As we start to see video recording become a cornerstone of law enforcement, we get a glimpse into the real time application of tactics, force and mindset. We are given the ability to see the failures and limitations of training, as well as, the hard lessons learned through the hardships of others. This is an extremely valuable tool law enforcement, as a whole, has underutilized. The sooner departments start to accept the fact that tactics, and training, need to change with the times the better off street law enforcement officers will be. This is a difficult hurdle to overcome for most departments, because it will quickly show the deficiencies in everything from personnel to equipment to a department’s overall mindset. It can be done, however, though developing the mindset of a department is the beginning of changing everything for the better.
Institutional dogma, sometimes referred to in the same context as religious dogmatism, is one of the most severe issues we have to deal with as law enforcement officers in the modern day. There is not an active officer alive right now who has not heard someone with authority say “this is the way we have always done it” referring to something that does not make sense but is done just because no one has taken the time to figure out a proper formula to make something more modernized or bring a task up to date. As a LEO I am constantly hearing from instructors, especially from interdepartmentally, that I have to fight complacency as much as possible. This is a misnomer at best and hypocritical at worst. How can I fight complacency when the concepts which are taught are based off a dogmatic viewpoint which, often times, has not changed in decades. This is an even bigger problem within the largest departments in the US.
Why are police officers still taught to touch the rear of a vehicle up on approach? This has been a long held practice which is still taught in academies today. The outdated concept is that this will connect the officer to that vehicle forensically if anything were to happen. Issue is that most departments now teach their fingerprint trained officers not to fingerprint the outside of a vehicle because anyone could come in contact with that vehicle at anytime for any purpose and it is not something which can be used accurately in court. Seems a little contradicting does it not? Why do we not practice reading the last four of the VIN off to radio when we approach a vehicle? Would that not be much more of an identifier? With the advent of dash and body cams this practice of touch the rear of a vehicle on approach should be completely disregarded, but we know for a fact that is not the case.
Current LE instructors will tell you that this is a particularly valid method of identification and that not doing it is practicing poor officer safety and being complacent. How many fingerprints were lifted from vehicles after the stop went sideways and that information was used to effectively identify the vehicle, connecting it to the stop and situation? I searched, could not find any examples in the last fifteen years. I have personally never seen it happen, no one I work with has ever seen or heard about it happening and I have yet to be presented with any factual information to its validity. Bring it up to your departments training officer next time around, watch the wheels turn.
This leads into a bigger and more pronounced issue. There is no way of making a specific amendment to tactics, policy or equipment without taking the bureaucratic machine head on. This is especially true for the average street officer in any given department. The reason this needs to be streamlined, or even developed in some places, is so that the officers with the most applicable experience, and knowledge, are given the opportunity to present their information. There are numerous videos out there of officers getting involved in violent confrontations, sometimes leading to death, which could have easily been avoided but were not due to that department’s inability to listen to their officers for what is applicable in that particular area. A perfect example of this is the solo officer responding to a call to investigate a person for whatever reason. There are dozens of videos showing a solo officer making contact with a person and that subsequently leads to a violent confrontation. We are not supposed to play fair, we should use our numbers and tools to our advantage whenever possible. Yet solo contacts are still practiced in many departments and the possible outcome is not something anyone wants to experience. The commanders who expect this do not want to listen to the street officers who complain about manpower shortages, lack of overlapping coverage, falling apart or outdated equipment and refuse to accept a factually written after action report which shows all these shortcomings.
There are, however, many rural or suburban departments who operate on solo officer responses as axiomatic doctrine. If it becomes unavoidable then very specifically designed solo officer contact training should be provided. The way an officer goes about solo operations during a traffic stop or suspicious person call should be different than a two or more officer response. Concepts like “pre-assault indicators” need to be hammered home as precursors to possible violent action and resistance. Beyond this basic understanding of interpersonal police citizen contacts the caveat is that the department which requires its officers to make these solo responses has to back them up when things will inevitably go south.
The result from the issues mentioned, and others, is the tragic outcome we often see in the last few seconds of body camera, or other, video. A law enforcement officer losing a violent encounter due a specific lack of training, equipment selection, and mindset. As a profession we need to start looking beyond the perception and possible liability of a policy change decision. Optics matter, but officer’s lives matter more. Mindset needs to be cultivated, empowered and leveraged against any institutional complacency which is found to exist. The law enforcement mission is paramount, and the way it is implemented requires that the opinions of experienced and knowledge street officers be given weight against policy.
Ultimately the policy decisions made in a police department are related to that departments understanding of how case law applies to the daily functions of law enforcement, contrasted against the everyday, often life and death, decisions made under extreme stress of a given officer. This is often a situation where reality and perception of liability collide and reality usually loses out in detriment of the survivability of the officers. Particularly this is an issue when dealing with non-firearms related (sometimes deadly) use of force.
There are still departments in the US who have no actual policy, or any type of training involving the implementation of offensive or defensively carried blades. Some departments simply choose to have a policy saying it is the officer’s to carry a blade or not, some say an officer shall carry a blade, but never provide training or information if that tool was used. This is another clear example of lacking modernization of policy and standards. There are instructors who are actively teaching the proper, legal and vetted blade concepts specifically designed for officer survivability and they are disregarded by commanders who are still living in their dogmatic-hayday. As an instructor I trained with, who was an active LEO for many years, stated that “if you make a policy for a particular tool, commit to training, you overcome any type of liability associated with it.” This is extremely valid and accurate.
Deadly force should not be relegated to the use of a firearm. Types of deadly force should documented, policy should be created around the various methods and training should be sought from the best in the industry for that particular methodology. Every use should be dissected, just like any high profile situation, and taken apart in the effort of creating better policy, better training and providing the best possible probability of survival for law enforcement officers.
The interesting part, is that we already have a pipeline of training in the law enforcement field, in fact we have numerous paths of gaining valid instruction. Every region has training centers, there are federal assets available for training, there are numerous instructors available in the training industry who are capable of delivering all of these things quickly and effectively. When policies start to reflect case law, which follow policies of other departments in the US then it becomes common practice. Look at the North Hollywood shootout and the succeeding long gun policies which began to become commonplace throughout the law enforcement world. Same goes for the active killer event at Columbine. After that, policies, training and optics quickly changed to adopt the “new normal.”
Yet, we still have police departments which do not allow personally owned rifles, or issue pool rifles (which is the same thing), there are numerous examples of this issue, just look at many large metro police departments. We still have instances of officers not properly trained to go in and stop the threat during active killer events. We need to fight this, at every turn, at every opportunity. The new normal needs to be highly trained and effectively equipment officers running on the most applicable warrior mindset. The age of officer friendly is dead, the glorified report writer retired, and we need law enforcement officers who have a strong foundation in integrity and service to be the product of our academies.
VDMSR is a full-time LEO in a very dense urban environment, and has been writing on the topic of law enforcement for more than a decade. In addition to his op-ed pieces, he also conducts unbiased reviews of equipment and training classes. For more information visit www.vdmsr.com