Last week we examined the following two questions and challenged you to reflect on your attitudes and your training:
“If you knew you the officer you are training today would be fighting for his or her life tomorrow, would you change the way you train them today?”
“If you knew you the officer you are training today would be fighting to protect your life or the lives of your loved ones tomorrow, would you change the way you train them today?”
This week I are going to change the question a bit:
“If you knew you the officer you are training today would be in court fighting for his or her life tomorrow, would you change the way you train them today?”
By fighting for his or her life what I am referring to is fighting to keep from going to jail for a use of force incident and having his or her life as they know it taken from them.
I am writing this following the manslaughter conviction of former Oakland BART Officer
Johannes Mehserle. Now, I do not claim to know all the intimate details of the testimony or have I had the opportunity to review is training in detail (I would recommend reading the PoliceOne.com column by Greg Meyers and the Force Science Institute Newsletter by Bill Lewinski on the trial.) . There are a few things however that jumped out at me when I read the media accounts of the testimony at his trial. The defence contended that the officer meant to draw and deploy his Taser and mistakenly drew his pistol and shot Oscar Grant. The prosecution contended he shot Grant intentionally and charged him with second degree murder. The jury determined he did not comply with his training and policy and found him guilty of manslaughter.
One article stated ”
A month before he shot and killed Oscar Grant, former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle was given Taser training that stressed the importance of not confusing the weapon with a gun – and was even told of cases in which police had reported shooting people by making such a mistake.”
The testimony of the trainer
indicated that the officer had undergone 6 hours of training on the taser a month prior to the incident. In that 6 hours the officer actually fired a Taser one time, which ”
met standards set by a state oversight agency”.
“The article goes on to state ”
Once they were armed with the Tasers, officers were allowed to choose where to carry them. But, a right-handed officer such as Mehserle was not allowed to position the Taser next to the pistol on the right hip unless he aimed the weapon’s handle in the opposite direction, making only a left-handed draw possible.” “The intent of that was to avoid the weapons confusion issue.”
The trainer also testified that officers in Madera, Sacramento and Rochester, N.Y., had reported shooting people by mixing up a Taser and a gun.
This post is not meant to attack the trainer in any way. I do not know them or the challenges they faced with their agency. The purpose is to challenge all of us to examine some key issues in our own training:
- We need to find a way to have administrators understand that ‘minimum standards’ set by POST or any other body are a good starting point, not a desired end state.
- You need to ask yourself if your officers are trained in the use of CEWs and other weapons, or exposed to them in order to meet ‘the standard’.
- Are your officers made to train in the equipment they will actually be using, in the manner in which they will use it rather than “once they are armed with the Taser allow them to choose where to carry them.”
- Are we exposing officers to ‘training’ where they listen to a lecture of the theory and application of a force option, then practice in a sterile, flatfooted environment, then send them out on the street expecting them to make good decisions in situations that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving? If our training ends there we are setting our officers up for failure in the field. They need to be exposed to context based training.
- Does your training focus on what not to do (such as mistakenly drawing their gun instead of a taser) and give a number of examples? This type of negative based training is still very common. The problem is that in some cases it actually engrains the less desirable behaviour instead of the most desirable behaviour.
I hope that cases like this do more than make trainers and administrators shake their heads. We must examine what we are doing in our own agencies and ask our selves if we are truly ‘training’ our officers to prepare them for the field, or if we are going through the motions, meeting the ‘minimum standards’ and setting our officers up to fail.
We have been getting some great feedback and great reviews on If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street. If you do not have a copy yet go to www.warriorspiritbooks.com and order one today.