Help us reform police use of force.

A New Reality for Cops

The public now expects officers to be competent in use of force.

Times have changed. If there was any lingering doubt, the guilty verdict on all counts in the trial of Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer who mistakenly drew her handgun instead of her taser and shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last April should put it to bed forever. 

This was not the first time that a police officer has pulled a firearm instead of a taser. It is also not the first time the officer has been prosecuted. This is the first time, to our knowledge, that the persons involved in the case have become national household names, there was zero dispute that the shooting was an unintentional, if egregious, mistake, and that the entire nation has waited with bated breath on the outcome of the jury’s verdict.

Staying out of the many related political and sociology discussions here, the new reality is that 24/7 cable news, social media, body cams, and video cameras on cell phones have changed the game—forever. The days when police reports defined what happened during use-of-force events are over. Virtually everything now happens on video and everything that occurs will be forensically pulled apart after the fact by critics numbering in the millions.

It is easy to get lost in discussions about the ignorance of the masses who do not understand the challenges of policing, the effects of high stress environments, or the many factors, such as capture error, that contribute to operational performance in stressful settings. These and other related points are important, as is educating the public and public officials on human performance under stress. However, the fact remains that the critics are citizens. Citizens sit on jurys; citizens vote; and the officials they elect both make and enforce laws and policies.

It is also easy to ignore some very ugly, but equally important truths.

While there are many highly skilled law enforcement officers, it is a cold, hard reality that there is no systemic requirement to be competent in use-of-force skills in order to be a police officer. Similarly, while there are many superb and extraordinarily dedicated police trainers, police training, in the aggregate, is simply not capable of either developing, or maintaining officers who are competent in use of force. The really competent ones mostly got there on their own.

This is not because cops are screwed up. Some are, of course, just like with any other profession. However, the real problem is that the standard methods of training and proficiency measurement are archaic and, quite frankly, just don’t work.

This isn’t conjecture. We know they don’t work. It is a matter of scientific certainty. Our founders have spent decades researching this topic and looking for solutions. Our founding member published the first serious book on the issue (Building Shooters, 2016) and spent the past six years developing a new training system that cuts to the heart of Officer Potter’s error. Police need to think before, during, and after they shoot, not simply perform skills on autopilot.

Don’t take our word for it though. For but one reference, see the 2020 report from International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training here. The simple fact is that how training in use-of-force skills is delivered does not line up with how people learn and retain competency, so for the most part they don’t—because they can’t.

We live in a new era now, one where the public expects to see, on video, what police officers do when they use force—and to approve of it.

In this new world, law enforcement agencies continuing to use training methods that are proven not to work and qualifications that are demonstrably irrelevant to job performance is simply no longer acceptable.

A version of this article was previously published on buildingshooters.com.

Your donation can make police reform a reality

If it won’t have real-world impacts, then we aren’t out doing it.

Please see below for a summary of the work that we or our related organizations are involved in.

Recent and Ongoing Projects

State of New York – Department of Criminal Justice Police Academy Curriculum Development Project:

Helping to insert thinking, decision-making, and de-escalation as integral components of academy level police firearms training in New York State.

See an article about our impact on Page 42 of the recent Chief’s Chronicle here:

See the public presentation from New York’s Department of Criminal Justice Services on the academy firearms program development starting at minute 49 in the video posted here.

State of New York – Department of Criminal Justice Instructor Development Workshop:

Presenting on the application of brain science to adult learning, and providing an overview and the basis of design for the new academy-level firearms training program that is currently in development.

Cities of Syracuse and Ithaca, New York – Training and Equipment Provision:

With funding from Saving Lives USA, Syracuse and Ithaca New York Police Departments will be receiving training and equipment during an upcoming event this November to put their officers on the leading edge of decision making and de-escalation capability.  More information to follow.

 

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With your help we can make every cop in America train and qualify in de-escalation of deadly force.