We started hearing about the attempts to change police use of force standards some time ago. Whether it was CNN, the New York Times or even the President, the chatter has been getting louder and louder. We have been saying it for some time but if the talk turns into action, the safety of law enforcement could be at a real risk.
At a Police Executive Research Forum Meeting (PERF) several months ago, they discussed that even if an officer’s use of force was deemed legal under the law, they believed that agencies should adopt stricter standards and even cited the Ferguson incident as an example of this.
The Michael Brown incident should have never occurred PERF surmised. Yes, Brown was walking in the middle of the street after committing a violent robbery and yes Officer Darren Wilson drove up to him (not knowing the robbery occurred) and asked him to get out of the roadway which caused Brown to attack Wilson and the ensuing altercation would end in the use of deadly force. But those facts and the actions of the violent suspect doesn’t seem to matter to PERF. They believed that Wilson’s tactics were wrong and that he should have never approached Brown alone.
Really? So now an officer can see someone walking down the middle of the street and they shouldn’t be able to tell them what common sense looks like? Welcome to law enforcement where the so called policy makers have never made a decision in a police uniform!
We can laugh at the suggestion above but you cannot laugh at last week’s PERF Meeting where over 200 law enforcement leaders met in Washington DC to review and discuss suggested “guiding principles” that would radically change how law enforcement has enacted force for decades.
Chuck Wexlar, the Director of PERF, calls some current force “lawful but awful” and his group has set out to change the business of law enforcement that has been built on decades of decisions by the United States Supreme Court and lower court rulings. I doubt Mr. Wexlar and I would agree on much on this issue but I do agree that using force is “awful.” The media paints a narrative that cops are just a bunch of blood thirsty criminals that get up in the morning wishing they could shoot someone. For the most part, they have been successful with that message. I have been asked more in the last 12 months “how many people” do I shoot than I’ve been asked for the 20 years before that.
We can all survive with the media and they are who they are but now we have PERF that will soon release a report on 30 principles of force that agencies across the land will be asked and then possibly forced to submit to.
Here is why they must not
The overlying umbrella in these principles is the fact that the United States Supreme Court Case, Graham v. Connor (1989), is a good common sense case for law enforcement. It states that officers must be judged on what a “reasonable” officer would do with the information they know at the time and there is a caveat that officers are often forced to make “split second decisions.” The case also discusses the fact that the “underlying intent or motivation” of the suspect should have nothing to do with the decision an officer must make.
If a kid points a gun at cops in a park and deadly force is used, the fact he is a kid and the gun was a toy has nothing to do with the judgment of those officers. Why? Because it is not their job to know the intent or motivation of others. It is their job to protect lives, including theirs, based on the information they know at the time. It’s “awful” as Wexlar would say and no one would argue with that but it should be lawful because the next time a kid points a gun at cops it could real and cops could die.
PERF and many others do not like the Graham v. Connor case. It doesn’t matter that it has been challenged countless times since 1989 with no avail. What matters is that the standard is lowered so more cops are prosecuted and even worse, more die.