending police brutality isn’t up to the communities that are brutalized. It’s up to the cops.

Now, the USCM report is not all bad. Its call for independent investigations of deadly police encounters is a substantive step. It makes helpful nods toward improving hiring and training practices. However, the report’s failure to get serious about police reform and combating police abuses and to instead focus on “relationships,” while politically convenient, doesn’t begin to solve the problem. The report fails, for instance, to address the systematic failure of police departments nationally to discipline officers who are found to have inappropriately engaged citizens and used excessive force.

Take the New York Police Department, for example, the nation’s largest. It is often at the forefront of innovation in the field. But, when it comes to disciplining officers for misconduct, the NYPD fails miserably. Just last year, the department decided not to discipline 25 percent of the officers who its Civilian Complaint Review Board found guilty of committing misconduct. A WNYC report also found that the NYPD fails to drive out cops who present red flags for abuse.

Within policing, too-frequent charges of “resisting arrest” by cops is a red flag for excessive force. The logic is that an abusive officer will be more likely to cover up excessive force with the excuse that a suspect resisted arrest. But WNYC found that just five percent of officers who’ve made arrests since 2009 accounted for 40 percent of the charges of resisting arrest. They even discovered one active officer to have made more than 50 charges. Does the community just need a better “relationship” with this cop who curiously finds himself in these sorts of situations time and time again?

Coincidentally, just last week, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton asked New York lawmakers to raise resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. That is an alarming claim, given how and why Eric Garner was choked to death on Staten Island by a police officer in July. Like the subsequent deaths of John Crawford III in an Ohio Wal-Mart, Tamir Rice near a Cleveland community center, each incident was avoidable and not one of their killers has been brought to justice. Another one that qualifies is the November shooting death of Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project stairwell; we learned Tuesday that the officer involved was indicted Tuesday on several counts, including second-degree manslaughter.

There’s a suite of reforms, from recruiting to data collection, that need to be made throughout the nation’s police departments, and strengthening discipline measures must be central to any proposal that seeks justice for victims of police brutality and to prevent future tragedies.

First, police departments must do a better job of actively ferreting out bad cops. Using early warning systems that trigger an intervention process when an officer has an excessive number of use of force complaints against him, or has filed a certain number of resisting arrest charges, is a start. Departments also need central databases that collect information on police conduct from various sources, so that an officer’s complete record can be compiled and viewed. Police departments must also make it a priority to maintain their integrity by investigating citizen complaints swiftly, impartially and with transparency. Independent, civilian-led complaint review boards are essential in doing that work.

Finally, the decisions of civilian review boards should not just serve as recommendations for discipline, but should be a determining factor in it. That is, in effect, the only way to hold police officers directly accountable to the communities they serve.

“Community policing” sounds good. As proposed, it will probably be more politically expedient than substantive change in policy, but we cannot fix our deadly system of policing without addressing officer discipline. There must be measures in place to make cops think twice about pulling the trigger. It’s a matter of accountability, but also of life and death.

 

By: Donovan X. Ramsey, The New Republic, Fbruary 12, 2015

 

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Community Policing, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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