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Submitted 5:31 p.m.
04.29.2015
Letter to the Editor

Proper police training must have officers struggle with the moral responsibility of the use of deadly force...”

Chief David Couper of Madison, WI

David Simon hits the proverbial nail on the head. As another example, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report concerning the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) tackles a common misconception many police have internalized: the belief that fear of life justifies the use of deadly force.

From the report:

“The dictum ‘in fear for my life’ was the most common theme throughout all of our conversations with PPD officers and sergeants regarding deadly force policy. Yet, notably, the word ‘fear’ does not appear in PPD’s [use of deadly force policy] nor is it supported by current case law. As noted in the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Deorle v. Rutherford, a simple statement that an officer is in fear for his life is not an objective factor.”

What the DOJ found in Philadelphia was that officers were relying on the simple dictate – “if I fear, I can shoot.” And it’s wrong.

This may be part of the problem along with adequate training and moral leadership, two factors that have led police to a “slippery slope of violence,” a hastiness to use deadly force to control conflict or resistance.

Proper police training must have officers struggle with the moral responsibility of the use of deadly force and then their leaders must model and reinforce this responsibility – “We, the police, save lives, not take them” and “When I must use deadly force, I know I will also become a victim.”

I would suggest that top police leaders need to have a hands-on relationship with their department’s instruction and training and clearly set forth their expectations which should be that police under their commands use great restraint in the decision to use deadly force.

 
These letters written in response to
Q&A April 29, 2015
Freddie Gray, the drug war, and the decline of “real policing.”