Fatal Shooting by Police Officer Highlights the Need to Examine Police Tactics and Training
The recent tragic events in Charleston South Carolina, where the world witnessed South Carolina Police Officer Michael Slager shoot and kill an unarmed and fleeing Walter Scott, magnify the need to evaluate tactics and training of our American Police Departments. There are nearly one million police officers that keep our communities safe in this country, and for the majority of officers, they do their jobs remarkably well in spite of the inherent dangers of being a police officer.
In the year 2013, 114 police officers lost their lives in the line of duty and hundreds more were injured. It can’t be disputed that policing is one of the most dangerous jobs in America. However, far too many incidents of police officers using excessive force where a life is taken should compel us to examine police tactics, training, and whether or not we are doing enough to bridge the great divide that is manifesting in many jurisdictions between the police and the community.
Police officers receive thousands of hours of training which includes verbal judo (the act of defusing an event without the use of force), physical restraints in the areas of a suspect’s body that does not result in serious or fatal injuries, and the use of other non-lethal force like pepper spray. When a police officer must use force, he should have exhausted all the options in the continuum of force before he draws and discharges a firearm. Not all arrests warrant the use of a firearm and not all suspects have to be taken by physical force.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when physical or fatal force is the only option, but in the majority of cases it is a last resort. Having spent more than 27 years as a Maryland State Trooper, arresting hundreds of suspects and being involved in my share of shootouts, I know the dangers of police work. I lost friends and colleagues who paid the ultimate sacrifice and were killed in the line of duty, and understand that police officers have to make split second decisions. But in the incident witnessed in South Carolina, Officer Slager had many options prior to his decision to use fatal force on Walter Scott. It appears from the video, that Officer Slager’s backup was close by, and between the two of them, they could have arrested Walter Scott without the use of fatal force. The actions of Officer Slager immediately after he shot Walter Scott should make every police officer, past and present, sick.
Every Police Chief in America should examine the training and tactics currently being deployed by their police officers. Use the tragic events that resulted in an unarmed man being unnecessarily killed as a catalyst to assure that that event doesn’t repeat itself in another community.
Finally, Police executives need to incorporate into officer training a heavy component of police and community relations that reaches far beyond having a few community meetings. Police departments need to be the conduit that connects the community directly to the police.