From the sad and violent story of Christopher Dorner, to Gilberto Valle, the “cannibal cop”, acts of rebellion, misjudgment and simple lack of respect for rules and regulations are part of our daily headlines across the United States.
For all the good accomplished by the majority of the nation’s policemen, sheriffs, and Marshalls, improper action by a few give rise to distrust and anger directed at all law enforcement. The following is only one example of the need for more precise screening of applicants seeking law enforcement careers, better training and supervision, and ongoing assessments of mental health.
In Cleveland Ohio, on November 30, 2012, what began as an attempted routine traffic stop led to an extremely dangerous situation, and the deaths of two individuals.
A car had been pulled over for a turn signal violation. It drove away. Other officers described it traveling at a “high rate of speed”.
A lack of communication, and the unwarranted assumption that the two individuals in the vehicle were armed and had fired a shot, drove the incident into a debacle, involving nearly one-third of the entire force.
During the pursuit, many of the officers had not followed instructions about switching their radios to the main communications channel and therefore did not hear orders to discontinue the chase. In a state report investigating the incident, officers described a scenario in which bullets were flying all around them, several officers had not put on their bullet-proof vests and one described it as the “scariest thing that I’ve seen in my whole life.”
The result was a pursuit involving 59 police vehicles who fired 137 rounds of ammunition. Cleveland police policy is that no more than two vehicles may be involved in a chase. The result was the death of two unarmed individuals, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams.
Some of the officers had called for spike strips and air support in the form of a police helicopter. These tools were ‘unavailable’.
The following is the official state report of the incident:
“What you have just heard is a tragedy — a tragedy for Timothy Russell, a tragedy for Malissa Williams, and a tragedy for their families. This has also been very tough for each of the law enforcement officers involved. […]
The large number of vehicles involved contributed to a crossfire situation at the pursuit’s termination that risked the lives of many officers. It is, quite frankly, a miracle that no law enforcement officer was killed.
Clearly, officers misinterpreted facts.
They failed to follow established rules.
However, by failing to provide the adequate and necessary structure and support, the system, itself, failed the officers.
Police officers have a very difficult job. They must make life and death decisions in a split second based on whatever information they have in that moment. In a situation like this, they are under tremendous stress. But, when you have an emergency, like what happened that night, the system has to be strong enough to override subjective decisions made by individuals who are under that extreme stress.
Policy, training, communications, and command have to be so strong and so ingrained to prevent subjective judgment from spiraling out of control. The system has to take over and put on the brakes.
On November 29, 2012, the system failed everyone.”
An investigation by the Department of Justice into the city police department’s use of excessive force and the “the adequacy of CPD’s training, supervision, and accountability mechanisms” is underway.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez spoke at the Cleveland Police Department Press Conference in Cleveland on Thursday, March 14, 2013. In his statement he stated that the investigation would be a “civil” investigation rather than “criminal”. No one individual or group of individuals was being singled out. Rather, the purpose of the investigative team was to examine policies, procedures, communication, and supervision of the Cleveland Police Department as a whole.
He promised complete transparency and stated further that any information of value to the CPD would be given to them immediately, and not held until the investigation was complete.
Before the demand exceeded the supply for men and women seeking law enforcement careers, some major cities not only required arduous physical training, but also extensive psychological examination.
Our “men and women in blue” have several weapons available to them each day. In addition to the obvious handguns and rifles, they carry batons, and sometimes “stun-guns”. And they also drive vehicles weighing several thousand pounds, frequently at a high rate of speed.
Once the Academies graduate a cadet, his training is not complete. Depending on the rules of each state, a “ride-along” period begins, as well as additionally required reading of civil law, and department rules and regulations.
Where the focus must lie is understanding why law enforcement officers frequently ignore, or claim to have been unaware, of his or her department’s rules and regulations.
The need for physical training in hand-to-hand combat, and the proper use of weapons provided the officer is obvious. Too often the mental state of our men and women serving their communities is ignored.
Just as it is with our military who serve multiple deployments into combat zones, the recurring challenges of a dangerous and difficult profession can easily create a condition similar to PTSS, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
How a law enforcement officer acts under stress is in direct relation to his or her mental condition and stability.
Periodic re-qualification on the firing range is mandatory. Semi-annual psychological testing should be a priority as well. Regardless of the numbers involved, recurrent examinations would help law enforcement hierarchy to either eliminate officers who may create serious problems for their fellow officers or the citizens they are sworn to protect, or give them access to mental health professionals.
Columist-The Guardian Express