Recently, an Australian woman was shot and killed in a tragic incident. She had called 911 and was attempting to speak to the responding officers when she was killed. I make no judgment here. Not having been there at the time, not having seen what actually happened, I have no way of knowing the full facts. Only those who were present know exactly what transpired, though due to human frailty, each person on the scene would have at least a slightly different version of events.
In addition, the news media receives limited details, which may or may not reflect the actual circumstances of the incident. I relate all of the above to make clear what I am going to write is not specifically about this or any other incident, but to comment on a general perception that some officers may be too quick to use lethal force. That may be true, but there may be a specific reason behind it.
We can assume that in some cases, the officers that have used lethal force, in hindsight, would have reacted differently. In some cases, the officers in question could be living with the pain of having acted erroneously for the rest of their lives. Unlike the criminal who may kill without remorse, these officers, almost unanimously, have come to the job with the intent to serve and protect. The last thing they would want to do is to harm an innocent civilian.
I believe the majority of these incidents could be avoided by rigorous and innovative training. Having been in the military and around guns for most of my life, I understand well the difference between the theory of situation control and the practice of firearm use in the controlled environment of a practice range. Even in the military with basic training and advanced combat schooling, most of us are not prepared for the reality of facing another human being who may or not be a threat. As soldiers, we were primarily trained to attack an identifiable enemy. It takes a lot of intense training to be dispassionately observant under stress and to accurately assess the “threat or no threat” of a potentially lethal situation. It takes a considerable amount of funds and time to properly train an individual to overcome his natural “fight or flight” instinct and rapidly and correctly assess the constantly changing dynamics of an encounter with even the most seemingly innocent of civilians.
Most of us have not experienced the constant stress of a person in front of us, possibly turning from friendly to terribly violent within seconds. We tend to think of military troops on patrol or in house-to-house warfare, yet our police officers have the same potential for a sudden ambush that any soldier does.
In many law enforcement departments, especially in larger cities, training may be fully adequate. I certainly hope so. Many departments may either not have the money or be unwilling to spend the amount required for a sufficient level of training. Ultimately, it is the taxpayer’s responsibility that the funding is provided. In order for the public to agree, they would need to understand the high level of competence such training could provide. This sort of training exercises would also need to be repeated and updated at intervals throughout a career.
Robocop was a fantasy movie about an attempt to create the perfect cop. He only needed a properly programmed computer chip to be perfect. Humans need training to achieve flawless performance, and that costs money. When we say we “back the blue,” are we willing to put our money where our mouth is?