We Can Fix Police Shootings

Those cities in the US experiencing dramatic declines in police shootings, how did they do it? Did they round up the citizenry and instruct them on the proper way to react during a police encounter (“Nope, nope, nope—hands on the wheel”)? Or did they go into African-American neighborhoods and distribute fliers (“When stopped by the police, make no sudden movements”)? Maybe they aired PSAs during the nightly news (“Even when surrounded by five officers pointing guns at you, remain calm”)?

Believe it or not, they didn’t. They retrained the police.

In Las Vegas, the city went from one of the deadliest police forces in the country to a model for reform. They focused on “fair and impartial policing” to counter the inherent bias we all have—the vast majority of Las Vegas’s questionable killings had been of unarmed Black men. They now do reality-based training geared toward de-escalation. And they revamped the review board to counter a prior 97% validation of deadly force incidents. In 2014, the city had zero deadly force incidents.

Philadelphia saw an 80% drop in police-involved killings after the department implemented DOJ recommendations. They, too, went to field training where officers role-play realistic situations. Previously, Philadelphia officers had mistakenly perceived Blacks as threats at twice the rate of whites. They also changed the review process for shootings that do happen. Reforms aren’t complete, but as the police chief said, “You can’t fix something until you recognize and acknowledge it exists.” 

In Dallas, focusing on de-escalation (for example, don’t shout but communicate) and community policing not only decreased shootings, it was accompanied by a decrease in the city’s murder rate, the lowest in 80 years. If a police shooting does happen, the department decreases the number of officers in the neighborhood around the shooting scene. A spokesman for the department said, “The ideal police response to a protest is no response at all.”

Salt Lake City is changing, too. “Not least among the new strategies is training in bias. Officers should recognize that people of different cultures and races may react differently to police presence.” Terrible exceptions to the new training are still happening, with deadly consequences, because training takes time, which is why we all need to start now.

Gathering at national conferences, chiefs of police around the country are examining policing. Guess what they’re focusing on? de-escalation tactics. “I’m totally in agreement that police don’t know how to retreat in the United States and that we kill too many people,” said the former Boston commissioner. They, too, focused on how departments react to shootings that do happen, with the need to quickly release information about the incidents. 

Death at the hands of police is NOT a hopeless, unsolvable mess where we argue sides and nothing can be fixed. It can be fixed. We know this. Police departments around the country are working hard to fix it. All we have to do is ask our hometowns: what are you doing?

Have you, my hometown, acknowledged that police training needs to change? Are you implementing the changes that have been proven to work in other cities? (Las Vegas is awaiting your call :)). Are you training in de-escalation, engaging in fair and impartial policing, using transparent and community-oriented review process? If not, do you realize you are falling behind? Do you understand you are no longer engaging in best practices?

I urge you to write your mayor and ask these questions. We must work to prevent the next American citizen from being killed by the police. We must prevent yet another police officer from being swept into a mind-bending controversy when she thought she was doing her job. We know how to fix the system. We need to get busy doing it.

Is your city examining its policing practices?
Is your city examining its policing practices?

#blacklivesmatter, charlotte police shooting, community policing, deescalation tactics, police shootings, Tulsa police shooting

Comments (12)

  • Good questions, Ellen. Why aren’t these methods applied everywhere? I’m heartened to read there are cities in the US that have recognized the issues and work at addressing them through training. It seems like the most difficult step is acknowledging there’s a problem. Your post gives me hope there is a solution.

    • I agree—the hard part is saying we need to change. Some of these cities, the DOJ stepped in because of terrible situations. So, in a way, we are developing “best practices” where none existed before. So glad I’m spreading hope. 🙂

  • We need to do the same thing up here in Canada. Our faith has been dramatically eroded after several police killings wherr they shot first and asked questions later, starting with the Robert Dziekanski incident here in Vancouver. He was a Polish immigrant who was tasered to death after becoming confused after a long flight and session in customs. He didn’t speak much English, got scared and started waving a stapler so they called in the RCMP. We had a big awakening as it came out how much the RCMP lied about what happened.
    Great article, Ellen!

    • Thanks for sharing that. I read the case, wondering how on earth the situation escalated to that point. It’s hard to understand. But I note one of the complaints (failing to try to de-escalate the situation) is what so many of the articles said about the problems we’re having here. The most startling thing in writing the post was how many cities have experienced drops in killings—if you listen to news coverage, you conclude it’s one big horrific unsolvable mess.

      • I think it is awesome that you are pointing out that these cities are finding to solutions to this awful problem and hope these methods spread. It is encouraging to know that it’s not all bad news, regardless of what the media pushes in front of us.
        By the way– For what it’s worth, I’ve added you to my blogroll at researchingmyself.wordpress.com, as I hope more people would hear your message!

        • I rewrote this post three times. Then, after we’d been talking and talking about the Charlotte shootings at my family vacation in NC, I heard my sister’s voice saying, Didn’t one city do something to figure it out? So all the credit goes to her. And thank you for adding me to the blogroll—what an honor!

  • Another excellent piece Ellen. Hopeful in the face of so many unnecessary tragedies. Have you written a piece on gun violence & mass shootings? I don’t recall reading one but if you’ve written about this, could you point me to the piece?

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