First, "There is a lack of complete and reliable national data on police use of force," the report noted, and until the feds improve national data, private data from sources like the Washington Post and the Guardian are the best we've got. They advocated data improvements along the lines recently suggested by the USDOJ. (I'd be interested in reading any comments PERF submits in response to the recent Federal Register announcement.)
Notably, PERF guidelines don not apply to cases where "the person who died was shooting at officers or someone else" or where "the person was pointing a gun," which according to the Washington Post accounted for 59 percent of fatal police shootings in 2015. Rather, they're focused on reducing deaths in very specific situations:
Several Hundred Officer-Involved Shootings Last YearBroadly, PERF recommended "discontinuing outdated concepts, such as use-of-force continuums, the so-called “21-foot rule,” and the idea that police must “draw a line in the sand” and resolve all situations as quickly as possible." (bold in original)
Did Not Involve Subjects with Firearms
Regarding non-firearm encounters, the Washington Post data indicate the following:
• In approximately 25 percent of the 990 fatal officer-involved shootings in 2015, the subject displayed signs of mental illness.
• In 16 percent of the cases, the subject was armed with a knife.
• In 9 percent, the subject was unarmed.
• In 5 percent, the subject was “armed” with a vehicle.
It is in these types of cases, representing as many as one-third of the annual total of fatal officer-involved shootings, that leading police executives believe there is significant potential for de-escalation and resolving encounters by means other than the use of deadly force.
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Police chiefs at PERF’s May 7 conference said that the 21-foot rule has sometimes been used wrongly to suggest that if a suspect moves to close the distance between himself and the officer, the officer can shoot the suspect and cite the 21-foot rule to justify the use of deadly force. This is the wrong approach, they told us at our meeting. The 21-foot rule should never be seen as “a green light to use deadly force” or a “kill zone.”The report cited examples from Northern Ireland regarding alternative ways to deal with a knife-wielding suspect besides shooting them:
Rather, officers should be given broader training in sound decision-making, de-escalation strategies, and tactics for creating time and distance, so they can better manage the incident without needing force.
Police Service of Northern Ireland Sergeant Dave McNally:PERF specifically recommended reconsidering responses to mental health crises where family members request help but aren't asking that anyone be arrested:
Our Officers Are Seldom Required To Use Firearms Because They Have Other Options
It’s a consequence of the terrorist threat that our police officers are all armed with a handgun, which isn’t the case in Scotland, England, and Wales. Our officers are armed for their protection, but there are many, many circumstances that routine officers respond to—domestic disturbances, robberies, burglaries—where they are not required to use their firearms because they have other options available to them.
I can’t think of an example where a police officer in Northern Ireland has had to use live rounds against an individual with a knife or a bat. There are numerous calls to those individuals that are dealt with daily by routine officers, armed only with a handgun for personal protection. There are numerous calls on a weekly basis. I can’t think of an example where officers have had to open fire.
To mention one type of case as an example, family members sometimes call police when they need to have a loved one with mental illness transported to a treatment facility, and the person, typically “off his meds,” does not want to go. In some of these cases, police have perceived a threat when they arrived and found the person holding a knife, screwdriver, or other implement. In some instances, the officers have used deadly force, resulting in tragic news stories in which the family members say they called the police because they needed help, not because they ever expected that police would use deadly force against their loved one.The denunciation of a "use of force continuum" represents another significant shift, with deescalation playing a much more prominent role in PERF's use-of-force framework than one would typically ever see in most American departments. Regrettably, PERF discovered through a national survey, deescalation training is much less common than firearms or other use-of-force training, particularly for veteran officers' in-service training.
A great deal of the report focused on ways in which promoting deescalation techniques not only prevent arrest-related deaths but also protect officers.
At the heart of many of these concerns is officer safety, and the fear that any changes to current use-of-force practices could put officers in danger. Concern for officer safety is understandable. Tragically, since 2000, an average of approximately 55 police officers have been shot and killed each year in the United States. But our research has led us to an alternative conclusion: that changing how agencies approach certain types of critical incidents can increase officer safety in those situations. (bold in original)
Rather than unnecessarily pushing officers into harm’s way in some circumstances, there may be opportunities to slow those situations down, bring more resources to the scene, and utilize sound decision-making that is designed to keep officers safe, while also protecting the public. Through de-escalation, effective tactics, and appropriate equipment, officers can prevent situations from ever reaching the point where anyone’s life is in danger and where officers have little choice but to use deadly forceOne section of the report, upon first reading, almost seemed as though it referenced the killing of the Dallas sniper with a police robot, even though the document was published months before. “'We need to draw a line in the sand. We can’t wait around forever.' These expressions are sometimes heard in policing following a controversial officer-involved shooting.” Often, though, according to PERF, waiting a suspect out is precisely the best option.
Such an approach, whether or not it produces superior outcomes, flies against generations of law enforcement training and culture. Predicted PERF:
Implementing this new approach will involve changing police culture asAmong the "guiding principles" PERF hopes agencies will adopt, here are a few highlights:
well as policies, tactics, training, and equipment. It will mean the following: (bold in original)
- Telling our police officers that sometimes it’s best to tactically reposition themselves in order to isolate and contain a person, and not to “draw a line in the sand.”
- That it’s often preferable to take as much time as needed to safely resolve an incident, and not feel compelled to force a quick (and potentially dangerous) resolution, in order to get back on the radio and race to the next call.
- That engaging a subject in calm and constructive conversation and asking open-ended questions are usually more productive than barking the same commands again and again, and that it’s usually best if one officer is designated to communicate with a mentally ill person.
- That intervening with a fellow officer who seems on the verge of using excessive force is best for everyone involved.
- And it means matching performance evaluation systems and officer rewards with the actual goals of the department. If officers are told that it is often preferable to slow a situation down, they should not be evaluated solely according to how many calls for service they handle and how quickly. Officers traditionally receive awards for accomplishments such as taking a violent armed criminal off the street. Moving forward, officers should also be recognized for efforts such as talking a suicidal person into safety and life-altering mental health care. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, recently created a Preservation of Life Medal to acknowledge officers who save lives by showing restraint and finding safe alternatives to the use of deadly force.
- Make protecting the sanctity of human life officers' primary mission and goal in departmental policies.
- Use of force training should go beyond SCOTUS decisions like Graham v. Connor to give suspects greater protection. (They quoted our pal Vanita Gupta declaring there's a mismatch between community expectations and legal requirements on police shootings.)
- Focus more on proportionality in use-of-force policies and training.
- Adopt deescalation as a formal agency policy.
- Create a "duty to intervene" when an officer witnesses another officer engaging in excessive force.
- Respect the sanctity of human life by promptly rendering first aid.
- Prohibit deadly force against people posing only a danger to themselves.
- Replace the 21-foot rule with training on "distance, cover and time."
- Train on deescalation, less lethal force options. (They noted Dallas is creating "less lethal teams" made up of SWAT members trained in nonlethal methods and tactics.)
- An ineffective TASER deployment "does not mean that officers should automatically move to their firearms."
- Promote greater use of "personal protection shields" in hazardous situations, especially involving weapons besides firearms.
- Better training for 911 operators and dispatchers.
- Educate the families of people with mental illness on communicating with call takers.