(ThyBlackMan.com) I am writing this article to help you understand what goes on in the mind of your local police officer. The agency that I am director for has profiled 11 different types of officers and each one of them may respond in a different way to the exact same situation. Let’s be clear that I’m not making excuses for any bad, illegal, racist, abusive nor unlawful behavior. But there are reasons that police officers respond the way they do and every single police abuse of authority or use of excessive force is not always racism. The public often assumes that it is racism when there is a Caucasian officer involved in an encounter with an African American citizen and it ends badly. But that’s largely because the public does not know the rest of what is going on. And I can substantiate the claim that it is not always racism, though sometimes it is, pure and simple. This article is to provide a better, balanced and accurate understanding of what is happening.
There are many things that are going on in the life of a local police officer that you will never hear him or her admit to. Many things that he or she cannot tell you because it would shape public perception even more negatively. While none of these things are excuses for unlawful behavior, they certainly contribute to the mental, emotional, economic and sociological well-being of the officer. And that in turn has everything to do with how he or she reacts to stress, the public and individual citizens in a police encounter.
HUMAN REACTIONS + EXTREME STRESS + GUNS + SPLIT SECOND DECISIONS CREATES AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS MIX WITH NO ROOM FOR ERROR
I know many of you won’t feel sorry for police officers right now and I’m not asking you to. But I am asking you to understand what’s happening in the lives of local police officers. Maybe that will help in some police encounters and maybe that will make a difference in some outcomes. Maybe you don’t care what they are going through but keep in mind that all police officers are not bad, killers, mentally unstable, egomaniac bullies or racists. Many but not all.
The stress level of your average police officer is extremely high. Sometimes it’s because some of the people in the uniform really aren’t cut out to do that job. Sometimes it’s the citizens they deal with, yes some of you – in every color. Sometimes its financial stress. Sometimes it’s the very same stress you encounter and the problems you go through times ten. Difficult supervisors, unrealistic expectations and the list goes on. Cops are not exempt to these problems and sometimes the public either forgets about that or simply doesn’t care. Police officers should always abide by the law, no excuses. But maybe we need to ask ourselves if we are expecting too much from our police departments. More than they can give. More than they should give. More than they should be authorized or empowered to give or do.
VISIT OUR SITE AND CLICK “POLICE ENCOUNTERS 101”
Let’s talk about the expectation we were taught to have of police officers. We were taught to respect police officers, at least those of us who are older were. We were taught that police officers were our friends, but obviously that is not always the case. We were taught that police officers were there to protect us but now we find sometimes it’s quite the opposite. But sometimes that is true. We were taught that police officers knew the law, but sometimes that is not the case either. We were taught that police officers were well trained and were supposed to make the right decisions. And we came to expect them to choose correctly all the time. We were talk to regard police officers as almost superheroes, except with no special powers. Much of that was not only inaccurate, but also unrealistic.
Here is what the public is starting to realize. Police officers are people too, people who sometimes do bad things on purpose, often do good things and sometimes even dumb things without thinking. The public does not like the realism of what it is seeing, not at all. Because it falls below public expectations. So could it be that we elevated them too high all this time to begin with? Every police officer is not a legal specialist, in fact most of them are not. Police officers are very often simply people who need a jobs with benefits. And wearing a badge and a gun can build an ego faster than you can imagine. So life, America and our experiences are we setting our expectation of police officers. But that must stay as a balanced and accurate expectation, not a stereotype.
As I write this article, I need you to understand that I see all sides of the issue. I have been a detective. I carried a the badge. I carried/carry a gun. I used force and found other ways as well. I have trained officers and heard their concerns. I’ve seen good officers, bad officers and all shades of grey in the middle. I have seen officers make mistakes and officers do things intentionally they should not have done. I am an African American man with sons and a strong sense of identity. And I have no illusions about life in America as an African American man. I was fortunate because the Marshals, firearms instructors and police detectives who trained me taught me to use my brain as my first and best weapon, not a firearm. Unfortunately that is not taught today anywhere near the level it should be. So you need to know that sometimes the training is the problem, sometimes the laws, city or county ordinances are the problem and sometimes all of the above combined enable the officer to do far too much.
Over 7 years ago we at the Metro Atlanta Crime Commission created Police Encounters 101, the most comprehensive, effective, balanced citizen training program of lawful solutions for addressing encounters with local police everywhere. Today it covers prevention, intervention and curative solutions. Back then far too many of the right people gave the wrong responses because they wouldn’t listen – including the now Mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens who didn’t give the program the time of day when he was on the city council.
Mayor Andre Dickens, as well all these others who suddenly became overnight “circumstantial experts” on the issue of police brutality, should realize you won’t reach the real solutions if you don’t ask the right people. But we kept going, helping and empowering citizens and sharpening the solutions to work even better. One big problem was that police officers were trained to handle an encounter but citizens were not. We had and have the solution to that problem. Now more people are finally listening, but not our Mayor. Are you?
IF YOU ARE A STRESSED OUT COP, FIND ANOTHER JOB
Today your average local police officer is stressed at a level that you would not believe. Stress that he or she finds little or no support from his department in addressing and resolving. Stress that he or she cannot reveal for fear of being taken out of the field or not having a job.
Stress that would cause many of you to do the same dumb, dangerous or unlawful things that some of them have done.
Police officers are bound by oaths, protocols, SOPs, union guidelines, state regulatory agencies, supervisor expectations, city or county ordinances, state laws, federal laws, jurisdictional guidelines, blue codes and more. Or at least all of them are supposed to be. And most follow the rules. But there are things they can never say or share, even if they wanted to. Things that could ironically erode public confidence. I know because I speak with them about these issues all the time, just as I speak with citizens about the same. The agency I work for is the bridge, the third side of the coin that sees both sides – actually all sides, citizen, cops, politics, judicial, social, psychological, theological and economic contributing factors.
With all that going on in the life of your local police officer, some of you may be thinking they may be need to find another job then. And maybe you’re right. But until then what do they do? Do you have another job for them? Or are you going to pay their bills until they find another job? Again I never make excuses for unlawful behavior, especially behavior that puts citizen lives at risk. But if we are to resolve the problem, we have to get to the root of the problem, not just the symptoms that manifest in what we see on video. And believe it or not, all excuses aside, some officers (just like everyone else) fail to think before they act. The problem in the case of the police officer doing that is it could easily be a matter of life and death.
BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION BECAUSE WE NEED A NATIONWIDE VOLUNTEER FORCE: VISIT WWW.PUBLICSAFETY411.COM
In regards to the Brooks case in Atlanta Georgia where I am, there are so many elements at play that it would take hours to explain them all. But I will say a few things. Any police encounter with a citizen or officer can go in any direction at any time in the blink of an eye. Would I have handled the matter differently, regardless of color? Yes I would have, but I also may have shot Mr. Brooks in the leg. Of course that is because I am a firearms instructor and good enough with a firearm to make a non-lethal shot. Unfortunately many police officers are not. And my choice would have been because my training was likely different and better in some ways than what the officers may have received or receive today. And as a citizen training instructor who specializes in training citizens on how to handle police encounters, I see several problems on all sides. Did Mr. Brooks have to die that night? No. And while many of you are very angry, myself included, everything has to be looked at to get to the root of the problem and keep this from happening again.
So let’s talk about ego, a trait likely necessary for police officers to do the job. But when out of control, a deadly flaw at the same time. Ego and adrenaline are best friends. When one kicks in, the other one often comes right along with it. And that makes it very difficult for many officers to step back, regroup or downshift their behavior in order to de-escalate a situation. When an officer is beaten up by a suspect, when an officer is afraid or when an officer is embarrassed, sometimes his or her response is to overwhelm the situation. And I cannot say if that is automatically good or bad because it depends on the situation, the conditions and the outcome.
Financial stress seems to be a big problem amongst police officers. Is that the fault of citizens? No. Are police officers paid enough? Usually not. Are far too many police officers financially overextended and living beyond their means? Yes. Does that often cause them to have to work extra jobs? Yes. Do these extra jobs contribute to additional stress and lack of rest that plays out one day during the officer’s full-time policing job in the field? You bet it does. Imagine how many relationships break up and how much domestic violence occurs over finances. So you can understand how those financial stresses in the mind of a person who carries a badge and a gun can easily pour out into the streets and onto citizens. That is one reason or cause for police bad behavior, not an excuse, but a reason.
POLICE UNIONS MUST STOP PROTECTING GUILTY OFFICERS
What about the outlets needed for police to reduce the stress instead of transferring it to the public? The problem is that many police officers would not dare go to a departmental psychologist because the assessment would end up in their files. And unfortunately that is one of the quickest ways to walk yourself out of a job, a job most officers need. So some officers carry around the weight of nightmares and PTSD, fear, depression, anxiety and anger. Though none of these should be an excuse to abuse citizens, they are in fact reasons that impact behavior.
These are only a few elements that impact police officer actions and reactions but know that there are many others that must be considered and addressed to get to the root of police behavior, actions and reactions. The analysis has to be psychological, sociological, economic and theological. It has to involve screening an assessment of all officers on a regular basis screening that very few police departments are willing to do. This can be done easily, quickly and inexpensively but police departments and police unions are quick to reject the idea. Still this is my recommendation and you can expect us to get it to every Police Department that will. Just as citizens are profiled, part of the solution is periodically tracking and profiling police officers and their behavior, ideally before something bad happens. That is what my agency does. www.publicsafety411.com
Police officers are not Robocop. Police officers are not warriors. Police officers are not legal experts. They are people, good and bad. Some are heroes and some are not. So I strongly reiterate, it’s time to reset our expectations just as quickly as we want to reform their job descriptions. It’s time to change the laws and the city or county ordinances. It’s time to revise police training. It’s past time to train citizens on the best ways to handle an encounter and that’s what I do. Visit www.publicsafety411.com and click the button that says Police Encounters 101. Then email us to get involved in becoming a part of the solution. So you can jump on the bandwagon of anger or you can step up and be a part of real solutions. You can look at the big picture, the whole picture, or only choose the parts you want to see and believe. And while every bad cops should be held fully and lawfully accountable to the full extent of the law, we all have a responsibility to find solutions for our communities. It is not just up to the police chief nor the mayor. They cannot and should not do it alone. But they should be held to a high standard of lawful accountability as well. This is an all-hands-on-deck call. So visit our website, email us from the site and let’s end police brutality.
Staff Writer; Trevo Craw