Posted by: JDM..... | August 7, 2016

Legacy to choose…

…and, this would be very sad.

It can change, and there’s a lot of talk about that going around these days, from both sides of the issue. So, right now it looks like the question seems to be, who’s going to blink first? Who should blink first?

If you think the street folks need to clean up their act before the police can ease up, you’re wrong.

That’s expecting an awful lot from a group that is, by definition, incapable of, or unwilling to play by the rules. These are angry, powerless people. The “good guys” have been unable to get them under control for decades, in spite of ramping up procedures and equipment so it’s hard to distinguish your friendly neighborhood Officer Toohey from a grunt getting ready to go plink a few Taliban. And some people expect a jaded public to trust these guys and feel safe?

These are not safe times. I want my local police to be trained to handle violence if it occurs, but I don’t want them to look or act like they’re trolling for it.

My critical rhetoric does not mean I’m anti-law enforcement. I’m not. I am ant-unnecessary violence and peacekeepers with chips on their shoulders operating in a culture of superiority, power, and unquestionable authority. That has to change, and it has to change yesterday. The onus is on the ones with the power and pseudo-control to blink first. Only then can they achieve real control to any extent.

I was never a police officer, but I worked with a difficult population myself. I worked at a local medical center where they had residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment programs, as well as a detox unit, and a locked, inpatient psychiatric facility. I worked in all aspects of the substance abuse modality…the detox, the residential treatment program, and the outpatient department. I worked with what we then called “dual diagnosis” patients, those with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues. I also did educational lectures, spoke at some local colleges, and was a “trainer” in de-escalation and non-violent restraint and control methods for a time. For the last seven or eight years before I retired, I worked on the psychiatric floor. Have I looked down the barrel of a gun? Yes. Have I had to defend myself? Yes. How many of those who discount me or my opinion have sat with a phone in each hand, one connected to the local police and the other connected to some guy sitting in a motel room with a fifth of whiskey and a loaded .357 magnum trying to decide which to stick in his mouth? He lived. He got treatment. I don’t know what happened after that.

I didn’t have any weapon but my brain. While I am sure law enforcement personnel would vigorously state that they also have a brain and that it is their first line of defense. I’m sure it is. I don’t dispute that. I worked with some excellent police and probation officers. But the news has far too many stories about incidents where the responders drew their weapons first and then decided what to do. An awful lot of the suspects killed or seriously wounded by gunshots turn out to be unarmed. It is a culture problem, not an individual problem.

If you live in an environment where the norm is to say “Gimme the f—— potatoes” at the dinner table, you’re most likely to say the same thing at the church supper. If police shootings were prosecuted and investigated without bias, the culture would change.

When I entered a new room or area at the hospital, I “assessed” continuously, looking for body language, facial expressions, and movement that signaled potential trouble. When it occurred, I tried to de-escalate the situation first. I tried verbal interventions, some of them bizarre. I once distracted an out of control man by walking up and asking him if he had change for a dollar, which enabled a coworker to restrain him. As a next-to-last response, I might use physical restraint, or call a “code” to summon security and trained staff from around the hospital. As a last resort, we’d call the police if the subject was especially large and/or dangerous.

I often wonder if some of the techniques we used wouldn’t work for law enforcement. If you can de-escalate, you have control. If you jump right to physical intervention in order to gain control, de-escalation is a moot point.

Why do police officers draw their weapons as a matter of course? At point-blank range, facing a single subject, why not start with a Taser? How about when facing a man approaching with a knife, without knowing if he is deranged rather than a felon? Is it acceptable to shoot and kill him? Wouldn’t it be better to disable him with a non-fatal tool first? If someone was shooting at me or appeared ready to do so, I would shoot back, or even first. I really don’t think firearms are necessary or justified most times when they are drawn. They are drawn to intimidate in, order to gain control. It may or may not work. There are other ways to get control, without firearms. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

But they should be used first.

The secondary gain from this change in culture and thinking on the part of the police very well could be the improved community relations and diminishing violence that is being talked about so much.

 

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