PERF's UOF report illustrates disconnect between street cops, administrators
The handful of high-profile use-of-force mistakes we see in the United States do not prove the system is broken — they prove the system works
A recent report released by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) has triggered (pun intended) an earthquake in the U.S. law enforcement community, especially among those of us who train use of force standards and techniques. The January report is merely an illustration of a political and philosophical rift running through our entire nation.
I’ve written before about the huge philosophical disconnect between working line cops and their administrators, who often manage to bypass years of street policing experience on their way up through the ranks. This disconnect has been widening for decades.
Apples to Oranges
A few years ago I spoke at a national conference for a group whose membership is a direct parallel to PERF. I was invited to their Board of Directors’ dinner that night. Despite the pricey grub and free libations, it quickly became obvious I needed to leave. A couple of the attendees were senior administrators (names you would instantly recognize) who bragged about having their union cops hit them with a “no confidence” vote.
Of the nearly 100 senior/retired police administrators in the room, I’m willing to bet I had the only gun. The rest simply didn’t think or act like cops. Analyzing PERF’s use of force report with the image of that dinner seared on my hard drive, I can tell you it makes perfect sense — to them.
The PERF report summarizes their “new” philosophy with 30 guiding principles. Here are the first four principles:
1. The sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.
2. Departments should adopt policies that hold themselves to a higher standard than the legal requirements of Graham v. Connor.
3. Police use of force must meet the test of proportionality.
4. Adopt de-escalation as formal agency policy.
The entire list of 30 principles presumes we don’t already value all life, de-escalate when possible, and use less lethal force when available — often well past the point of reasonableness.
Which brings us to reasonableness — the Constitutional gospel according to Graham v. Conner. PERF throws out the Supreme Court’s objective reasonableness standard and replaces it with “proportionality.”
In other words, a cop who uses deadly force to prevent themselves from being beaten unconscious and/or disarmed is presumed to be wrong. Using a gun against an attacker armed only with fists and feet, ala Ferguson, isn’t proportional!
PERF traveled to their holy land of perfect policing to get us the appropriate model, the United Kingdom. PERF lauds the UK police force’s ability to defuse situations where the bad guy is armed with a knife. They couldn’t compare gun-to-gun situations because only about two percent of UK police are armed with firearms. But, since nearly 100 percent of all US situations with a knife-armed criminal have gun-armed officers on the scene from the get-go, the situational dynamics are completely incomparable, totally apples-to-oranges.
Small Sample Size
The handful of high-profile use-of-force mistakes we see in the United States do not prove the system is broken — they prove the system works, because the infrequency is what makes these incidents so notable. The courts have always given LEOs wide latitude in deadly force decision making because they understand you cannot expect perfection from split-second decisions. Prosecutions of police officers for the use of deadly force are a fairly new development because of the growing number of administrators/prosecutors who think like PERF and expect perfection.
This report, simply by being published by PERF, could cost police officers’ their lives by magnifying the hesitation already caused by the “Ferguson Effect.”
The kind of administrators who embrace this report chose the United Kingdom as their new model for one obvious reason. The police there are essentially disarmed — very few carry guns. These are the same administrators who keep so many fully-sworn campus police officers on the east coast disarmed. These are the same administrators who force some federal agents to leave their sidearms at the office unless they can articulate why they may need a weapon that day.
This is the same mindset which made our true warriors in the U.S. military mere disarmed victims while on-duty, in uniform at their own bases here at home (thankfully, that has changed).
PERF’s left-leaning leadership designed their model like the UK’s because many of them dream of a “perfect world” with disarmed police officers here. The 21st Century United States of America is not an idyllic land of rainbows, butterflies and little piles of unicorns. The really sad aspect of the PERF report is that it actually identifies several very real issues and makes a few excellent recommendations for improved training and policies. But the monstrous implications of their misguided principles are so overwhelming the good points are barely visible.