Letter to the Editor- Police and community working together to avoid extrajudicial killing

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As a former service member in the U.S. Navy with ten years of faithful service, as well as a resident of the great city of El Cajon, California, I am concerned about the way recent police-involved shootings have seemingly created a divide between Black America and the police.  It seems like over the past year there has been a marked increase in the number of Black people being killed by police officers and in the media coverage these shootings receive.

As a former service member in the U.S. Navy with ten years of faithful service, as well as a resident of the great city of El Cajon, California, I am concerned about the way recent police-involved shootings have seemingly created a divide between Black America and the police.  It seems like over the past year there has been a marked increase in the number of Black people being killed by police officers and in the media coverage these shootings receive. I am concerned about the role social media plays in the reporting of false and biased information (and often focusing on only the negative) in order to garner more views or likes. Lastly, I am concerned about society’s extreme disregard for law enforcement and society’s ignorance about the compliance law enforcement members must follow when responding to a call. As members of the El Cajon community, we need to work together to limit extrajudicial killings by the hands of the police. We can do this by educating citizens, revamping law enforcement de-escalation training and implementing a mandatory body camera policy for our police officers.

A 2015 Amnesty International report showed that whereas Blacks formed 13.2 percent of the total US population, they accounted for more than 27 percent of the reported total deaths that resulted from police shootings. Combatting the imbalanced number of Black people susceptible to police shootings requires cooperation from law enforcement and civilians. On the contrary, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has disclosed that an in the U.S. approximate 63 million individuals came into face to face contact with police in 2011 and less than one percent of those individuals reported use of excessive force. It is evident that this problem can easily be resolved within our community if we implement a few changes.  

Body cameras are a way of ensuring that the police readily collect and report accurate evidence when a police-involved shooting occurs. It is, however, alarming that our police officers do not use these cameras.  It appears eyewitnesses, in most cases, provide controversial evidence relating to a shooting incident because it is nearly impossible to differentiate the truth from fabrications. Researching and making follow-ups on the police shooting incident, therefore, becomes a challenge as it is to gather accurate evidence. At least nine states in the US lack laws that inhibit the use of lethal force when dealing with suspects (Amnesty Report, 2015). The lack of guidance in these states enable the police to apply lethal force as a first resort even if it is unnecessary, making it difficult for the police to justify their actions. Body cameras are likely to present a more accurate picture that can help understand the motivation of the police shootings during incidents. The implementation of body cameras within our community protect the police from misrepresentation and protect society from potential police misconduct.

Police de-escalation training should be reconstructed in the efforts of avoiding officer-involved shootings, especially when the victims are unarmed. The military, for instance, has six different de-escalating tactics which are always used in gaining compliance and overpowering the opponent tactically. However, the military is cautioned to only proceed to the application of the next level of de-escalating tactics only when they realize that the opponent is using the same tactical level used by the master-at-arms. I had the pleasure of speaking with a Master-at-Arms (military police officer), Petty Officer Second Class Joshua McConchie whose experience and expertise include criminal investigation, correctional duty, basic use of force training, room clearance tactics and security reaction force training. “If a suspect matches the Master-at-Arms’ level of force, the Master-at-Arms must then escalate to the next level to gain compliance. This would also apply if the Master-at-Arms’ level of use of force is ineffective to the suspect.” This tactical approach has played a vital role in enabling the military personnel to defend themselves against violent opponents and finally arrest them. Perhaps, this strategy could be adopted by our community law enforcement to enable the police force to gain more tactical experience that helps them arrest violent criminals instead of killing them has it being witnessed currently

The Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) report also recommended the need for training and supply of the necessary equipment to the police to assist them in the selection of appropriate alternative response when dealing with the public. The report also explains that officers trained on persuasion skills, verbal direction and use of command presence were less likely, as the report noted, to apply force at lower levels in dealing with criminals or suspects. An analysis of the training the police undertake can help reveal how the police understand the limitations and rights they should consider before they can apply the use of force.

Lastly, we need to renovate the methods used to teach our youth how to respect authority. If we implement police compliance education in our school’s curriculums it will provide guidance to our youth to help them understand what the police are expecting, as well as what should not be done in when encountered by the police. Perhaps the El Cajon Police Department could generate a presentation to facilitate a police compliance class to our students in the efforts of rebuilding the rapport between the citizens and law enforcement within our community. These methods are different, and possibly unorthodox to many, but the old way isn’t working. The police and government cannot resolve this issue on their own. If we want to avoid losing more neighbors at the hands of our police officers, we must be willing to contribute to change. Get involved by writing our congressmen/councilmembers, and by attending your local city council meetings. Help by expressing to them how imperative these changes are to saving lives and rebuilding the rapport between our community and the El Cajon Police Department.

Sabella A. Batey

El Cajon

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