Police violence. In chaotic news scenes that might even include cops fighting for their very lives, the media uses the term to portray us as the enemy. Yet even when we’re talking about our acceptable use of force, it can be part of our vernacular. Ideally, I say that our use of force shouldn’t be “violent” at all. And I believe that we — and our government — can make this so. If we do, we’ll do much to chip away at the media’s recasting of us … and we’ll also increase our resiliency and gain more trust and respect in our communities.
Colonel Dave Grossman is a national leader in law enforcement tactical mindset training, perhaps the leader. I’ve attended his programs and read his publications and past comments on law enforcement’s apt response to violence — and that’s with superior violence. But think about it: minimally, this is a terrible public relations strategy.
While words do mean things, they mean different things to different people. Much of our law enforcement culture accepts the meaning of the word “violence” in a sort of contrary duality: if it’s not happening through us, except in times of reasonable self-defense, it’s wrong and illegal; but if we’re the ones doing it, except when it’s excessive, it’s acceptable.
I’d like to propose that when we are using lawful force, so long as we’re able to keep the negative emotions out of it — let’s not call it violence at all. And also, let’s try to quit performing our jobs in emotion-fueled ways that all too often make that word come to mind.
Have you ever been to a parenting seminar? They don’t talk about meeting your children’s intransigence with superior violence, right? Violence should never be a part of the parenting process. Why then are we allowing this word to describe our professional fieldwork?
Here’s another example. I like to watch mixed martial arts (MMA). Most of the time, what I see are in-control professionals who stick to the dispassionate skills that they’ve practiced ad nauseum in the gym. Emotionless, it looks professional and gives them the best chance of winning. Sometimes, though, I witness out-of-control, emotion-fueled, ass-whipping violence. It’s usually less effective, and boy, does it look different. Too many beat cops sometimes end up resorting to this type of anger-based violent response that some MMA athletes do, and that comes with many costs.
Police violence, my thesis for it here at least, is our less-
controlled and less professional version of use-of-force: it’s mostly legal but sometimes illegal, and it’s something we should endeavor to avoid. After all, it taints our professional motives into more personal ones.
It’s also lesser because from a resiliency perspective, it’s toxic, and it drains us, too. Finally, whether legal or illegal, unlike the video footage of calm, appropriately overpowering peace officers accomplishing the same tasks better, few things do more to undermine our professional image.
As opposed to better controlled, professional use of force, let’s call out police violence negatively as the emotional sinkhole that it is and something that we should try our best to avoid. It includes emotions like fear, anger and a loss of control — things that can predictably come from losing fights and from trying not to be murdered, too. And here’s our tragic reality: too many of those scenes escalate to that level because our employers haven’t invested in us like they should. Let me explain.
A friend of mine, Matt Domyancic, was a SWAT operator and fitness/defensive tactics instructor at a major agency. He’s done studies that show how, during stressful training scenarios, the average beat cop’s heart rate, auditory distortion, tunnel vision and more, remain elevated throughout such trainings. But with SWAT operators, while at first equally surprised, their autonomic nervous responses peak, but then settle back down to more normal levels, allowing these better trained LEOs to tactically consider their best moves for the eventual win. Their extra training actually inoculates them to stress so that they can achieve their objectives emotion-free.
If you’re not on a SWAT team, the last time any of you had to pass a physical fitness test was in the police academy. We are not required to be fit at all. According to the Journal of Preventive Medicine, our occupation has the highest level of obesity in the nation. In far too many volatile, dangerous confrontations out on the street, it’s a solitary beat cop, someone who is knowingly allowed to be very physically unfit and all too often someone with very little regular on-duty or off-duty fitness or defensive tactics training, who is authorized to give it his or her best shot.
Violence-prone troublemakers out on the street, however, if they size us up as someone who’s physically capable of making short work out of them, are more apt to just cuff-up. Just like the good parent or the business-like MMA fighter, we can avoid resorting to emotion-infused violence, and even any use-of-force whatsoever, simply by being better prepared than our adversaries.
Cops know this, but only about half do something about it. They willingly spend regular off-duty time to maintain both their physical and their emotional fitness to levels beyond the within-policy-but-objectively-insufficient, minimal acceptable standards of their employer. It shouldn’t be like this.
We do need to quit helping along the media narrative that one of law enforcement’s common tools is violence. Through our greater focus on keeping emotions out of it, law enforcement’s justified use of force can be more easily kept to a nonviolent minimal necessity. Then, policy wise, we should require documentation and objective review and then track patterns. On top of the increased professionalism and better community relations optics, when we avoid these accumulating, unwise, emotional investments, we’ll decrease much of the costly job-caused attrition that eventually leads to LEO burnout.
Tragically, your employer (ahem, our government) apparently doesn’t care enough about those costs to you, your family, our profession and our communities, though. If they did, they would have done something about it a long time ago. Our charge is to protect and serve. Since physical fitness and a measurable baseline of superior tactical capacity are obvious necessities for this, both should be occupational requirements nationwide. The public assumes they are, but that’s a charade. And because they should be required, just like in the military and fire services, achieving and maintaining these necessary aptitudes to properly do our jobs should be compensated — meaning that you should be paid for working out and training to stay optimally fit, tactically ready and emotionally well.
Note the word, “should.” And that’s how we and our government could end police violence now.
Dave Edmonds, APB’s contributing editor, is a retired captain (Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, California) and 34-year veteran. His experiences include SWAT, FTO, sex crimes, homicide, polygraph and internal affairs. He is the founder and director of the free LEO fitness and wellness membership nonprofit 360ARMOR (360armor.org), and a powerful, unique police chaplaincy model that you can have in your own community (lecf.org). Dave welcomes your calls at (650) 360-1514 or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.