I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while, but haven’t been able to figure out how to state it correctly. But it needs to be written and I’ll try my best.
The role of police should be to keep people alive so the justice system can attempt to do its job.
Our country has had too many examples in recent history of police officers escalating situations until some needless tragedy occurs. But there are examples of “doing it right” as well.
One example, in particular, of the wrong outcome comes to mind: the LAPD manhunt, standoff, and killing of Christopher Dorner in 2013. Dorner was a suspect in the murder of several people including members of law enforcement. Police eventually surrounded Dorner in a rural cabin. Police used equipment to knock down most of the walls of the cabin and then launched pyrotechnic tear gas canisters into the cabin setting it on fire after which Dorner shot himself in the head. The police defend the use of the pyrotechnic tear gas canisters as “their only option.”
Dorner now will not stand trial and it appears that officers were acting out of anger rather than a duty to uphold the law. It’s hard to believe that maintaining a safety cordon and “waiting him out” was somehow an impossible option.
On the other hand, the Boston Police provided a better example of carrying out their duties in a more professionally detached manner during the manhunt and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers also in 2013. Once Tsarnaev was located hiding in a boat, police surrounded the area. One officer, unfortunately, did open fire, but was immediately ordered to stop. Tsarnaev was then taken in to custody and brought to a hospital for medical treatment. He will stand trial for his crimes.
Even more recently we can find an exemplary example in how law enforcement handled the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in 2016. Rather than “storm the castle” or light it on fire, law enforcement simply waited until their options improved. They were able to arrest all but one suspect. The one was killed by arresting officers after, reportedly, reaching for a firearm. That means 9 suspects will stand trial and the justice system will attempt to fulfill its purpose.
Police need to be trained in de-escalation techniques. They need to be trained in working to keep everyone alive–not just themselves. They need to be trained in alternative problem-resolution techniques to force. They need to be trained to be patient. Yes, this will likely result in an increased level of risk to officers. I recognize that. That’s the job I’m asking them to do. Training, support, equipment, and compensation should reflect that risk.
We need society to have trust in our law enforcement personnel. We need law enforcement personnel to behave in a manner that retains that trust.
When that trust breaks down violators on both sides will use it as an excuse to escalate their own actions. And more people will be denied the right to see their families again.