And as they listen to the fallen officer’s last, desperate radio calls for help, every cop in the room is thinking exactly the same thing: “I won’t More pointed lessons come in the form of hands-on exercises.
One common scenario teaches officers that a suspect leaning into a car can pull out a gun and shoot at officers before they can react.
Having served as an officer at a large municipal police department, and now as a scholar who researches policing, I am intimately familiar with police training. I’ve had long conversations with officers and former officers, including firearms trainers and use-of-force instructors, at law enforcement agencies across the country, and they’ve all led to one conclusion: American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.
Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.
Violent attacks on officers, particularly those that involve a serious physical threat, are few and far between when you take into account the fact that police officers interact with civilians about 63 million times every year.
In percentage terms, officers were assaulted in about 0.09 percent of all interactions, were injured in some way in 0.02 percent of interactions, and were feloniously killed in 0.00008 percent of interactions.Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. They learn that every encounter, every individual is a potential threat.They always have to be on their guard because, as cops often say, “complacency kills.” Officers aren’t just told about the risks they face.Instead of rushing in to confront someone, officers need to be taught that it is often preferable to take an oblique approach that protects them as they gather information or make contact from a safe distance.Relatedly, as I’ve written elsewhere, a temporary retreat—what officers call a “tactical withdrawal”—can, in the right circumstances, maintain safety while offering alternatives to deadly force.There are countless variations, but the lessons are the same: Hesitation can be fatal.So officers are trained to shoot before a threat is fully realized, to not wait until the last minute because the last minute may be too late. After all, that dark object in the suspect’s hands could be a wallet, not a gun.Adapting officer training to these statistics doesn’t minimize the very real risks that officers face, but it does help put those risks in perspective.Officers should be trained to keep that perspective in mind as they go about their jobs.There have been too many lives lost to police killings.Too many phone calls telling families that their loved ones, particularly young black men, won’t be coming home.