Sunday, August 14, 2016

Best Practices: Police training, policies should prioritize deescalation, get rid of the '21-foot rule'

This morning, Grits took some time to examine more closely the Police Executive Research Forum's 30 guiding principles on police use of force, released this spring. The goal of the document was to "make policing safer for officers and the public they serve—and, in the process, restore public trust and advance as a profession." Here are some salient highlights.

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 Year
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.
Broadly, PERF recommended "discontinuing outdated concepts, such as use-of-force continuums, the so-called “21-foot rule,” and the idea that police must “draw a line in the sand” and resolve all situations as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)

Animation by Grits for Breakfast
The repudiation of the 21-foot rule is a particularly big deal. Many, many shootings over the years have been justified by this particular bit of misinformation, with officers pretending that, once a suspect was within that 21-foot range, they had no choice but to shoot. Another recent PERF report on police training practices addressed that misconception directly:
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.” 

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.
The report cited examples from Northern Ireland regarding alternative ways to deal with a knife-wielding suspect besides shooting them:
Police Service of Northern Ireland Sergeant Dave McNally:
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.
PERF specifically recommended reconsidering responses to mental health crises where family members request help but aren't asking that anyone be arrested:
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 force
One 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 as
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.
Among the "guiding principles" PERF hopes agencies will adopt, here are a few highlights:
  • 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.
Related: See a discussion of suggested use of force policy changes from Campaign Zero.


Anonymous said...

More training for LE probably cannot hurt. Additionally, training can go more than one way and can start for the general public in public schools and/or again when first obtaining a state issued identification card or driver license. The training can encompass "interacting with educators, judges, police officers, TSA, librarians, hospital staff, social services and others in a respectful/professional manner."

The term "unarmed" is often misleading because the "arms" possess hands that can make fists to punch/hit as well as the "hands" possess fingers that can choke or gouge causing injury or death. "Compliance" generally (not always) eliminates the need to use force.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@1:16, that's a silly red herring. The government is responsible for training its employees, especially those wielding lethal force. And most agencies are training them wrong, encouraging escalation up a use-of-force continuum instead of deescalation. By contrast, giving the public generalized obedience training in the schools urging "compliance" to any and all authority figures would be unneeded, unwise, and antidemocratic.

Finally, "armed" is not only not misleading, to pretend it is so is Orwellian.

Anonymous said...

Grits - I'd venture to say that if YOU had to arrest a combative or drunk special forces solider or Dwayne Johnson that you'd be more inclined to understand the difference between academia and the real world. Most officers have no idea of the capabilities/intent of those they encounter, especially the non-compliant individuals. So "unarmed" is dangerous.

I'm for more training for LE, including deescalation. However the fact of the matter is - the tone of most LE encounters is set by those encountered. Get stopped for a traffic violation or encountered in a burglary prone area late at night; either generally comply and you're on your way OR act a fool/escalate and see where your tone takes you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No one said "unarmed" is never dangerous, 6:43, just that people without weapons are, in fact, unarmed. Using specific, accurate language is not "misleading." It's an observation.

And not every suspect is Dwayne Johnson. Take a look at this encounter and tell me how this suspect "set the tone" for their interaction and whether he caused his own injuries/death. Or maybe the officers would have benefited from deescalation training.

It's a truism that if everyone complied immediately and without question with every cop's tiniest whim, use of force would decline. But requiring some creepy obedience training in schools where the government teaches students "shut up and do what you're told" is a ridiculous idea and not a good faith suggestion. It's just a red herring designed to sideline debate about real reforms that might actually produce different outcomes in the field.

thelawproject said...

Anonymous has a "comply or die " mindset, which is the escalating factor from my experience with law enforcement. The "21ft rule" (rule?) like just about everything else that we have come to except as truth in our society is a work of fiction. It's made up of the stuff that clouds are made of, by people just like the rest of us who get up in the morning and put their pants on one leg at a time. The joke is on us, it's all only as real or truthful as you are willing to believe it is. Science Fiction on the Operational Level.

The "resolve all situations as quickly as possible ", who's benefit does that favor ?
I already know the answer "it ain't me babe". I already know the answer, it's just a rhetorical question to end end my post. :)

thelawproject said...

PS: the "guiding principles" PERF left out one third rail option. Neutralize or abolish the Police Unions. Generally Right To Work States have a much clearer path to deal with the out of control and generally unaccountable Police Departments.

john said...

They lie, to cover themselves. It's ALL about getting paid and keeping your job--notably your job of power, over others.
21-ft rule and SO MANY partial definitions give plain cops, who are certainly Not trained on legal or lawful issues, the APPARENT choice of distinction, which may or may not hold up in court. (As you know, that's why you cannot "beat the ride").
The Cops' War on America was always fostered by the disallowance for private citizens to distinguish fighting back, against stupid, mistaken (ignorant), tyrannical or psychotic cops. IF WE THE POOR PEOPLE DO NOT SUBMIT, then "charges" are escalated & inflated to felonies and worse:
They shoot you dead;
They claim they feared for this lives;
They go on paid administrative leave,
while the union and courts cover it up.
THIS ASSURES CHILLING INTIMIDATION, PLUS NO COP IS INDICTED. (However, the regional govs may prefer to have the citizen in jail, in order to get paid. Still, they avoided the lawsuit to save the cop, so it's worth it.)
YOU SMART & REASONABLE GUYS ARE TOO SHIELDED OR ISOLATED (& out of touch?), IN YOUR JOBS, to believe/accept the Cops' War was drastically increased, in recent militarized years. While cowardly & narcissistic politicians are ultimately the problem, THERE MUST be some local/regional/etc. accountability of willing-henchmen "law enforcement."
It's good the State of TX fights the godless feds, and they need to loudly disagree with the black-dress supremes, etc. Note there has never been any Constitutional authority for federal police, let alone heavily-armed.
*Cue The Who, "Out here in the fields, ...I get my back into my living ...I don't need to be forgiven...." George Carlin wrote (1997), we're fucked, and it helps to know it; but he was wrong: it is NOT helping.

Anonymous said...

We can cherry pick the facts and stack the facts to make it sound anyway we want it to.

Anonymous said...

As I've said before, reducing officer involved shootings comes down to increased training and increased transparency. This article is about training. However, if you want to tip the balance of power back to the citizens, instead of the govt, then you have to reform the systematic secrecy around officer involved shootings particularly in Texas with its larger than life law enforcement exemptions in TPIA. We truly don't know how big of a problem we have until this is done. In officer involved shootings, audio and video recordings of the incident should be public domain as close as possible to the event. That will encourage said cases to be investigated as rapidly as any other. Second, how those investigations are conducted should themselves be the subject of further standardization. If there's anything I've learned about officer involved shootings in Texas after atudying it for 3 years, it is that there is no uniform investigation requirement. If anyone is interested, I'd be happy to share more on this.

Thanks for your blog, Grits. You're doing God's work here.

Anonymous said...

Every police officer will always approach each new situation with consideration of the worst encounters known or experienced by that officer. It's a continuously escalating mindset generated by training. In 1950 officers wore the "milk man" caps. Today, they wear Kevlar military helmets. Notice the difference? In Texas we'll probably start seeing groups of officers standing in the beds of F150's responding to a call (e.g. Mexico style). The police need to simmer down their aggressive images as well. Tone down the combat hear in recruiting posters, the helicopters, the assault weapons, etc. It's not just a citizen encounter issue. It's a job candidate's expectation that they are going to a combat zone when they go to work.

Anonymous said...

Massad F. Ayoob. 21' rule.

Anonymous said...

No one here has ever been in law enforcement--or fire, or rescue, or security, or what? And no one owns a firearm. If you owned a gun and trained for CCW you would understand the 21' rule--subject can close the distance between you in less time than you can draw and fire.

Gunny Thompson said...

Again, my position is that in this country, the Brown Shirts has a Police-State mentality. Through their political contributions to lawmakers and their unions, they have managed to obtain immunity from nearly all incident involving Shooting and Abuse cases of citizen in which incidents they are ordered on the ground with no means of self-protection. John Cokos and John is on point with their posts.