Police Chiefs Recommend Radical Changes in Police Culture to End Lethal Force

Since the Ferguson protests of 2014, reforming how policing is done, particularly in communities of color, has remained part of the national conversation. The Obama Administration has made criminal justice reform a priority, leading to a national task force to address the issues and increased Department of Justice investigations in police departments across the country. However, how to move from ideas to actual reform has been more difficult to achieve due to resistance within police ranks.

Late last month, nearly 200 police chiefs met with officials from the White House and the Justice Department, as well as police training experts in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to get past the resistance to change. The conference was organized by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a nonprofit research organization that focuses on issues of policing. Its main focus is to identify best practices on police issues, including the use of force. The stakeholders in the room all agreed that there needed to be a dramatic change in how we police in America. There was less agreement as to how easily that could happen.

The discussion centered around PERF’s recent policy paper “Use of Force: Taking Police to a Higher Standard.” The 30 guiding principles are based on research showing they would increase officer safety as well as the safety of people in the communities they serve. The recommendations are considered so radical that the report begins with the caution that the “policies, training, tactics, and recommendations for equipment detailed in this document amount to significant, fundamental changes in a police department’s operations and culture” and that “a comprehensive approach will be required to implement the changes.”

The report focuses on de-escalation and what they term as Critical Decision-Making Model (CDM). The CDM is adapted from the United Kingdom’s National Decision Model which can be simply described as think before you act. It notes that with proper training the evaluation process can go quickly and could significantly reduce, or at least slow down, the use of force. This process also considers the proportionality of the police response in conjunction with the severity of the threat.

The CDM and the de-escalation techniques would require a complete shift in training. The report notes that the U.K. model, on which PERF is based, offers retreat as an option for de-escalation. As the Washington Post reports, the meeting in Washington included watching police videos from Scotland and Northern Ireland where few police killings occur even in cases of violent threats. This is due in part because officers are trained to pull back if necessary. As the chief of the San Antonio Police Department noted, “In America, police do not have an obligation to retreat. That is problematic.”

The disconnect between what the law allows and what would contribute to better policing is the focus of the motto “taking police to a higher standard.” The recommendations go beyond what even the Supreme Court requires in use of force standards and explicitly challenges the Court’s “objective reasonableness” standard. From the outset, PERF instructs police departments to view the 1989 decision as “necessary but not sufficient” as it has allowed what they describe as “lawful but awful” police involved shootings that, while not a crime, should be punished. Departments should develop policies that not only actively investigate these types of deadly force situations, but take definitive action that would hold the officers accountable with appropriate consequences. However, the culture of the “blue wall” will make this the most difficult change to achieve.

Campaign Zero is a new project that grew out of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Along with several other initiatives, they began Check the Police which reviews police union contracts across the nation. Their investigation has found that contracts specifically dictate how officers are reprimanded. Even in cases of fatal shootings, contracts control how the investigation can proceed, what information can or cannot be released publicly, and even what punishments are allowed within the department. This is why many officers are “put on administrative leave” or “desk duty” with pay during the investigation, and why the recommendation that police chiefs deal with officers that use excessive force more severely may not even be a legal option. Furthermore, the idea that fellow officers should intervene when unnecessary force is being used ignores the real problem of maintaining the code of silence among fellow officers.

The policies and tactics in the PERF report are expansive, and include the increased use of non-lethal weapons and regular training for situations involving the mentally ill. The organizers of the meeting admitted that the Black Lives Matter movement and corresponding protests were a major influence on police chiefs across the country shifting their attitudes. These reforms mirror many proposed by Campaign Zero, as well as the Justice Department. This is highlighted in the first principle listed in the report and around which all the remaining tactics and policy are centered around: “The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything the agency does.”

The paper begins, “Agency mission statements, policies, and training curricula should emphasize the sanctity of all human life — the general public, police officers, and criminal suspects — and the importance of treating all persons with dignity.” As Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief Tom Manger says, “We’ve got to change the culture of American policing. … Our goal should be to have everyone go home safely at the end of the day.”

Photo Credit: Andy Katz via Thinkstock


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Stop militarization.

Marianne C.
Marianne C2 years ago

Good example, Margaret Goodman.

And speaking of the Bundy Bunch, Grant County, OR, Sheriff Glenn Palmer, one of the darlings of the “constitutional sheriffs” organization, is now the subject of an investigation by the state sheriff's organization in Oregon. All 36 of Oregons sheriffs are currently members of the organization.

As the preferred sheriff of anti-government extremists, Palmer joined Ryan Payne and Jon Ritzheimer, along with several other men, for a lunch meeting in January. Palmer claimed he didn’t know who he was meeting with, but did not leave when he found out who the special guests were.

Ammon Bundy and his armed crew were headed to a meeting in Grant County, hosted by Palmer, when they were arrested. And only days before their arrest, Palmer was hinting at support of the militant's cause, saying he thought the FBI should leave Oregon.

If the investigation finds that Palmer violated his oath to uphold either the state of Federal Constitution, or violated any of the rules of the state sheriff's association, he can be expelled, an action that has apparently never been taken aginst a member in the association's history.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Federal law enforcement initially retreated before the Ammon Bundy bunch before bringing them to justice. Would it have been better to have stormed the Malheur Refuge?

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

In my lifetime I have seen many recommendations on how to bring racial justice to the United States. The rate of implementation has been maddeningly slow. Occasionally we even see back tracking as in the gutting of the Voting Rights Act and all the voter suppression tactics. My guess is that the PERF recommendations will also take a LONG time to implement.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Darryl Green wrote, " ... blacks commit 60% of all crime, 72% of homicides are committed by BLACKS ... "

It might be true that African Americans are convicted at the rates above. It is also true that although Caucasian Americans and African American use illegal drugs at the same rate, African American are convicted at a much higher rate.

Donna N.
Donna N2 years ago

Marianne C. knows her figures and what is going on. As to Freddy R...sorry, Charlie, the local law enforcement IS answerable for their actions and they are NOT independent. I seriously doubt if you paid much attention to your high school government class.

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

No violence can help solve problems

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se2 years ago


Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn2 years ago

Many thanks to you !