Article 059 – 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 is 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 and 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. A few are, of course, just like with any other profession, but 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. We have spent decades researching this topic and looking for solutions. We published the first serious book on the issue (Building Shooters, 2016) and have spent the past six years developing a revolutionary new training system that cuts to the heart of Officer Potter’s error. Police need to think when they shoot, not simply perform skills on autopilot, and we have cracked the code on how to make this happen affordably, and at scale.
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.