This paper examines the issues around training police officers to use force, particularly deadly force. Key findings include the need for better interpersonal communications training for new officers, especially in jurisdictions where officers do not typically come from the communities they police. “Hard” style or “Broken Windows” policing might negatively influence community members in socially disorganized communities, precipitating violent confrontations with police officers carrying out these policies. Six officers and one former offender were interviewed. both the literature and interviews, current police training paradigms were criticized for being unrealistic and inadequate; bureaucratic, political and economic considerations were emphasized.
32 year old Officer Wayne A. Leon, Badge #1338, a six year veteran of the Cleveland Police Department, was working overtime on Sunday, June 25, 2000 in Cleveland’s Third District. At 11:00 AM Leon spotted a white 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix with an altered temporary tag, and stopped to investigate when the car pulled into the parking lot of the Sunoco gas station at the corner of E.40th St. and Community College Ave. The intersection is in Zone 313, which covers the Central neighborhood, a socially disorganized, chronically poor area on Cleveland’s near east side.
The driver of the vehicle, Quisi Bryan, 29, had exited his vehicle as Leon approached to investigate. Leon was working a single-officer zone car, and did not initially call for backup for what he believed to be a minor traffic offense.
Officer Leon confirmed that the temporary tag was altered, and asked Bryan for identification, which Bryan provided. When Leon turned his head momentarily to the left to speak into his radio microphone, which was clipped to his left epaulette, Bryan pulled .45 caliber Glock model 21 pistol from his waistband, pointed it at Leon’s face, and from a range of less than three feet, fired one shot. The bullet entered Leon’s right cheek and traveled on a downward angle, lodging in his spine. Bryan then retrieved his driver’s license from Leon’s hand, got back in the car and fled the scene.
The entire confrontation lasted less than two minutes.
Officer Leon never regained consciousness. He was kept alive on life support until his father and partner could travel to Cleveland to be by his bedside, and died 24 hours later.
Wayne Leon’s murder, as unspeakably tragic as it is on an individual level, is nearly the statistical model of how police officers die in the United States. Is this because of the type of training police officers receive to react to a surprise, close-range assault with a firearm is inadequate? Do other factors contribute to make young patrol officers particularly vulnerable to these types of assaults? Could broad, strategic decisions about how communities are policed have a negative impact on the officers who are directed to carry out agency policy that is at odds with the type of policing community members want and expect?
Literature Review and Background
The number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty has generally declined since 1974; however, as the number of officer killed has fallen, the circumstances have become more homogenous. Law enforcement agencies reported that in 2011, out of 698,460 sworn officers employed in the United States in 2011, 54,774 were assaulted while performing their duties, and 72 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed. In comparison, 393 offenders were killed in confrontations with police officers that year.
Comparisons of three FBI studies (Killed in the Line of Duty – 1992, In the Line of Fire – 1997, and Violent Encounters – 2006), the LEOKA ten-year and twenty year data, LEOKA 2011, and Officer Down 2011 (Bumbak, 2013) show remarkable similarities in the officers who were the victims of line of duty murder or serious assault. Studies of the murder of law enforcement officers are generally broken down into three factors for examination; the officer, the offender, and the situation.
By all accounts, Wayne Leon was a model police officer. A family man with three young children, Leon came from a police family (His father is a retired Cleveland police officer, and his brother is a police officer in a large Cleveland suburb.) Leon graduated from St. Ignatius High School, where he was a standout wrestler and football player. Within the Cleveland Police Department, Officer Leon had already made a name for himself as a “superstar” Patrolman. He had been involved in justified line-of-duty shootings twice, was ranked as an expert pistol shot on department firearms qualifications, and had won awards for power lifting in statewide police competitions.
The average age of officers in the 2011 LEOKA data is 38 (median 35/ mode 31-35). This is consistent across the 2002-2011 and 1992-2001 data (average of both studies, 37), as well as the FBI studies (Violent encounters, 35, Killed in the Line of Duty, 34, In the Line of Fire, 33). Murdered officers averaged 12 years of experience in 2011, which was skewed higher by a small cohort of older officers who died that year. The 20 year average was 10.5 years years of experience, and this is slightly higher than the FBI studies (average across 3 studies, 8.33 years). More than half were age 25-40 with less than ten years of service. At ten years of service, the number of officers killed dropped by 47%, with another 50% drop at 20 years of service. The majority of officers killed in the line of duty are assigned to patrol in single officer zone cars.
Quisi Bryan is nearly the statistical archetype of a cop killer.
A career violent offender, Bryan, 29 years of age at the time he killed Leon, was paroled in November 1998 after serving time for attempted robbery and weapons violations.Bryan had several felony warrants at the time he killed Wayne Leon. Following his conviction in Leon’s murder, Bryan was also discovered to be a serial rapist. Cold-case DNA testing linked Bryan to five rapes in the late 1990s and 2000, the last of which was committed less than a month before Leon’s murder.
Quisi Bryan testified at trail that he supported himself by selling crack cocaine and robbing other drug dealers, and was also a crack cocaine user. His closest personal relationships were also unstable. Bryan was married to Elaine Smith, but lived with an 18 year old girlfriend, allegedly because he was wanted for parole violations and was afraid of being located at Smith’s address. Unable to legally buy a firearm, Bryan obtained the .45 caliber Glock Model 21 that he used to kill Leon by having Smith, who had a clean record, buy it for him in a “straw purchase”.
The offenders in both the LEOKA data and the FBI studies were overwhelmingly younger, less educated, and less socially stable than the victim officers. In keeping with the more general UCR data on homicide and assault, the offenders were 98% male, and 60% were under 30 years of age, with the highest number (33%) between 18 and 24 at the time of their offense. Physically they are as tall as the average victim officer but lighter in weight (average 175-179 lbs.).
Social indicators of violence and instability were more pronounced. 95% of the 43 offenders in the Violent Encounters study had a prior arrest for a crime of violence, as do 84% of the offenders in the LEOKA data. 65% had a prior conviction. 28% were on probation or parole at the time of their offense. A strong correlation was also seen between prior arrests for assault on a police officer (24%) and weapons violations (40%).
Drug and alcohol abuse is another strong predictor of violence in general, and violence against police officers in particular. 84% of the offenders in the Violent Encounters study used a drug of abuse within two hours prior to their assault. 30% reported daily use of drugs and alcohol. All were involved in a lifestyle surrounded by alcohol or drug use, with over 60% reporting drug use and alcohol abuse by a significant other, and 54% were already know to police as a drug user or dealer prior to their assault.
92% of the time an officer was killed, the offender used a firearm. Handguns are the predominant choice, with 56% of offenders using a semi-automatic handgun in 9x19mm, .40 caliber, or .45 ACP caliber.
Gang Involvement was identified as a strong indicator of possible violence. Gang Members are more likely to subscribe to the values explained in Anderson’s “Code of the Street”, especially regarding competition for respect and reputation in their neighborhood. Gang Members studied indicated that they had even ambushed and assaulted officers when they could have escaped in order to “teach them a lesson”. Non-gang involved offenders overwhelmingly identified their motivation for assaulting officers as “escape”.
The picture of the offender emerges as a young, poor, criminally involved male who abuses drugs and alcohol, is impulsive, and has nothing to lose by killing a police officer, but is desperate to remain out of jail and engaged in crime and substance abuse.
When a patrol officer and a violent offender are brought together under circumstances that the officer believes are routine or minor in nature, all of the elements of a violent assault are in place.
Wayne Leon agreed to work a sleepy, Sunday morning overtime shift in a single-officer car even though he usually worked with a partner. Although more experienced than the average officer killed in the line of duty, he was investigating an administrative traffic violation that is not uncommon or especially serious. Leon’s failure to radio in the stop might be an indication that he perceived the situation to be relatively minor and under control.
Quisi Bryan, on the other hand, had every reason to fear Leon. If taken into custody on his outstanding parole violation and felony warrants, Bryan would not only be returned to prison on those charges, but he would probably be linked to the series of rapes he was committing. One of the rapes had only been committed the month before. Bryan had made statements to both his wife and girlfriend that he “wasn’t going in (back to prison) except on his own terms.”
Bryan testified at trial that he didn’t intend to kill Leon, but had pulled the gun to “try and convince him not to call in” his identification. His version of events is that Leon jumped back and went for his gun when Bryan drew on him, and as a result Bryan flinched and fired “by accident”, but this is inconsistent with the autopsy report. It shows that Bryan executed Leon while Leon was turned to the side to speak into his portable radio microphone (which was clipped to his epaulet), and Leon probably never even saw the gun that killed him.
The most dangerous situations for police officers are ones in which little is known prior to arriving on scene, and officers have to closely approach citizens in order to investigate and take control. Research suggests that self-initiated activity is more dangerous than activity to which an officer is dispatched; this may be because an officer has some general idea what to expect when dispatched to a call for service. The riskiest types of situation fall into four broad categories; Ambush, apprehension of suspects, investigating disturbances, and traffic stops.
The most important commonality is distance, or more precisely, the very clear association between the distance of the encounter and the likelihood of being killed. 79% of all assaults on police officers that result in death occur within 20 feet or less. The fact that 79% of officers are killed at less than 20 feet, and 61% did not return fire (45% did not even attempt to return fire) seems to indicate that most officers are killed before they were able to react with their firearm. Once the distance increases to 21 feet, with a corresponding increase in time to react, the numbers of officers killed go down dramatically. A 1993 study of 180 officer involved shootings in which the officer survived showed that the majority of those cases occurred at 20 feet or more, with the officer hitting the suspect 61% of the time. (Fairburn, 1993) The rate of officer survival in a deadly assault increases in proportion to the distance and corresponding reaction time.
Criticisms of current training
In A Critical Analysis of Police Training, Aveni (2005) discussed how police training is shaped by external factors including case law, economics, and political considerations. Societal expectations of ideal police performance are unrealistic and often formed by perceptions gained from entertainment media. Meanwhile, the type and depth of police training is largely driven by minimum requirements established by the state or case law.
It may not even be physically possible for officers respond in the way they are trained in the close range, high stress situations in which they are most often murdered. Cognitive overload, combined with a lack of applicable training, might be to blame. Morrison and Villa (1996), Grossman (2004), Siddle (1995) and studies by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (2011) all point to the human stress response and reaction time as being incompatible with traditional firearms training given to police officers.
Morrison and Villa (1996) studied the accuracy of police officers in 19th century New Orleans, present day offenders, and present day police officers, and found that
No statistical link (could be established) between handgun qual scores and gunfight effectiveness, and modest improvement in field shooting performance since the nineteenth century, despite that era’s generally inferior firearms technology, less reliable ammunition, often nonexistent maintenance practices and, critically, the complete absence of handgun training. There are sufficient similarities between levels of field marksmanship reported for untrained nineteenth century police officers, untrained contemporary opponents and today’s well-equipped, highly trained and handgun “qualified” police officers to tentatively support our contention that police handgun training doctrines and techniques might provide poor preparation for the challenges posed by armed confrontations. (Morrison and Villa, 1996, )
The style of training most often given to police officers is based on outdated competition marksmanship models from the turn of the 20th century, and does not prepare them for a fast, close-range exchange of fire with a moving target, often in the dark. (Morrison and Villa, 1996)
Four current police officers, two retired officers and a former criminal offender with a prior conviction for Felony Assault on a Police Officer were interviewed. Interviewees were located by convenience sampling.
The six officers interviewed varied in experience, jurisdiction and employment status.
Officer H. has been an officer for over 30 years, and is the lead firearms instructor for a large metropolitan agency in Ohio. In addition to patrol, Harrelson has served in a plainclothes, street-level drug enforcement team and as a team member, sniper and team leader in his agency’s full-time Special Weapons & Tactics Team. His is a columnist for several law enforcement magazines, and in 2013 published his first book.
Officer T. is a day shift patrol officer, field training officer and department defensive tactics/subject control instructor for the same agency. He has 18 years of law enforcement experience, and has a BA in Criminal Justice from a large state university. When he is not working T spends his time exercising or training in martial arts; he holds black belts in two styles of jujitsu and Kali, a Filipino martial art. Despite public perceptions, this activity is atypical for a police officer and is generally regarded by T’s peers as “extreme”.
Detective M. is an investigator on a small municipal police department in a rural county in Ohio. An officer for eight years, he served more than a decade in the U.S. Coast Guard, including four years in an elite tactical unit, before coming to his present agency. His primary duties involve investigation; he is a certified Master Investigator by the State of Ohio. M. is also the primary firearms instructor for his agency.
Officer R. works for a Federal law enforcement agency with broad authority and jurisdiction and a wide variety of missions. He has twelve years of experience and is both a field training officer and officer safety trainer at his field office. Prior to his current assignment, R. was a member of a national-level counterterrorist unit and a member of a traveling in-service training team. He has also written numerous magazine articles and edits a professional journal for members of his agency. R. has an AA in Homeland Security.
Sgt. S. was a first-line supervisor for a suburban Cleveland area department prior to retiring on disability resulting from a line of duty injury. He was a SWAT team member and team leader, coordinated the field training program for his agency, and worked in undercover narcotics enforcement. Prior to becoming a police officer, S. served in the U.S. Army as a Military Policeman. S. also hold a both an AA in Criminal Justice and a BA in Organizational Management. He now works in an unrelated field, and is also a published author.
Deputy C. retired from a large county Sheriff’s department in a southern state. C. was a field training officer and maritime patrol officer during his 25 years as a deputy, and was an Infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to entering law enforcement. He is now active in international law enforcement training.
An important voice in this conversation is Haytham W, a full-time student pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was a self-admitted drug user and dealer, and has several convictions for drug trafficking as well as for assaulting a police officer. W. was criminally active in the Central neighborhood where Wayne Leon was murdered in 2000, and had encountered Leon and his partner on the street. W. became very religious in prison. Upon his release he worked in construction and earned an AA at Cuyahoga Community College.
All seven interviewees agreed that learning to communicate effectively with the public was the most important skill for police officer to master, rather than developing skill with any higher level of force.
Detective M. said, “Developing communications skills is key. I’m not a big guy – I will fight, if I have to, but I prefer not to – so for me the ability to talk to people, to de-escalate situations and persuade people to do things has been the most important skill I have developed. Like I said, I have only been in seven real, hard core fights in eight years. Most of the time I can talk people into surrendering without fighting. That for me is the most important skill for a patrol officer. Any dummy can spin people up and get into fights. We have young guys that all they want to do is drive fast and fight with people. They try to arrest people for resisting arrest. Any idiot can do that. I want to work with a guy who can calm people down and only make solid arrests that hold up in court. I’ve been sued, thanks, I don’t want to go through that again.”
Officer T. echoed M’s emphasis on communication. “Even if I have to take someone down, choke them out, whatever, I go back after they calm down and explain to them why I did what I did. I don’t apologize, because I did what I had to do and I am not sorry for that. But I can usually get them to understand why I used the force I did. More than likely I am going to see them on the street again, and I don’t want any hard feelings the next time I deal with them.”
Members of R’s agency face particular challenges when it comes to enforcement. Research shows that >98% of all law enforcement/citizen contacts are verbal only; due to the unique, multi-mission nature of R’s agency, they are forced to rely almost exclusively on verbal persuasion to enforce anything but major violations even more than most agencies. “Here is the deal.” R said. “The U.S. Attorney doesn’t want to fool around with misdemeanors, but we still have to go out on the water and enforce the law. A lot of violations are just that, misdemeanors. We could cite people for them, but the charges are just going to get dropped anyway, so why bother? Our choices are to either call the local cops to handle it or try and get people to do what we want verbally. Basically, we just don’t have a hammer to hang over their heads, even if they fight with us. Plus, here on the Great Lakes, the vast majority of people we deal with are recreational boaters. Boats cost money, gas costs money. So we’re not dealing with a lot of criminals. Most of the people we board here are upper middle class, and used to being talked to a certain way. If you try to do it the way they teach you at BTM (Boarding Team Member) school, the whole ‘ask-tell-make’ thing, they are going to get pissed off, fast,, and escalate a situation that is otherwise pretty minor. They expect you to explain ‘why’, and if they don’t agree with you they will ignore what you’re telling them. Since we don’t have a plan B – we can’t arrest them and they know it – talking people into compliance is vital.”
Haytham W’s opinion was particularly insightful. “You got to understand, you just don’t walk up on someone in the hood and start telling them what to do. But that’s just what all these young cops do, come up with this attitude like they’re already mad. When you walk up to another man and start giving orders, if you do what he says without at least talking back, he just punked you out. He just made you his bitch in front of your friends. That is how a lot of problems start, people just don’t like being challenged in front of their friends, and they push back. Then it gets physical. It could all be avoided if the cop just started off with a little respect. I’m not talking about being a chump, but just be cool. Learn how to talk to people like they are people.”
The effects of “Broken Windows” policing
W’s comment about respect came about as part of a larger discussion about the patrol tactics used by the officers in Patrolman Leon’s district.
According to Wilson and Kelling’s “Broken Windows” theory, physical and social disorder lead to fear and cause citizens to retreat into their homes. This breaks down informal social control and leads to more serious crime. Broken windows or “Quality of Life” policing emphasizes enforcement of misdemeanor prohibitions on public intoxication, loitering, littering, graffiti, and status crimes like curfew violations. “Quality of Life” policing was popularized by New York Police Commissioner William Bratton in the early and mid 1990s, and was credited by Bratton for the substantial drop in crime in New York City (Bratton & Knobbler, 1998) during that time. The “Zero Tolerance” approach toward so called “public nuisance” crimes ignores that these offenses are a product of white, middle class cultural norms. According to W, the majority of officers in that area were known for a “zero tolerance” approach.
“When people in the suburbs want to hang out with their friends, they go on their patio. In the projects we ain’t got no patio, so we hang out on the corner.” W said. “But these guys would fuck with us for no reason, for just standing around drinking. All of a sudden I got cops demanding my ID, all up in my business. You just get sick of it, you know? Plus, you got to know the stress living the street life puts on you. I was always worried about getting shot or robbed by other dealers, and now I got some cop running up on me, shaking me down for drinking a 40 on the corner? Hell, no. So sometimes people snap.”
Detective M took a more pragmatic approach. “I work in a small town, around 20,000 people, but we’re a crossroads for Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland & Columbus. We have a pretty strong street culture. When the uniform guys go out and roust people for every little thing, all they are doing is pissing people off. The people in that neighborhood don’t mind people sitting on their porch drinking, being loud…they are the people doing it. The problem is, those are my witnesses when something big happens. And now that some patrolman hooked their car because it was parked on the lawn and cited everyone they know for underage drinking and public intox, they hate the cops and won’t talk to me. So I have serious crimes, felonious assaults, robberies, drug trafficking, that I can’t investigate because nobody sees nothing.”
Management practices with an emphasis on “productivity,” i.e. designating the best performers as those who write the most citations rather than solving community problems to the satisfaction of the residents, reinforce an “us-versus-them’ culture.
“My Department has a parking ban on city streets in the winter from November 1st to April 30th. Every year on Halloween, they would pass out a book of parking tickets at roll call on night shift.” Sgt. S said. “We were directed to go out and write at least a book of parking tickets that night (there are 25 tickets in a book) even though there was no snow on the ground. Those things are $25 a pop, so the city is making a fortune, around $5,000 in a single night. Our bosses thought that by ‘hammering’ the public we would ‘get the word out’ about the ban. They would do the same thing the last night of the ban, too, even though by then it was spring and there was never any snow. It was all just a money grab by the city and an excuse for guys to go out and be assholes. Plus, if you didn’t do it, or you didn’t write at least one book a week after that, you were ‘lazy’. It didn’t matter how many calls you handled, they wanted numbers to show upstairs that we really were working on nights.”
“It was the same thing with traffic” S continued. “The bike (motorcycle) guys were the heroes of the department because some of those guys wrote over a thousand traffic cites a year. Those things start at $125 plus court costs. They make a ton of money for the city. We had an overtime traffic detail where you worked for three hours of overtime and the rule was you had to write at least three tickets in order to cover your own overtime, the supervisor’s overtime and the court’s cut. The favorite place to hang out was near the BMV, because all you had to do was spot a crappy car going to the BMV and more than likely you would get three tickets out of it. A lot of the time you’d get people who were on their way to get their suspension cleared or their plates are already expired. You can’t imagine how pissed off that makes people, they’re on their way to do the right thing and instead they get their car impounded and a bunch of new tickets.”
The zero tolerance and the push for productivity can have even darker consequences. “I didn’t know that dude (Quisi Bryan) but I’m sure he knew he was getting jacked (arrested) when he got stopped. It’s not like he could talk his way out of it, those guys never gave anyone a break. So his only choices were shoot or go back to prison. “ W said. “Those guys (The officers in Leon’s patrol zone) had a rep, if you ran they would catch you, and they only told you one time. I’m not saying what he did was right, but I see how it could happen.”
“They would put cases on you even if you weren’t doing nothing. (Author note; W did not claim that Officer Leon was one of the officers involved in this practice, and when asked, clarified that he was not trying to imply any wrongdoing on Officer Leon’s part. On the contrary, he remembered Leon as a firm but essentially fair officer) I was hanging out with some friends and they came up to us. I went inside my apartment because I wasn’t doing nothing and didn’t want to deal with it. When I come back out, they grabbed me up and said I was selling dope. I didn’t have nothing on me! But they said they found some dope by the side of the building, and ‘cause I walked away when they rolled up, it must be mine. I did ten months off of that.” W said.
T mentioned that it took him some time to learn the streets. “I’m a white guy who grew up in the suburbs and went to college. Right out of the gate, I was patrolling the worst part of a big city. It took me a good ten years to really understand how the people here live. With ten years, I could have transferred out to a better area or a specialty unit. Most guys do. I’m on days now, because I am married. Most of the guys on nights are really young, and don’t have that experience.” He went on to talk about how his style differs now from when he was a new officer. “I would say I am more selective, and do more quality work now. I know better what to look for, what is important and what isn’t. I don’t just stop people for every little thing, because if I do that then they’re not going to talk to me when I need them to.”
All six officers were adamant that the formal training they receive is inadequate, unrealistic, and does not reflect what they really see in the field. Those still involved in training strive to make improvements, but face significant bureaucratic and cultural hurdles.
Detective M was very critical of his Academy training. “The problem is, at the academy, the training isn’t realistic at all. It’s designed for the maximum number of people to pass. So they never pair you up with someone (for defensive tactics) who is bigger than you, or really resists, or is unpredictable. You always know what they are going to do, and what technique the instructor wants to see you use. Your buddy never really fights because he has to fight you next, so everyone tries to help each other out. Most of the techniques they taught us didn’t work, and the few that did, you have to do them exactly right because if you don’t you’ll end up getting hurt.”
Officer T explains “I wrestled in high school. That was two hours a day, five days a week, five months a year for four years. When we wrestled, we were carefully matched up with someone the same size and weight, wore protective equipment and wrestled on a gym mat. You have to understand, a weight difference of as little as 10 lbs. can give the heavier wrestler an overwhelming advantage. In sport wrestling, only certain techniques are allowed to avoid really hurting each other. As a cop you want me to do essentially the same thing, wrestle a guy to the ground and handcuff him, but I don’t get to pick who it is. He might be bigger and stronger than me, and is usually drunk or high. We might be fighting in a parking lot with broken bottles on the ground. The bad guy is free to use any technique he wants, or he might just pull out a gun and shoot at me. Other than training I do on my own, I got one week of training 18 years ago. I work for a department that gives us about 8 hours a year of in-service, but it’s not required by the state. So that’s 8 hours per year versus 200 hours a year wrestling in high school, and that’s more than most cops get.” T said, sarcastically. “Yeah, that adds up.”
Officer H made the point that current firearms training is not only inadequate, but predicated on ideas that have been shown not to be true. “A lot of the time, we’re still doing training that isn’t making it. I just did firearms training for a group of new hires. All of them passed a state-certified academy, where they got 60 hours of firearms training, and I have to tell you, it was like day one on the range – like they had never been trained at all. All they did was learn to stand in one spot and shoot when someone blows a whistle. They all passed the state qualification course, but that course was recently dumbed down so everyone passes. The times are way too long and too much of the shooting is done from too far away. Nobody moves. The majority of police gunfights happen at less than five feet, but most academies are still doing most of their training at 21 feet, not practicing movement, not integrating defensive tactics. Just standing in one spot and blazing away at a target that doesn’t move and doesn’t shoot back, in good light. That’s not even adequate training per the case law, but what are you going to do?”
“You know why the state qual got dumbed down? I know the guys who wrote it, they tried to write a good course. But the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association (A professional organization for the State of Ohio’s 88 County Sheriffs) said not enough guys would pass with the new times. The standard was too high, and ammo to train costs money. “
“I’m lucky that I have a lot of freedom to run a good program here. We typically do three in-services per year, which is less than we used to do, but it’s not bad. I usually run the state qual as a warmup before getting into real shooting. Typically I will have one or two that don’t pass and have to shoot it again, and probably one of them won’t pass the second try. This is with shooting three times a year and way more training than is mandated by the state. Now, what are guys on other agencies doing, when theoretically you can go almost two years without shooting the qual, and that is all you have to shoot? That’s it, 25 rounds once per calendar year. I can shoot in January one year, not shoot again until December the next year, only use one box of ammo, and I am good as far as the state is concerned.”
Officer R pointed out that the multi-mission nature of his agency sometimes relegates law enforcement training to a lower priority than is reasonable. “I think (his agency) does a poor job of training how to handle oneself physically. Our use of force training is outdated and frankly sucks. I was in a situation where the suspect was about to get physical, and if he had, despite me being a solid 230, and my partner the same… we were going to get messed up. He was the latin version of Mike Tyson and hitting a guy like that with pepper spray was going to do nothing, or using stupid pressure points was going to do nothing.”
“I have never been able to cuff or take down an individual according to the agency standard applications.” R said. “I have cuffed well over 100 people and all have been modified handcuffing due to space or time. The tactics, whether hands on to force compliance or room/ship clearing, used are impractical and potentially dangerous. I mean, Look at how we train to search and clear ships. Flash lighting a room and then doing a ‘quick peek’? It’s not only unrealistic but very unsafe. Although it may be good in certain situation, only a blind and deaf person would not know you were about to enter a space. But unless you’re in a tactical unit, that’s all you get. The expectation from the higher ups is that you will never really get in a situation where you have to use it, so any more training than the minimum would just be a waste of time and money.”
“Human beings are unpredictable, and they can be stronger, smarter, etc. The point is, we will never know what they are going to do, and that’s what one really needs to train to… not some fake reused scenario that we see every year. We need to reach out to other agencies for better physical techniques, and do more dynamic scenarios. Chaos has to be included. Also more focus on the debrief as well as after action reporting. Even just more instances in dealing with people saying no. We have a real problem with presuming compliance.” said R.
He has plenty of ideas how to improve training, if asked. “When we are training defensive tactics, we should be 100% percent all the time. Teach people how to think, put them under intense stress, and make it as close to the real thing as possible. For instance, why wear all kinds of padding when doing sims? (Simunition is a brand of paint marking cartridge fired from modified firearms which leaves a bruise on unprotected skin) People should really hate getting shot with sims, so when they go live, they are trained how they are going to fight. Actual force incidents happen so much faster than a training environment. We need close quarters training and less-lethal force options, and we should be training in actual ship size compartments, not a full size gym.”
Deputy C mentioned a disturbing trend he saw as a field training officer, and what he did about it. “They come out of the academy now and all they get hammered with is ‘liability liability liability’. Rookies all know what they can’t do, but they have no idea what they can do. Luckily, I worked nights, so what I would do is meet up with another Deputy and use their car as the ‘bad guy’ for traffic stops. I’d have my rookie walk through traffic stops again and again, stopping and asking questions – ‘what can you see from here’ or ‘where is your closest point of cover if he starts shooting’. Run through different scenarios so that the first time they see this stuff isn’t when someone is shooting at them.”
C was one of two officers interviewed who was involved in a shooting during his career. “It was at the end of a pursuit of a stolen car. The guy hit a building, and as I was approaching the car I heard a ‘clunk’ and saw the back-up lights come on. The other officer was still standing in the apex of his open car door, and I was afraid that if the bad guy backed into him it would knock him down under the car and he would be run over.”
The next thing C remembers is the sound of his gun going off. “My training definitely kicked in. I don’t remember drawing or aiming, just the muzzle flash. I only got off one shot, and it hit him is the side of the neck kind of up here (he indicated the trapezius muscle between the shoulder and neck). The guy slumped forward, knocking the car into drive. I ran after the car as it went slowly around the building, and the next thing I know one of the other deputies is patting me down for injuries, asking me if I was ok. I never heard anyone answer me on the radio, but later I heard the tape and I had called out ‘shots fired’. When back up arrived I already had the driver out and cuffed on the ground. The bullet smashed the driver’s vertebrae and damaged his spinal cord. He’s paralyzed now, in a wheel chair, but still a criminal if you can believe that.” C believes his training kept him alive in the incident, and dedicated himself to being the best field training officer on his department.
“Scenario training is the future. It’s the way to go.” said H. “Airsoft guns are where it’s at. Put your guys in those situations. Make them think through the situation when they’re faced with another human being who is trying to ‘kill’ them. That is realistic training. We need to do more integration between defensive tactics and firearms. Right now, at the academy level, there is none, which means that functionally on most departments there is none, either. There used to be a block of training called ‘shot avoidance’. It was developed for the (Ohio State) Highway Patrol, and for what they do, primarily traffic stops, it is ok. Basically what you do is go from standing to touching the ground with your hands as fast as you can, then run like hell. So if the guy shooting at you is in a car, dropping down like that might be useful since the door is in the way. But I’d like to see it work in some crappy little public housing apartment full of junk where you can reach out and touch both of the walls.”
Detective M recounted his experience learning “shot avoidance” in the Police Academy. “We spent about 10 minutes on it, with the instructors throwing tennis balls at us. I guess if you can dodge a tennis ball, you can dodge a bullet.”
Officer H puts the responsibility for officers hesitating with possibly fatal results on political decisions made within law enforcement agencies. “The biggest problem is that agency policy is so complicated. Look at what happened in Seattle since they came under a D0J consent decree. Their Use of Force policy is 75 pages long. Seventy-five! Now you have officers in a use of force situations trying to remember what a seventy-five page document says and apply it to the situation, knowing their use of force will be reviewed by no less than three different bodies and by the time it is reviewed, all of those external factors like after-the-fact community perception of the incident, local politics, et cetera will definitely be in play. Did I follow the department Bias-Free Policing Policy? Did I do enough to de-escalate and use my Crisis-Intervention Training? The end result is that a split second decision under life and death stress becomes a complicated algebra problem that is in direct contradiction to the guidance (Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendal) Holms gave when he said ‘Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.’”
“Money is the biggest problem. Training is expensive. It is far, far cheaper to do four hours of classroom on the agency’s use of force policy than it is to go out and run scenarios all day. But what is your return on investment? With the classroom, the box is checked. The officer didn’t learn anything that he can really apply under stress, but if he makes a mistake, the department can point to his training file and say ‘We trained him what to do. He took a test and passed it.’ That covers them from liability for failure to train, and law enforcement is liability driven. Well, we have been focusing almost exclusively on liability in use of force for at least the last ten years, and it has not brought down line of duty deaths.” said H. “We tend to play the odds, and confuse good luck with good tactics. There is an emerging trend to use patrol officers and detectives to serve warrants that used to be served by SWAT. Right now, on my agency, there is a ‘decision matrix’ that has to be filled out, and unless the situation scores high enough on that matrix, SWAT is not called. A supervisor’s experience and good judgement has been replaced by a form that he has to turn in. And even if SWAT is used, it has to be guys who are already on duty. No overtime is authorized. In my opinion, that is why so many officers were killed in 2011 serving warrants. No SWAT member has been killed on a callout in years.”
Academic studies and anecdotal evidence from the field indicates that the future of police training is immersive, realistic scenarios that allow new officers to absorb experience quickly before encountering dangerous situations in the field. Realistic scenarios would allow officers to practice verbal skills, and if properly designed, understand cultural context of the situations they will encounter on patrol. When verbal skills will not work to control or de-escalate violent encounters, officers who have practiced critical skills develop a mental model of success that they can fall back on, along with the unconscious competence in their skills to effective use them in a life or death situation. Unfortunately, economic and political considerations currently hamper progressive efforts at improving training in the majority of law enforcement agencies.
More research is needed on the link between “Broken Windows” policing in socially disorganized neighborhoods and violence towards patrol officers resulting from community resentment. It is possible that better outreach efforts to educate the community about legitimate police use of force and a greater emphasis on communications skills and understanding cultural norms in the areas that officers patrol might lower the risk of violence to officers carrying out enforcement action in socially disorganized neighborhoods.