Every rookie police officer who completes his or her initial training is taught how to defend themselves and others through the use of both lethal and nonlethal means. They are taught when and how they can legally use force against others. They also learn the potential consequences to them personally if they accidentally misjudge a situation or intentionally choose to break the rules.
Although I now practice criminal law, I am a former prosecutor and I have been a certified peace officer in Georgia since 1989 and maintain that certification annually by completing mandatory training in both firearms and the use of force. I have advised heads of law enforcement agencies, represented officers who have used deadly force, and have sued officers who, in my estimation, have crossed the line and used excessive force. That experience has taught me three basic truths about policing in America:
The truth is that within the law enforcement profession there are bad officers -- officers who are socialized into an "us against them" culture where officers routinely get away with abusing the citizens they are sworn to protect. In Baltimore, long before we heard a prosecutor lay out stunning criminal allegations against six police officers, including charges in the death of Freddie Gray after what has been described as a "rough ride" in a police van, the family of Dondi Johnson Sr. was awarded
$7.4 million after Johnson, a plumber arrested for public urination, suffered paralysis and ultimately death after a police van ride broke his neck.
The Ugly: The ugly truth is that police have one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth. Why? Because there are lawless and evil people who are perfectly happy to take an officer's life. The latest example came Saturday, May 2, when 25-year-old New York Police Department Officer Brian Moore was killed when, officials said, he was shot in the face during what should have been a "routine" police-citizen encounter. He died shortly thereafter.
The issues being debated nationally in America about the police and the nature of their relationship with the citizenry are vital ones.
So, how can law enforcement better deal with the "bad" and the "ugly"? The answer is a return to the idea of "community oriented policing." Many police agencies have had great success by sponsoring "citizen police academies" and use those short courses, open to the public, as a foundation upon which to build strong relations within the communities they serve. The students learn about police practices and procedures, ride along with officers on patrol, and in some instances are given training in firearms.
These "CPAs" foster better understanding by the police of the concerns of the community while helping the community better understand what the life of an officer is truly like -- not how it is often misperceived. Once the gap of misunderstanding is bridged between the police and the citizenry, perhaps the "bad" and the "ugly" will fade away into oblivion.
The most important thing to understand is that there should not be a national indictment of the police profession in general. Can there be improvement in police training? Absolutely. Can there be improvements in police culture? Of course. Can those who kill police be held accountable? Definitely. Can society survive without police? Not a chance.