When Did Debriefing Police Actions Become Taboo?

Several days ago, I posted on social media, a story of police officer who confronted a carjacker literally as he was stealing a car with an infant inside. They shot and killed him when he wouldn’t drop his gun. From what I understand, he didn’t shoot at the officers, he just wouldn’t obey commands. The problem is, they also shot and injured the infant.

The incident occurred in a busy gas station, while the infant’s mother was getting gas. Yes, the officers didn’t know the baby was even in the car. Yes they wouldn’t intentionally shoot a baby. The principles I will mention account for being unaware and accidents.

I debriefed the event from the aspect of training and our tactical decision-making principles. I said the officers appeared to discount some very basic principles that police must operate under to fulfill our mission, our role, and to be within our necessary parameters. One of the principles is the Safety Priorities. Another is the fourth firearm safety rule, be certain of your target and beyond.

I enjoy discourse and educating the general public and when I post these type of stories I get a lot of opportunity to educate, if you know what I mean. I am used to unknowing people (general public) telling me I must hate police, that I don’t know anything, even that I should do a ride along to see what police do. But I don’t expect it from people in law enforcement.

One commenter called me an “armchair quarterback” and shouldn’t make judgements if I wasn’t there. I told him I presumed he had no direct experience in policing, based on this “typical” comment, but he told me he had 15 years LE experience and is an NRA firearms instructor.

I told him I was surprised that with his experience he didn’t know about basic police decision making concepts and tactics. I asked him if, being a firearms instructor, he was concerned about the officers violating a basic safety rule that is drilled into officers one day one of academy firearms instruction. I still await his answer.

His comment started me thinking. (Yes, sometimes, I think. Kind of.) If he is an officer, and if he is an instructor, why does he think debriefing and critiquing police uses of force is somehow taboo and off limits? Since when did we stop looking at incidents to determine if, and how, we are operating based on our training and best practices?

I have also noticed this hesitancy to comment on performance in the general world of policing and police events. We have this “well, I wasn’t there, so I can’t say anything about it.” (This usually means we think something was done wrong). I notice the obviously appropriate use of force events get a lot of “strong work!” and “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”.

Half of the problem policing is having today is because we aren’t showing and telling the newer generations of officer what is acceptable, what is correct, and what is out of bounds, for their decision-making education. It seems we don’t want to or feel we can’t critique performance. I believe it is because we feel so under constant attack from the media and those who are anti police that we don’t want to “pile on”. This trend is dangerous and runs counter to the role and purpose of police training and trainers.

Trainers serve as mentors, teachers, and when needed, correctors. Much like the nuns with their rulers, we provide the psychic “smack” to correct behavior that doesn’t benefit our mission, or public safety. Training is how we develop the correct mindset, decisions, and actions in our officers. If we look at every situation and just say, “Oh well, nothing to say about this”, we are leaving police performance and decision making to chance. Debriefing incidents is critical to learning what works and what doesn’t. We should critique everything we do down to how we opened the door of the convenience store with our gun hand instead of our support/weak/off hand.

And about the whole firearms rules thing. Since that guy won’t respond I will put this to you. Is that rule meant only for the training environment? Is it only good on the range? Do we not worry about hostages when we need to take a hostage shot? Do we not worry about the house behind the suspect with a gun? You know the one where they are having a child’s birthday party at the moment?

His apparent disconnect between what we teach officers and what we expect them to do sparked some consideration of discussions I have had in the past. He made me realize that we in fact do have a double standard going on. Think about how we drill firearms safety and concepts into officers in the training environment then don’t even think about how they violate those rules in real life events.

We instill rules and concepts in training because they are relevant for real world actions. We rarely have rules just for the training grounds. One of the rules the trainers in my agency had was, “don’t teach people to do things in training we don’t want them to do in real life.” Conversely, if we train people to do things, we should expect them to, and hold them accountable to, do them in real life.

What this commenter’s line of thinking implies is that we will be very careful and safe when we are only around other officers, but we don’t need to exercise care and concern around the general public.

If we are not going to hold officers accountable and expect them to operate at a certain level of training, we should stop training altogether. We train to increase performance and decrease liability. But if we will not require improved performance, we will increase our liability. People will expect us to be “the best trained” but we won’t act like it. We will shoot babies. Police officers can make mistakes like that without any formal training. And it will be more excusable than to tell the public we are the best trained we have ever been as we shoot them and their kids.

Critiquing police activity in order to improve performance is a primary role of trainers and a primary reason for training. We can never stop looking at our actions and questioning whether we did the best we could for the benefit of our customers.

#bebetter #humancenteredprinciplebased #safetypriorities #sorryyourenotnumberone