Police Officer Training Makes Officers More Fearful, not Less

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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118 Responses

  1. A Compromised Immune System says:

    Yes, it turned out this kid was just dancing, but being unaware of your immediate surroundings is an obvious failure mode for a police officer.

    Being the kind of person who would turn around and harass someone for making funny videos or just taping police behavior in general is a default failure mode for cops. I’m surprised they didn’t beat up the cameraman and try to steal or delete the recording.Report

  2. Chris says:

    The Menendez case is made worse by the fact that Menendez is a repeat offender.

    As for the rest, it’s true that we shouldn’t be surprised, and I don’t think people who were paying attention before August of last year are. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t change, radically.Report

  3. zic says:

    Up here in Maine, citizen activism has resulted in changing how officers will be trained (when it comes to people recording their activities with cameras and cell phones). A couple filmed a stop, and in the process stepped closer. They were arrested and charged with “obstructing government business.” That charge, itself, is Orwellien, no? Not ‘obstructing police,’ but ‘obstructing government.’ My inner libertarian groaned.

    The city didn’t admit fault in the case, and said it was the couple’s refusal to obey an officer’s order, not the filming, that led to their arrest. Nonetheless, the incident will be used to better train Portland officers on the public’s First Amendment right to film police conduct.

    “Police officers may not like being recorded, but personal recordings are an important check on potential abuses,” Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said in a written statement. “The police get to carry guns, and the public gets to carry cellphones.”

    The weird thing here is that one (among many) of the justifications for stopping recordings was wire-tap laws; that parties to it have to agree to it. While reporting, if my source had only a brief time, I’d record the interview; hand-written notes take longer, and I had to be very careful in phone interviews to state that at the beginning because of this law. So a law designed to protect citizens from having their phones bugged was being used to protect officers from having their activities in public recorded.

    Heiden and others said the issues surrounding the filming of police is an emerging legal question, but a landmark case decided in 2011 by a federal appeals court in New England has provided the clearest legal guidance on when police may be filmed.

    The unanimous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maine, said police may not use wire-tapping laws that require the consent of all parties being recorded in order to stop filming. The court ruling involving a man who recorded police as they arrested another man on Boston Common held instead that except in a few qualified instances, “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

    According to the Portland Press Herald, “The city didn’t admit fault in the case, and said it was the couple’s refusal to obey an officer’s order, not the filming, that led to their arrest. Nonetheless, the incident will be used to better train Portland officers on the public’s First Amendment right to film police conduct.” Apparently, cities can talk.

    source: http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/30/bar-harbor-couple-arrested-for-filming-portland-police-officer-win-lawsuit/Report

    • KatherineMW in reply to zic says:

      “Apparently, cities can talk.”

      This reminds me of a Tolkien quote I read the other day.

      If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston nd his gang’, it owuld go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy.Report

    • Barry in reply to zic says:

      “The weird thing here is that one (among many) of the justifications for stopping recordings was wire-tap laws; that parties to it have to agree to it. ”

      Two parties talking on a phone line and a uniformed government official acting in public on government business seems to me to be two very different categories.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Barry says:

        Two-party (or all-party) consent laws should be changed anyway.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Barry says:

        I’m pretty sure an on-duty cop should have no presumption of privacy anyways, outside of using the restroom. (I’ll happily call that ‘on break’).

        The cops really don’t want that, for reasons that vary from the understandable to the ridiculous. (I understand that, yes, having people video you working is stressful, a hassle, and a burden few other jobs suffer under. You also get a gun, a badge, and the ability to use force on behalf of the state. The dislike of being video’d on the job by any average joe is understandable. However, it’s the other side of the coin from all that power. You gotta take both).Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    The issue here seems to be what kind of training the police are getting and the answer seems to be that police are trained to treat this world like it is Mad Max or Escape from New York or Deathwish instead of what it is.

    There are times when being a police officer can be very dangerous and they most certainly can deal with people who are willing to do violence towards the police and others but this is a small amount of the time.

    The training the police seem to be giving themselves are all about how to protect themselves first. There is seemingly nothing about how to deal with someone who is mentally ill or how to talk someone down from using violence. It seems fully vested in a kind of Wild West attitude of “shoot first, ask questions later.”Report

    • zic in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I spent a lot of time trying to get a sense of police training after the Brown shooting.

      The details of their training are not easy to suss out; and it varies by type of program (degree vs. police academy). This is something we should know a lot more about; at least on-line, it was very difficult to pin down. My question was training for ‘shoot to kill;’ I never answered my questions.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        My understanding is that there is no such thing as “shoot to do something other than kill”. I’ve seen forums where officers joke about how silly people are in thinking they can shoot a weapon out of a suspect’s hand or shoot them in the leg or something like that to incapacitate a suspect. I think they would readily admit that the only type of shooting they train for is the kind that kills the target.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to zic says:

        That’s my understanding, too, and I am actually sympathetic to it. If your life isn’t in danger, then don’t shoot. If it is, shooting to injure seems like an undue burden. The problem if more determining the IF than the THEN.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        guns in the hands of police officers aren’t super super accurate (particularly when stressed out, and when else are you shooting???). you shoot to kill because you’re likelier to hit your target.Report

      • Mo in reply to zic says:

        I think part of the myth of the “shoot to wound” idea are movies. Getting shot in the shoulder or arm can still kill you or leave you permanently affected. You don’t just wrap some gauze on it and go on your merry way. Also, if you aim for a limb, you are much more likely to miss. That’s why you aim for center of mass.Report

      • Citizen in reply to zic says:

        The swat active shooter training I was involved in required assessing risk by identifying “wolf/s” from “sheep”. This was to let parts of the cubicle population like myself, know what to do, and that was to basically look like sheep, and if you were armed to not raise it.Report

      • Citizen in reply to zic says:

        @ Mo,
        If I was misbehavin’ and had the opportunity to discuss the shot with the officer before it happened, I would gladly request him use a rifle and attempt to shoot me in the shin, foot or hand.

        If you would request he shoot center of your mass, well that’s your choice.Report

      • Damon in reply to zic says:

        Yep, there is no shoot to wound.

        1) Frankly, cops aren’t accurate enough to do that, even in the best of circumstances.
        2) Given the influence of adrenaline on one’s ability to aim accurately, especially for one not well experienced in it’s effects, it’s even harder to hit a small target or to would.

        That’s why they always shoot center of mass and discharge as many rounds as they can.

        But the 21 Foot rule is generally correct. But this is the important point: “in the time it takes the average officer to recognize a threat, draw his sidearm and fire 2 rounds at center mass,” If a cop has his weapon already drawn, this doesn’t apply.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to zic says:

        Just to clarify, as has been said, there is no “shoot to wound”, but there is no “shoot to kill” either. There is “shoot center of mass until the threat is removed”.

        After that, the officer is to secure the scene & the wounded suspect, then call for medical assistance (something that is not always done in a timely fashion).Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to zic says:

        I absolutely get that aiming for center-of-mass is necessary, and that shooting someone in the limb to disable them is something that belongs only in action movies.

        I’m significantly less persuaded, though, that sound tactics requires emptying the entire clip into the suspect.Report

      • Kim in reply to zic says:

        Well, I actually do know someone who did manage to scare off some thugs via “shoot to wound”.
        … he was still shooting for the center of mass.
        Apparently the fuckers assumed that “grazing someone’s shoulder” meant “is a damn good shot”
        when it really just meant “can’t shoot worth shit.”

        … we can all ask why it’s legal for people who can’t shoot worth shit to get concealed weapons permits, yes? or even own the damn gun?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to zic says:


        That has more to do with stress reactions than a desire for overkill. When the adrenaline surges and the shooting starts, pulling the trigger over & over just… happens. It’s even worse if there are more than one officer present, as the sound of shooting sets up a sympathetic response in the other officers.

        Add in that people don’t react to bullets like they do in the movies (fall down immediately or fly backwards, etc.), and by the time the officer calms down, the threat was over about half a magazine ago.Report

      • Damon in reply to zic says:


        Yep, you nailed it.

        “we can all ask why it’s legal for people who can’t shoot worth shit to get concealed weapons permits, yes? or even own the damn gun?” You know what’s scarier? My step mother, having never handled a firearm, passed my state’s police officer pistol qualification shooting test on the first attempt. So I’d counter that there are a lot of cops out there who can’t shoot worth a damn.

        While the following doesn’t apply to cops, but to self defense in the home, I always told the ex the following: shoot until you’re out of ammo, reload, and continue, or until he’s on the ground. Then walk over and put two in his head.” For the very reason that, given a dozen shots, several aren’t going to hit. Some will be outside critical organs and won’t be damaging enough to take down the opponent. The last part was sorta a joke.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to zic says:

        Another takeaway is that no one should mess with Damon’s in-laws.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to zic says:


        Or his ex, who is apparently operating under Zombie-defense rules.Report

      • Damon in reply to zic says:

        @vikram-bath @oscar-gordon

        I was operating under “zombie defense” rules before zombies became popular. 🙂Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Many times the polcie are armed to the max to rather than reasonably for the circumstances. In Europe, I think it is rare for most police to carry around guns at all. American cops seem to carry around heavy duty guns in any situation. We don’t need a police force with the arms of a light garrison of soldiers.Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq – this depends mightily on where in Europe you are, and when. Some European countries, the police have what appeared to my untrained eye to be heavy-duty automatic weaponry slung over their shoulders, or even held in hands – that is, small or large machine guns, positioned nearly at the ready.

        This was very disconcerting to my eye, as I was used to police with holstered handguns.Report

      • aaron david in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Yeah, what @glyph said. When I was 11, my father gave a paper in Hamburg. We flew into Stuttgart and the process of deboarding the plane had me (a child) go into a stall with two uniformed men, away from my parents. One searched me with a metal detector before hand searching me, while the other pointed a submachinegun at me.

        The only country that has unarmed officers is England, and at that point it matters what city/neighborhood you are in. As of now, “In the year 2011–12, there were 6,756 Authorised Firearms Officers, 12,550 police operations in which firearms were authorised throughout England and Wales and 5 incidents where conventional firearms were used.” (per Wikipedia)

        Many country’s have a federal type of law enforcement, such as the carabiniere in Italy or the Guardia civil in Spain, who carry rifles. Other countries, such as Sweden “Almost all officers wear a waistbelt which carries a service pistol (the official side arms for the Swedish police are the SIG Sauer P225, P226, P228, P229, and P239), extra magazine, expandable baton, handcuffs, TETRA radio, mobile phone, pepper spray, keys and gloves. All police officers must carry identification.” (per Wikipedia)Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Last time I was in London I saw a bobby with a serious-looking firearm and a serious-looking scowl prominently on display standing guard on a street corner. That was many years ago, and it was right at New Scotland Yard, and I’ve no idea if there were any security threats going on that day. But it was instantly obvious that the whole point of having the bobby stand out there, in a uniform, with a gun, was to display the presence of the weapon to the general public. Some sort of show of force was being made for some reason, a demonstration to a bad guy somewhere that “Yes, we have weapons.” So it’s not always the case that cops in the UK are unarmed.Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @aaron-david the existence of some officers who carry guns doesn’t mean that most officers do, or even that those special armed officers carry guns every workday.

        That firearms need to be authorized for special deployments in the UK, that only cases serious enough to merit sending in the Guardia Civil in Spain, I’m guessing probably means that the cops who deal with a noise complaint at a house party, a fistfight outside a bar, or someone having a panic attack on a subway platform, probably don’t go in with guns.

        You may have seen this video from a few years ago of London police dealing with a man who repeatedly comes at them with a machete. No guns in sight, no one is seriously hurt. Where I live, that 5 minutes of video wouldn’t have existed because the first officer on the scene would have shot the man dead before any bystander found the video function on their phone.


      • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Good thing he had a machete instead of a banana. They would have dropped a 10-ton weight on him.Report

      • Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

        As was said elsewhere…

        I’ve seen cops in airports in Switzerland and England carrying sub-machine guns: select fire military weapons. Not semi autos.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:


        This dovetails with the link to Balko I have below. Those officers recognized the true nature of the threat and acted appropriately. I remember a story about a guy in Chicago (I think) who was having an episode & swinging a sword about. The cops didn’t shoot him, they hit him with a firehose that was attached to a nearby building until the guy dropped the sword.

        Then I remember the recent story here in WA about a man having an episode who was throwing rocks at officers, and they shot him dead. Sure, thrown rocks can be dangerous, but one has to really stretch the definition of danger to justify deadly force. Still, they did just that & will likely call it a good shoot.Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Sure, thrown rocks can be dangerous, but one has to really stretch the definition of danger to justify deadly force. Still, they did just that & will likely call it a good shoot.

        I’ve told this story before, but I was clocked upside the head once by a piece of thrown concrete through a window, and that action is a felony (“throwing a missile into an occupied building or vehicle”) because it can cause serious injury (blindness etc.) or death. Long before we came up with gunpowder, we did just fine killing each other with rocks. It’s not that much of a stretch.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Actually, something I just said struck me as poignant.

        The police, and the rest of us, have this concept of a “good shoot”. We should remove that phrase from our lexicon. There is no “good shoot”, if someone got shot, it’s not a good thing. More often than not, I’d wager it represents a failure somehow of training, policy, or judgement.

        There are certainly necessary shoots (e.g. you are being shot at, or otherwise actively attacked & a gun is the only practical option in the moment), but I bet the times when a police encounter goes biblically pear shaped in a completely unexpected way are few & far between. Most use of force cases are the result of police losing control, of themselves, or of the situation.Report

      • aaron david in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Well, I didn’t say “the existence of some officers who carry guns doesn’t mean that most officers do, or even that those special armed officers carry guns every workday.” I said that there were authorised firearms officers. And while in the UK they don’t carry, in North Ireland they do.

        Here is a breakdown of Spanish police forces:
        “The National Police

        Responsible for national law enforcement. If there is a big problem, such as major unrest, terrorist activities and the likes, it is the National Police that will take a lead. It is quite rare to see or meet National Police officers on the street during day to day activities, so you are unlikely to come accross any of their officers. That said, they do assist the Guardia Civil at times, when they need extra resources.
        The uniform of the Policia National is BLACK, and usually includes full face coverage such as a baloclava or gas mask during their operations.

        The Guardia Civil

        They are commonly know as a corp, and operate out of barracks, much like a military group. They live, breath and sometimes die for the job. They were once known as Franco’s Police, as they had a reputation for being very strict.
        The Guardia Civil deal in big crimes such as burglary, assault, robbery, smuggling, drug trafficking and also police the main road network in Spain, with their elite corp of Trafico (Traffic) officers, armed with a fleet of multui purpose vehicles such as motorbikes, helicopters , boats and more.

        Policia Municipal / Local

        Depending where you are in Spain, this group is called either Policia Municipal or Policia Local, or Municiple / Local Police. They are responsible for local crime and are usually first on the scene when a crime is reported. They often hand crimes over to the Guardia Civil, as it is not their place to deal with a lot of criminal activities, basically as they do not have the resources, nor the time. They really act as a first response, due to their locality, but also deal with local traffic offences, such as parking, and help the kids across the road at the end of school.

        All police forces are armed in Spain, all officers carry hand guns, which they are prepared to use to defend themsaleves or the public if needed.”

        Note the last sentance.

        I have no idea if they go in with guns drawn in those types of situations, but how many people in the US and Canada have been shot by police in those situations? I cannot remember hearing of any, but am open to more information.

        The point of what I wrote was not that the police are in the right, but to challenge the idea that
        Europe has mostly unarmed police. That the UK has mostly unarmed officers is the exception not the rule, further reinforced by what Burt wrote above, and my own experiences in North Ireland. (I was there in the ’80’s, when it was know locally as the wild west. Officers went about in pairs with one carrying a submachingun, and a soldier was on every street corner in the downtown area.)Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Did you know that chunk of concrete was coming? If so, when did you know? Did you know someone was going to throw it at you, did you see it at the last moment, or was it a total surprise?

        In the case I mentioned, the 911 call told police the guy was throwing things, and he’d already winged a few at the police before they shot him. Unless the guy could be a starting pitcher for the Mariners, the danger level is not that high.

        Or let me put it this way, if some guy was tossing rocks at you in a similar manner, and you shot him, how likely do you think it would be that you would not stand trial?Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @dragonfrog @aaron-david – yeah, my original point to @leeesq was that I certainly saw multiple European police officers far more heavily-armed than what I typically see here; leading me to suspect the issue is less “the gun”, and more “the guy holding it”.Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @oscar-gordon – nah, I never saw it coming (I briefly assumed a random stranger had just glassed me). But lines have to be drawn somewhere, and if you have a deadly weapon (which a rock can be, hence the felony charges), AND are in fact currently using it (by throwing it), it’s not an inherently-unreasonable place to draw the line.

        It would be nice if the police had handled it non-lethally, and I would certainly prefer it, but I am not sure they have an *obligation* to do so. You don’t have to be a pitcher to get off a lucky strike, and frankly, as often as I am down on police officers, I don’t think one should have to go home blinded or dead from a rock just because we didn’t want to blind or kill the guy throwing the rocks. A gun throws a longer-range, faster missile, but the guy throwing rocks (can be) throwing deadly missiles too. Ask Goliath.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Agreed, but my question still stands, if you had shot the guy from my WA story, do you think you’d avoid a trial? If you think it’s likely you’d face charges, why do you expect less of the police?Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Depends. But let’s say there would be charges. I’m no lawyer, but I assume if I am currently being assaulted with a deadly weapon (which, again, thrown rocks can be considered), and I did nothing to provoke that situation, and I shoot the guy before he can get off another rock, that’s gonna be “self-defense” and I am going free so long as I have a lawyer who’s not Lionel Hutz. Doubly so if I am in a SYG state, or the rock-thrower was in my house or something.


      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        My point is, don’t muddle the main point (which I mostly agree with) by bringing in edge cases. Plenty of people who were not throwing deadly missiles at the time are getting unnecessarily shot by cops. Focus on those.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:


        Fair enough.

        PS Maybe it’s just because I got bullied a lot as a kid, but can’t most people dodge a thrown rock?Report

      • Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

        not if you don’t see it coming.Report

      • Glyph in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @oscar-gordon – depends on the thrower(s), the rock(s), your mobility and escape route options, and the proximity. ISIS just stoned some people to death a few days ago. This idea that stones are mostly harmless goes against all of known primate history, as far as I can see. They are like the first murder weapon we ever came up with (“Og, in the cave, with the rock”). They are a classic.

        How fast is a swung fist moving (a boxer can get around 25-35 MPH, but the average Joe probably only around a tenth of that) versus a thrown stone (a baseball pitcher can get 90-95 MPH, so let’s assume once again that the average Joe gets a tenth of that)?

        Would we ask someone why they didn’t just dodge that (much-slower) punch from the drunk in the bar?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:


        I guess I just got an abnormal amount of practice dodging crap as a kid.

        Hey! Getting bullied finally has a positive effect!Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:


        “In Europe, I think it is rare for most police to carry around guns at all. ”

        My wife and I are in Madrid right now, and at least in the downtown area, there are several members of the guardia civil who carry what seem to my untrained eye to be semi-automatic machine guns. Maybe it´s a precaution against terrorism during holy week, or maybe it´s a regular thing. However, it´s much more intimidating than the show put on by Chicago police.

        (self-privilege check: I´m white, middle class, and have never been arrested, let alone tortured or put in secret areas without formal charges. I can imagine others´ perspective to be different.)Report

      • dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @aaron-david thanks, that clarifies things considerably.

        Re thrown rocks generally as deadly weapons – there is a reason shot-put was an ancient olympic sport, along with discus and javelin throwing – they were all important battlefield skills.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq says:

        In New York, I see NYPD officers and various federal police from DHS or the US Marshalls armed and armored to the gils all the time.Report

      • Will H. in reply to LeeEsq says:

        We don’t need a police force with the arms of a light garrison of soldiers.

        It’s not just a police force any more. They are “coordinators of community services.”
        That’s what they teach in criminal justice classes as of Spring 2014.

        Clinton boosted the numbers of cops on the streets through grants. Bush failed to renew the grants. Municipalities were loathe to lay off police officers. And it came at a time when cities & counties were experiencing wide-spread budget woes.
        The answer was to shift many of the services previously provided by other departments to the police.

        The end result:
        Coordination of community services now requires deployment of deadly force.Report

    • The training the police seem to be giving themselves are all about how to protect themselves first. There is seemingly nothing about how to deal with someone who is mentally ill or how to talk someone down from using violence.

      My understanding is that there is literally almost no one who would disagree with this. “Officer safety” is paramount. I put it in quotes because it is jargon used by law enforcement and reflects the fact that that is their primary concern. All other concerns fall far below that one.

      Regarding teaching them to deal with the mentally ill, I think they would argue:
      1. You’re taking away hours from officer safety.
      2. There probably isn’t just one good way to deal with the mentally ill.
      3. It’s difficult for officers to know who is and isn’t mentally ill. Relying on whoever called in the incident is not a reliable option.
      4. It’s not clear that officers should be less vigilant with the mentally ill. At least based on recent media, it seems that anyone who kills a lot of people is later labeled as having been mentally ill.
      5. We keep hearing that officers don’t shoot the public in Europe. Do they get training on how to handle the mentally ill? Is such training really what is responsible for the discrepancy?Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        My understanding is that there is literally almost no one who would disagree with this. “Officer safety” is paramount. I put it in quotes because it is jargon used by law enforcement and reflects the fact that that is their primary concern. All other concerns fall far below that one.

        Is this different from any other dangerous job though? If you work on an oil rig or a crab boat or whatever, you are going to get drilled into you “how not to get killed or lose a limb” before anything else.

        Part of this is simple camaraderie and fellow-feeling: no one wants to see happen to the new guy what happened to beloved ol’ Bob (RIP); part of this is risk management, no one wants to get sued or have to pay out huge benefits because the new guy got himself killed and nobody explained repeatedly and in detail the best ways to avoid that.Report

      • Correct. It’s not different. It’s not my intention to say any of this judgmentally. I’m saying it because it seems to be true.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s quite different, though, in that on an oil rig the safety training does not suggest that you should kill, or be prepared to kill, other people. That is, the police focus on their own safety is dangerous for the rest of us, whereas the oil workers’ focus has no effect on our safety, or in some cases (construction, say) might even make us more safe.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Well, the fact that “officer safety” is jargon is reason enough to be concerned. Jargon is a word or phrase that acquires a special meaning within a particular sphere. The word “ethics” means one thing to a layman (most likely, “applied morality”) and something a little bit different to a lawyer (“rules that govern professional conduct”).

        Officer safety, as in not jargon, would be the legitimate concern about police officers staying safe. Calling the phrase “officer safety” jargon hints that the phrase means, to a police officer, something along the lines of “when and how to employ violence.” They aren’t learning how to lift heavy objects in these classes, for instance, although many other employers consider that an important point of workplace safety.

        Don’t imply criticism of police officers employing violence into this comment. The use of violence is inherently part of police work, and therefore the study and advance understanding of when and how violence should be used is something I personally want the police to be doing. If done correctly, it can be the principal ingredient of that optimum cocktail of effective policing, safer officers, a safer public, and respect for the rights of citizens.

        Criticism would come into play when “officer safety” becomes jargon for “when and how to deploy violence” which then becomes a tissue atop “how to beat up people and get away with it.” Only a small number of police will really be interested in that last subject, and in a department run by and mostly staffed by good-faith officers, they’ll be identified and shunted off to areas where they’ll have little opportunity to do the department any damage with that sort of attitude. But it only takes one cop losing her head in a pressure situation before the whole profession takes another publicity hit and there’s an expensive lawsuit underway. (This without even bothering to consider the impact on the citizen who claims police abuse.)

        So if we’re talking about officer safety, let’s do what we can to steer that phrase out of the realm of jargon and back to its plain meaning.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        If the safety of police officers is their paramont concern than we really need to redo the entire training thing for the reasons Chris listened. I understand that the police like everybody else does not want to die in the line of durty. The police are supposed to be protecting the citizenry though by enforcing the law. If their own safety is the chief concern than you get a police force that defines itself against the public rather than with the public. This isn’t really that desirable.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “Officer Safety” means, without question, that it is more important that the officer goes home at the end of his shift than it is that the members of the public survive encounters with police. Their lives & families are more important than ours.

        To me, this is an attitude that runs counter to the creed of “Serve & Protect”, both of those words imply placing the needs of the officer below the needs of the public. Not far below (they don’t need to be subservient), but part of what that legal authority, and right to employ violence, means is that they have to place their own safety second to others. Which as long as the police have a lower standard for what counts as justifiable use of force than the general public, we have a problem.

        Regarding the Tuller Rule, it is an accurate rule to follow, the problem is the assumption that NO reaction is possible in that 21′. Police are supposed to get some hand-to-hand combat training, and while a person may not be able to react, clear a holster, aim, & fire in the time it takes an assailant to cover 21′, a person can assess, react, and side step in plenty of time with very little training. A person charging, on the other hand, has to react, and alter the momentum of their charge – so unless they are well trained fighters (and well trained fighters will know better than to charge a cop like that), physics will rule the day and carry them past the officer.

        The problem is, as has been said, one of training. We train officers on when to use violence, and how to justify it after the fact. We are not training them how to think, and get inside the other persons OODA loop.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        It’s more than police not wanting to die. They don’t want to get hurt at all.

        I remember talking to a deputy, one I consider very reasonable, about shooting dogs. I asked him, if he was chasing a suspect through yards, and he entered a yard with a dog, and the dog did what dogs do, what would he do?

        He said, “I’d shoot, because I am not getting bit”. No mention of mace or pepper spray, just straight to the gun because he doesn’t want to get bit.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’ve mentioned before that I know a guy who’s an ex-cop, and who likes to tell me cop stories. When he talks about drawing his gun on someone, his reasons for not shooting usually have something to do with his gut feelings about the look in the person’s eyes, or something like that. It’s very much an intuitive thing, which is likely why very low-level, intuitive biases — like racial ones — that might not ever be conscious might have very significant effects on whether an officer feels threatened.Report

      • Citizen in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        What should law enforcement look like in a free state, and what value is to be found in respect of life in situations. I don’t know if it can be trained.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        One problem is that while the residents of Ordinary Times might not like the current state of police training and thinking, lots of Americans still do because they are superbly sure that they would never end on the losing end of an encounter with the police. Many Americans think the current situation is what law enforcement in a free state should look like.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        Actually, I don’t that is exactly the case. I think the majority assumes the police are well trained (because that is what cop shows teach us) and that the training is whatever they imagine it to be such that they would never have a police encounter go sideways.

        Police Departments are intentionally vague about the training they do precisely so the public continues believing in the professional, competent training fantasy they’ve constructed.Report

      • Damon in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Generally I concur with the posts here on what “officer safety” really means. For me, I don’t view officer safety as important at all. As employees of the tax payer, me, it’s their job to put their lives at risk, just like soldiers. To paraphrase a legal term, better to let 20 cops die than one innocent.Report

  5. Chris says:

    This story may be the perfect illustration of what is wrong with the mindset. The gist:

    Police in a marked car pulled up next to a man walking on the sidewalk, having not observed him committing any crime. He was walking away from them, so they called out to him. When he turned around and began walking towards him, they shot him. Their justification? They saw a “dark object” in his waistband, and believe he was reaching for it. The dark object? His cell phone. (One of the cops initially reported that he had pulled the object out of his waistband and pointed it at them, but recanted when it was revealed that the phone was still on his waist in its holster).

    The police chief ruled the shooting kosher, but the civilian oversight commission said no. The union president? Here’s what he had to say about the commission’s findings:

    “I don’t know what they expect officers to do,” he said. “Wait until one of them is shot before they react?”

    In other words, cops can’t wait to find out whether a man committing no crime, not doing anything to threaten them, has either a gun or a cell phone on his waist. The fact that they are police, and he exists, means they are in danger and should be able to shoot him without facing any consequences, because their safety is their number one priority.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Chris says:

      This was a great example. There is a complete disconnect between how cops and non-cops will look at this type of situation. It’s easy for a police chief or union president to put himself in the shoes of officers who come across something they feel is suspicious and then find themselves feeling threatened and unsure of what action they should take.

      As members of the public, we’re more likely to put ourselves in the shoes of the guy who got shot. And we don’t understand how anyone could possibly think otherwise.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I suppose I understand how they could think otherwise, but in this case, what could the civilian have done to prevent it? I mean, he was autistic, a point that’s raised frequently in the coverage of the incident, but I’m not sure how that matters in this particular case. The entire incident is a result of the cops’ subjective perceptions of a series of entirely innocent actions (both in isolation and in combination). They called to him, he turned around and as anyone would do when called, approached them. They saw a “blank look” and a “dark object” at his waist, the sort of dark object that tens of millions of people in this country have at their waist, and they shot him entirely based upon those two things.

        The only lessons I get are that you shouldn’t have a blank look (though looking “possessed,” a frequent description by murderous cops, is also not a good idea) and you shouldn’t keep your phone on your waist.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Bullshit. We can be horrified with the cops’ decision even if we put ourselves in their shoes, instead of the shoes of the victim. I think there are very few people here, if given the power to end a life, would exercise that power in a situation such as that described above.

        It is only because our police officers are indoctrinated into a culture of intense fear, and a culture that promotes deadly and consequence-free responses to that fear, that this is even a problem.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        What Alan said. There have been too many instances when cop-people interactions that should not have been deadly ended up with a dead person who was not a threat to the cop at all. These include twelve year old boys playing with toys, teenage girls, and other people just going about their business. We need a police force whose first response isn’t to start shooting every time even the possibility of danger comes into play.Report

      • j r in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s also not all about empathy. Some of it is pure tribalism. We are on the same team. You have my back and I’ll have yours, right or wrong.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        I’m with Alan. As I said to Glyph up above, put yourself in the situation, but without the badge & all it confers. If you called out to someone, and they turned around, walked back toward you while reaching for an object at their waist, would you draw & fire a gun?

        If so, do you think you’d be able to convince the DA not to press charges?

        If you think you’d be in court, why do you expect less of the police?

        PS The danger they fear is entirely constructed from internal fears & sensationalized media reports. Very few police are killed every year by the citizens they encounter, significantly less than the general population, but every such death gets media play across the nation. And the police get an excuse to martial all their resources to catch the killer (something they don’t always do for us).Report

      • Ouch. I should note that I’m not saying both views are correct. People shouldn’t shoot people just because it’s dark and they wear cell phones in holsters (though I hope @will-truman takes note).

        I’m simply observing the fact that police seem to have a seemingly unique ability to see danger in situations that we have difficulty seeing ourselves. These aren’t crazy people. They are people in the highest levels of their organizations. I’m trying to understand their justifications. I don’t endorse it.Report

      • @vikram-bath I had the police called on me once due in part to my holster. It was mostly about the loitering, but the officer approached me as if I might be armed and we had to go through the process of my demonstrating that I wasn’t. (The officer was entirely professional and never pulled his gun or anything.)Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @will-truman – The Fashion Police don’t count, dude.Report

      • I’m guilty of “Utilitarian Accessorizing in the First Degree.”Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Convicted – of being FABULOUS!Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Arrested on 1 charge of wearing a fanny pack and 2 charges of crimes against humanity…. ‘s fashion: 1 for putting the fanny pack on, and 1 for stepping outside his home with it on.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        My wife so fears the fashion police that such things are not even allowed in the home, lest it accidentally be worn past the front door…Report

      • Citizen in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s always handy to have a fanny pack when driveway surfing.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I live in New York so I see both NYPD officers and DHS police armed and armored to the gils every day.Report

      • @will-truman
        Is that the same time as the one you wrote a post about? In the one I’m thinking about you were on a smoke break.Report

      • Vikram, until we moved to Arapaho, I had contact with law enforcement along those lines about once or twice a year. The case where the person who called the cops said I was armed happened while on vacation visiting the in-laws.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Chris says:

      They also teach that the most dangerous thing an officer can do is a traffic stop, because anything can happen.
      Remember that if you ever get pulled over.Report

  6. Kazzy says:

    If we wouldn’t accept a non-LEO shooting in the situations that police do for self-defense reasons, then we shouldn’t accept LEOs doing it. The standard for LEOs should be higher than for non-LEOs for several reasons: they are trained; they are heavily armed; they are often wearing protection; and (I can’t understate this) they willingly chose a profession that carries with it a certain risk. It is grossly irresponsible of them to transfer that risk to others.

    I think the standards shift somewhat if they are shooting to protect others, in large part because their self-interest is removed.Report

    • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

      It is grossly irresponsible of them to transfer that risk to others.


      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        I had a friend in the military who would get very frustrated when every people started waxing on about the loss of American troops in war (which he noted both sides did for different reasons). While he certainly didn’t want to see himself or his fellow soldiers killed, he also believed that in joining the military, he was assuming risk and sometimes that risk was death… that signing up for the military meant being willing to give one’s life. And while those lives shouldn’t be wasted, they shouldn’t be treated as sacrosanct. To do so denies the choice those men and women made and grossly misunderstands the purpose of a military and its soldiers. It was a really interesting perspective.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chris says:


        Again, spot on!

        You are on fire today, my man.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        It is an interesting perspective. I’m not sure how much I agree with it, but it definitely gets me thinking.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


        I think his argument was partly informed by people using the “American lives are lost!” argument to further their own agenda. As opposed to actually being concerned about the lives of American troops.

        To sum it up, he said that it was his job — a job he volunteered for — to go into dangerous situations when it was warranted (emphasis mine). As such, why should he complain about the danger or the risk?

        To hear cops talk about it, they act as if harm done to police in the line of duty is some unique wrong that should be avoided at all costs. That is essentially the opposite of what the job entails.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

      Seconded. My own caveat is that you might be over estimating how many people give serious thought to the risks of police life when they select law enforcement as their vocation.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:



    • Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy says:

      If we wouldn’t accept a non-LEO shooting in the situations that police do for self-defense reasons, then we shouldn’t accept LEOs doing it.

      I think a lot of people think that might be that is how things are supposed to work now even though all evidence points the other way.Report

    • TrexPushups in reply to Kazzy says:

      I could not agree with this more. If they find police work too dangerous, they can quit. I can’t quit being s civilian.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

      Shortly after the Henry Louis Gates thing, I got into an argument with a co-worker about the duties of police officers. The co-worker maintained that Gates should have known better than to argue with a cop, and deserved what he got.

      I pointed out that if I, working an a grocery store for $10/hour, was expected to maintain my professionalism, surely someone who was specifically employed to deal with difficult (and even dangerous) situations, was a public representative of the state, and was paid a reasonable salary should be able to manage. But my co-worker wouldn’t have it–the cop had more status and responsibility, and therefore, should be less tolerant of disrespect than a retail cashier.

      At the time I found that response exasperating. Now, I’m just glad Gates didn’t get shot.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:


        I am regularly perturbed by people who expect better behavior out of children than adults. Like, seriously, a lot of people will look at a young child having a tantrum — something totally age appropriate — and insist there is something wrong with the child and that he’s lost control. Meanwhile, they’ll fly off the handle at people over minor things and insist it is perfectly acceptable. It boggles the mind.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Alan Scott says:

        But my co-worker wouldn’t have it–the cop had more status and responsibility, and therefore, should be less tolerant of disrespect than a retail cashier.

        wasn’t that how samurai were treated?Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    I want to say that this is part of the misunderstanding the whole “broken windows” thing coupled with lead abatement and the unseen fruits of abortion being legalized.

    Crime went down and it went down a *LOT*. It was expected to keep going up and up and up (remember The Dark Knight Returns? Yeah, that wasn’t a silly leap that Miller made back then. Well, it wasn’t *THAT* silly…) and, instead, it went down.

    “Holy crap! What did we change?” the authorities asked. “MUST BE BROKEN WINDOWS POLICING!” and so the authorities doubled down on broken windows policing and crime continued to go down. So policing stuff like Jaywalking and looking like you didn’t belong standing there became part of the job for police because, duh, this sort of thing made crime go down. Look at the numbers.Report

  8. DRS says:

    Just some observations:

    1. Canadian cops manage to do their jobs without shooting members of the public. Some slip up, true, but the numbers don’t fluctuate much. According to a 2014 count, there are just over 26,000 cops (of all levels) in Ontario, and from 1990 to 2011, there were never more than 10 police shootings each year. And I don’t believe Ontario cops have some kind of superpower to disarm threats – it’s just seen as a failure if the cop has to use his gun and it gets heavily investigated internally.

    2. Radley Balko – the only Libertarian worth paying attention too – has been on this issue for years. Google his name and you’ll be reading for weeks.

    3. Jaime Boulle of Slate had a good column last fall – which I can’t find now, of course – right around the time there was a lot of coverage of cops shooting or abusing people during traffic stops. He points out that part of the problem is the speed with which the cop starts issuing orders and then doesn’t give time for compliance. And the problem is magnified considerably if two cops are present and giving conflicting orders. Such situations only ratchet up the tension rather than calm it down – which is what cops should be doing.Report

    • Chris in reply to DRS says:

      I won’t link it here (it’s not hard to find), but I’ve seen video of a Toronto police shooting, and while they behaved differently from U.S. cops — the supervising officer had them back away., e.g., when the man initially approached them — heavily armed and armored officers still shot a man in a hospital gown wielding a pair of scissors, in a situation that was largely of their own making (too many damn cops in too small a space).

      From the incidents I’ve seen and read about, Canadian police definitely seem better trained in the use of force, but they still shoot people under questionable circumstances, and the numbers suggest they’re doing so at an increasing rate.Report

      • Rufus F. in reply to Chris says:

        That incident was very horrific. One of the few good things that did result from it was a program that they’ve recently started in the city where I live in which the police bring along a mental health professional I believe to any call in which the person might potentially be disturbed. Sadly, something very similar happened here around the same time and the province is trying to develop a program to stop it from happening.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

        Here’s a story for ya.

        A couple Saturdays ago, as I was sippin my second cup of coffee, I saw a dude sorta slinking around my front yard right under the big window. I mozy on over for a better look and it’s a cop with a fully automatic big-clip rifle. Down the street to the south was another one. Another across the way. (They finally found me, I thought…) I walk out the front door for a better look (cuz hey, who doesn’t want to move towards a bunch of cops with guns drawn!) and see a passel of em on the north corner, most carrying either assault rifles or sniper rifles with the fancy scopes.

        Fast forward a bit and they break down the door across the street. I’m still standing on my front porch at this point, so I can here what they’re saying as they try to talk the guy (William) outa his house.

        Fast forward a bit more, as their attempts to coax William out fail to be successful, and a SWAT team shows up. Or what was the equivalent of a SWAT team, I guess, since they were dressed in military cammo. They all piled outa a big horse-trailer, which I struck me as humorous for some reason.

        SO, now we’ve got about a dozen or so local PD working the perimeter and a dozen or so SWAT guys in small groups at strategic locations around the house. One of the local cops – Ron – decides to use the car in front of my house for cover as he trains his sniper rifle on the front door. This doesn’t go over so well with me since that car belongs to my sister in law – who was out with my wife at a bead show – and she LOVES that car. What did that car ever do to you, Officer Friendly?, I’m thinking. Leave it alone.

        Pretty soon Ron, who isn’t happy with kneeling behind my SIL’s car or laying down on the wet grass behind a big planter we have out front, ambles up to my front door. I open it. “Hey, can I sit in one of your chairs and stick my rifle out your front window at that house over there?” he says. “I just can’t find a place to get comfortable out there.”

        So I take the screen outa the window, grab a little end-table like thing for him to sit on, and he sits down, trains his sights on the front door, and we start talking. He was a really decent guy, actually. Super nice, incredibly relaxed, very polite. And when I say very polite, I don’t mean FOR A COP. I mean he was a really decent person. My first thought was that they gave him the most strategic point (his would be the first view of William if he came out the front door) because he wasn’t a hopped up adrenaline fueled yahoo who’d shoot someone just for surrendering.

        It all worked out in the end. No blood, no shots, no violence. William was an Iraq war vet who’d missed a couple of meetings at his local VA (I think) to check on his depression issues, and there was a report that he’d gotten hold of a gun or something. Not really sure of all the specifics. He ended up surrendering (no crime involved!) and they cuffed him. DOn’t know what happened from there.

        But the reason I mention it that these cops were very relaxed and the lead-cop seemed VERY interested in keeping tensions amongst his guys to an absolute minimum. After it all went down, Ron and I had some more conversation. Absolutely no adrenaline showing on this guy. But … I live in a fairly nice part of town and William was a decent, young white kid…Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chris says:


        The attitudes of police leadership matter a lot. If the leaders are cool & collected & intolerant of hotheads, then that is what the bulk of the officers will be like. This is true really for any organization, but especially for para/military ones.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Rufus, it’s good to hear that they’re serious about fixing it. That’s a big difference between Canada and the U.S.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Interesting. I really hope it helps.Report

  9. reveritt says:

    During classwork before the California Firearms Qualification Test, the instructor referred to an incident in which two California Highway Patrol officers made a routine traffic stop on a car which happened to contain three bank robbers who came out shooting. In that incident thirty shots were fired, all at a range of 15 feet or less, and nobody was hit. This illustrates that often neither the cops nor the robbers can shoot straight under pressure.Report

  10. reveritt says:

    But it is very dangerous to assume that any particular armed individual is a bad shot. Once some fellow workers arranged a friendly competition between a much younger woman and me, not mentioning she was an FBI agent. She put all her shots inside a two inch circle over the silhouette target’s heart, and might well have done so in a real incident. And at another such event I shot next to a security guard who put his shots in a circle a third the size of hers. He told me he was a hobbyist who spent a lot of time in marksmanship competition and quick draw contests. And he claimed to have confronted three armed individuals in eight years, killing all three with a single shot through the brain. Marksmanship is a practical hobby for those who work armed, and nobody should want to face someone like that.Report