Are there changes that could stop shootings of unarmed citizens?

NYPD Police Academy

As I’ve explored various issues for the People Power series, I’ve come up with a side issue that doesn’t quite fit with the theme of those posts though it’s relevant to the overall topics so I’m interrupting the PP series to throw in some thoughts and questions about the issue of police shootings and why some remedies aren’t being pursued.

For several years I’ve been running into articles occasionally about former military people who’ve joined the police after coming home.  In some cases the vet has shot someone just to wound and sometimes it’s been vets who are in trouble with their department for either failing to shoot or for only wounding.

In each case the big mention that gets my attention is military training and how they’re taught to do more of an evaluation and NOT to shoot as the first instinct, nor to kill as the first objective.  Police training, on the other hand, is to shoot first and think later and apparently always to shoot to kill.

As we keep following along in horror as unarmed person after unarmed person is killed by the police*, I keep wondering why I’m not seeing a big movement for changing the police training to follow the military example.  I’ve long said “you can’t legislate people’s hearts” and in the same way, I understand that changing the training will not change blatant racists in police departments.

But many stories involve police officers who are mostly just afraid and in fear instinctually use the shoot-to-kill training.  So it seems a shift in training could eliminate a significant percentage of the killings of unarmed citizens.  Some departments have added more on de-escalation techniques to the training but there doesn’t seem to be a widespread movement to change the training across-the-board.

All of this falls much more heavily on Blacks (and I suspect Hispanics but I’ve found far less discussion…) so changing the training is just one piece.  I’m also wondering why they aren’t doing more psychological screening in hiring to try to screen out blatant racists.  And then more gender and racial sensitivity training to reduce unconscious bias.

These changes seem so “duh” to me, I’m puzzled that (1) among those who are outraged about the unjustified shootings of so many unarmed Blacks they keep saying “this needs to change” but I’m not seeing suggestions like this for how and (2) among the many things I keep reading from various Democratic candidates so far I’m not seeing any of them making such practical proposals either–if they address this issue at all [noting Marianne Williamson as an exception].

Since police departments are locally run, federal action may be harder to get.  The better way to push for change might be concerted community efforts; change police academies and policies one city at a time.  Often when a few departments have adopted changes and can show improved statistics, the change begins to spread. NYPD seems to have done more than most so I’m thinking some focus on changing even more there….

Am I missing something here? Or just not landing on the right articles when I “google”?  Or just nuts to think these ideas would be worth pursuing?

* I’m not stating Black citizens till below because this shoot to kill directive leads to deaths in a wider spectrum; farther down in the post I get to the racism issue.

3 thoughts on “Are there changes that could stop shootings of unarmed citizens?

  1. An interesting article Leigh.. and again its the sign of the times.. Shoot first ask questions later.. I think Fear generates alot of these actions.. But then here in the UK our police mainly do not carry guns unless special forces.. I once came across a graph on the internet.. and the amount of people killed via our police in one year amounted to people killed in a week via the USA or something of that nature, It was a HUGE difference..
    I am so pleased we do not have guns like in America..

    • Yes, I’ve long thought England organized this much better and the no guns for most police idea makes so much sense… And I don’t think any place outside a war zone has as many shooting deaths as we do. But yes, lots of buried stuff barreling to the surface these days. I just try to breathe into and hold my space of peace and vision of an evolving better world.

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