It is critical for law enforcement leaders and trainers to take every opportunity to educated the media and politicians and provide correction and clarification on some of the myths, misconceptions and misunderstandings.
Myth: De-escalation is words, and always works.
De-escalation is a result not a single tactic, and it is certainly not just words. The subject(s) involved in the event play a significant role in de-escalating any situation. Not every situation can be de-escalated. De-escalation is the goal of almost every officer in every interaction. When de-escalation is accomplished it is the result of all the decisions, strategies and tactics from the time the call is received until it is concluded. De-escalation strategies include everything from the professional presence of the officers to the use of deadly force. In an active killer event for example, officers may have to use deadly force to de-escalate that event and stop the killing. De-escalation also means that the police walk away from the call in certain circumstances. As I have said before, “De-escalation is the wrong D for us to focus on. We need to continually teach and enhance officer’s Decision Making skills.”
Myth: An unarmed person is not a deadly threat.
The myth that an unarmed person cannot pose a deadly threat continues to be perpetuated. In 2018 there were 14,123 Murders in the U.S. Of those 672 were committed by offenders using Personal Weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.). There were also 9 by Drowning, 70 Strangulations and 90 Asphyxiations. Subjects who would be considered “unarmed” committed all, or most of these 841 murders. I am sure the families of these murder victims would strongly disagree with the notion that an unarmed person is not a deadly threat. The subjects who disarm and murder police officers with their own weapons would also likely be considered to be unarmed as they were not in possession of a weapon when they initiated the attack.
Myth: Police use of force, and especially deadly force is out of control.
Despite what television, movies and the media would have you believe, Use of Force and the use of deadly force is actually not that common. The research done to look at the prevalence of police use of force in North America shows that police use force beyond the mere application of handcuffs and low level control holds in less that 2% of the millions of interactions with the members of the public every year. About 0.00031% of all those police – public interactions result in the use of deadly force. Despite what mainstream media and some special interest groups would have everyone believe the police are not out beating and killing people at exorbitant rates. Does the use of excessive force occur? Yes. Are some of those uses of deadly force unjustifiable? Yes. Law enforcement like every other profession is made up of human beings. Some times humans make bad choices, and sometimes they cross into the realm of criminal behavior. Those situations are the ones that get a lot of attention, but they are extremely rare.
Myth: Police use of Choke Holds and Strangulation Techniques are common.
Vascular neck restraints utilized by agencies are not “choke holds” or “strangulation techniques”. Vascular neck restraints apply pressure to the sides of the neck to restrict blood flow to the brain. They are generally taught in incremental stages and are only used to render a subject unconscious in a small percentage of the applications. Vascular neck restraints have been extensively studied and safely applied in martial arts and law enforcement applications likely hundreds of thousands of times over the years. Respiratory neck restraints apply pressure to the trachea to restrict the flow of oxygen to the brain. Personally I am not aware of any agency in North America that teaches respiratory neck restraints. The tactic of kneeling on a subject’s neck is not a neck restraint.
We must do a better job of immediately and continually correcting both the media and the politicians when they attempt to perpetuate these myths and misunderstandings. Will all the politicians listen? No, but some will. Will they get it the first time? No, but they may get it after being corrected a number of times. Will the media cut that sound bite? Some will, but others will let it air. Will the haters and special interest groups change their position? No, but the average citizen who hears the truth will understand it and resonate with it.
It is important to address these issues with community members as well, but I caution about immediately jumping to the “facts” in your conversations with community members. First you need to build trust by listening and engaging in conversations about their perceptions, concerns, fears and priorities. If you are striving to win the hearts and minds of your community, remember to start with their Hearts, then work your way to the minds.
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