(ANTIMEDIA) Salt Lake City, UT — As the country continues to struggle with police brutality, at least one police department in the United States has figured out how to avoid deadly altercations. But what’s behind this evolution — and will it last?
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While across the country police officers have fatally wounded 367 people this year alone, the Salt Lake City Police Department has gone more than a year-and-a-half without a single deadly incident involving a cop and a suspect.
According to officials themselves, this change is due to the fact that officers are being trained differently. Instead of handling any potential threat as a call to kill, Salt Lake City cops are being taught de-escalation techniques, making them more likely to empathize and then communicate effectively with suspects as they learn to assess the situation more thoroughly before even considering using force.
This change of policy has helped ensure that 37 instances involving officers since June 2016 resulted in no deaths — even though police force could have been ‘justifiable’ in those instances.
In an interview, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said his agency is a leader in the country precisely because of its use of de-escalation tactics.
During an interview, he brought up an incident involving a knife-wielding man that was caught on an officer’s body camera. Instead of shooting at the suspect as he walked closer during a traffic stop, the officer backed up. He then proceeded to give the suspect “ground” by using his cruiser as a cover. The officer then went for his Taser instead of taking out his gun and stunned the suspect. Before pulling the handcuffs, the man was disarmed and safely subdued without being injured. “I think he saved a life,” Brown told reporters.
But while this approach to law enforcement seems new and groundbreaking to some due to the horrific situation we’ve found ourselves in after so many years of the drug war and police militarization, private security agents have known about de-escalation tactics for quite some time.
Dale Brown, founder of V.I.P.E.R.S. (Violence Intervention Protective Emergency Response System) Threat Management, focuses on “non-violent threat management tactical strategies and logistics.” In a 2014 interview, he told Anti-Media that his short-lived time as a police officer taught him that law enforcement agencies generally aren’t interested in deterring crime. Instead, what officers are concerned with is the aftermath.
During a demonstration at his Detroit, Michigan, space, Brown showed a group of reporters and bloggers that much like untrained civilians, officers are often not ready to handle dangerous and stressful situations because they aren’t in the business of de-escalation. Instead of focusing on preventing harm, they often react on a whim. But unlike civilians, they do so knowing they are unlikely to face any serious consequences in the event of a death. This means the incentives that would normally deter a civilian from overreacting in a situation that could easily escalate and lead to a casualty aren’t present when an officer is involved.
What Brown and, perhaps, members of some police departments focusing on de-escalation — such as Salt Lake City’s — have learned over the years is that once the officer takes responsibility for the outcome of a particular operation, de-escalation is the only possible approach to an encounter with a potential suspect — unless you have no qualms with going to jail for taking the life of an innocent person.
Placing the responsibility for the life of a possible suspect — who is innocent until proven guilty — back in the hands of the officer means that officer will always act with the potential legal ramifications in mind. This way, the person tasked with the chore of handling a suspect will act with the knowledge that accountability is a certainty, not an abstract thought. Without a bureaucratic body standing behind the law enforcer, reassuring him that anything he does is justified, he is forced to remember that he can’t just take a life just because the potential suspect seems dangerous or may have acted impulsively. In contrast, an officer with an order to kill anyone who even gives out the impression they are a potential threat won’t think about consequences; he or she is shielded from responsibility from the get go.
If officers are reminded that “a policeman’s job is only easy in a police state,” anybody willing to take on the task of dealing with threatening situations without risking potentially innocent lives as a result should also be made aware that he must be held to a higher standard than the rest of us.
Still, even if this approach is adopted by more police departments, success still won’t be guaranteed just because more cops are being taught to take responsibility for their actions. Why? Because with a city or state agency still standing by them, ready to point the finger the other way in case there’s a deadly encounter that shouldn’t have escalated, it’s rather unlikely that these officers will always be able to avoid altercations.
The only solution is to allow non-government police forces such as Vipers Threat Management to compete with law enforcement organizations, giving civilians an option of who to call and who to rely on when trouble knocks. Will local, state, and federal governments ever allow their monopoly to be broken by competent competitors?