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Fri. July 30, 2021
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Defund or Defend: The Issues Behind Police Use of Force
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After the controversial deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the summer of 2020 due to police use of force, a “defund the police” movement began to trend across social media. In essence, the motive behind the movement was to decrease the funding given to the police as a response to what the public viewed as racially motivated police killings, in an effort to either hinder or completely dismantle our current police system. While such a task is somewhat radical, it holds a theme of “desperate times calling for desperate measures”, as the “defund the police' movement only sparked as an outcry for reform and rectification in law enforcement deadly shootings, being that many feel as though the shootings were racially biased. But with complete respect given to the root meaning of “defund the police”, such a change could never take place, seeing as the police is a government funded entity, but more importantly, an absolute necessity for the assurance of public safety.

Along with the “defund the police” trend, these shootings have sparked a widespread scrutinization of the police force, as many have begun to question the police’s level of militarization, which is almost ironic to question in a country with the eleventh highest violent crime rate worldwide, and believe the issue to lay within police academy training. Once police recruits successfully complete their background screening hiring process, they are placed into a sixth month academy comprising a variety of training mostly pertaining to legal studies, self-defense tactics, firearms training, and physical fitness. While officers are also trained in subjects such as mental health crises, de-escalation tactics, and negations, the emphasis is placed on firearms training and self-defense, as a 2013 report from the United States Department of Justice stated roughly 70 hours of training are delegated to weapons training and another 60 are spent on self defense tactics. With the bulk of an officer’s base training pertaining to firearms and self defense, it is understandable as to why some would attribute the issue of deadly force to police training, but the emphasis is necessary because of the circumstantial nature of the job.

An officer’s training in the use of force is coupled with an approach known as the “force continuum”, a methodology used to show the escalation of force an officer should use when engaging an offender. The “force continuum” is typically depicted with a diagram in the shape of a pyramid or staircase to demonstrate the progression of escalation. The starting point, either the base of a pyramid or beginning of a staircase, provides officers guidelines when engaging a compliant offender, a scenario resolved through the use of verbal commands and nominal force. The pinnacle of escalation ends at the top of the staircase or the tip of the pyramid, typically characterized by an officer resorting to deadly force to neutralize a subject posing a threat to an officer’s safety or safety of the public. But while the force continuum provides a substantial basis for training, its capabilities of applicableness are limited because of the circumstantial nature of policing. Police academy training is an intensive six month program designed to prepare officers for the duty of the streets and the force continuum provides basic guidelines, but neither will completely prepare an officer because the duty of a first responder requires officers to respond to an extensive variety of situations. In other words, there is no way to account for every encounter, and no way to predict the element of unpredictability in a high risk situation, meaning officers must rely on their own judgement and discretion when assessing the level of force needed in engaging an offender.

When the focus of the issue of deadly force becomes the validity of an officer’s discretion, the root of the issue shifts from questioning the police’s training methods and level militarization to an officer’s character and mental psyche. The hiring process for potential officers is an intensive multi-step process with three essential requirements: the successful completion of a thorough background investigation, psychiatric evaluation, and aptitude testing to weed out inappropriate candidates. But even with an exhaustive hiring process, it is possible for unsuitable candidates to navigate through the process and into the police academy to eventually reach the streets. If the problem lies not within the pre-hire phase or training, then perhaps it can be attributed to the coherence of the officer once they have made it to the streets. Realistically, there is no physical or tangible evidence to substantiate that the police killings of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor were racially motivated, but a key factor that is evident in both instances is reckless disregard for human life. An article published by NBC outlines the medical examiner’s report from the case of George Floyd, detailing how Floyd’s death was caused by asphyxiation from officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes as a compliance maneuver, a technique not supported by police academy training. Additionally, referencing the case of Breonna Taylor, the four responding officers executed a “no-knock” search warrant late one night at her boyfriend’s apartment. After her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired a single shot into the dark believing it to be a home invasion, the four officers collectively returned fire, totaling over twenty shots, with some striking nearby and adjacent apartments.

Rather than defund the police and cripple their functionality, the appropriate rationale offers a solution pertaining to a more psychological approach. The history of officer Chauvin would show that he has been cited for multiple instances of misconduct, but never received any disciplinary action, begging the question as to if George Floyd’s death could have been averted if Chauvin had been disciplined, or furthermore, not selected as an officer. While the hiring process incorporates psychiatric evaluations, I surmise a system of routine psychiatric evaluations and mandated counseling with the potential for reassignment with consistent pay could help curtail the number of police instances of excessive or deadly force. Post-hire counseling could help serve as a consistent mental and emotional check-in for officers to ensure that their mental psyche has not been tarnished by the hardships of being a first responder, and that their integrity has not been compromised by a misplaced sense of authority. The solution behind this offers departments a way of identifying red flags for officers that may not maintain a “fit for duty” status, but also provides the benefit of monetary compensation for officers compliant with the counseling, allowing for officers to be less stressed about losing their job, and more honest about their state of being for a more accurate determination.

Mathias McFarlane is a fourth year student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, completing his Bachelors of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society with a double minor in Intelligence Analysis and Legal studies as well.

 

Sources

Chang, A. (2016, July 07). Police academies SPEND 110 hours on firearms and SELF-DEFENSE. they spend 8 hours on conflict management. Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/2016/7/7/12118906/police-training-mediation

Reaves, B. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/slleta13.pdf

Countries compared by crime violent crime murder rate. international statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate

Griffith, J. (2021, April 10). Medical examiner who ruled George floyd's death a homicide blames police pressure for his death. Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/medical-examiner-who-ruled-george-floyd-s-death-homicide-blames-n1263670

Breonna Taylor is killed by police in botched raid. (2021, March 10). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/breonna-taylor-is-killed-by-police#:~:text=Shortly after midnight on March,door with a battering ram

Countries compared by crime violent crime murder rate. international statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved May 09, 2021, from https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate

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