A request for discussion and education regarding how to effectively reform law enforcement so that all can experience equal treatment under the law.
TL;DR – In the military, restraint and use of force was managed through heavy training with repetition, repetition, repetition. Diverting funds from militarization of police forces to education programs creating specialized teams that focus on de-escalation, mental health, or domestic violence could possibly decrease unnecessary force. Also, like military personnel, rotations of duties from patrolling, admin, etc, could decrease stress on officers. Mental health programs for officers should also be considered mandatory, especially for tasks forces that experience high operational tempo. (See below what I mean by mental health) Looking for discussion on defunding vs. appropriate funding. Thank you.
For the past week, veterans from the r/ContinueToServe group have been out protesting in solidarity with the BLM movement, opposing the activation of military troops in US cities, and standing for those on active duty who are unable to protest or deny orders of mobilization.
This post is truly meant to bring about discussion and discourse and not division. As conversations have occurred over the past week, learning about various viewpoints has been enlightening and educational for all parties involved. During these discussions, defunding the police has been a recurring topic. However, when I think about the police and the future of effective, efficient, and equal law enforcement, I can’t help but think back to the many trainings I received while I was on active duty and how that prepared us for the stringent ROE’s, rules of engagement, we were required to follow while in Afghanistan.
One of those trainings involved us being in a simulated environment. Like a movie set, it was a small village built to represent the many villages in Afghanistan. Our mission during this simulation was to move an injured local to the extraction point during a full on riot. Over 100 villagers (actors) were yelling in Dari (Persian language), throwing rocks at the building we were trapped in, giving us a very real enactment of anger and life-threatening danger. We were not allowed to use our M16 or M4 rifles (which were loaded with paint rounds). Even though it was a training simulator, it felt real. The anger felt real. The danger felt real. The lack of control felt real. We completed this mission, through the chaos, with no further injury or casualties, but that training stuck with me throughout my deployment. Trainings like that helped me to maintain trigger discipline and to know if and when it was time to switch off the safety on my rifle.
As part of military training, in boot camp and various other trainers, the gas chambers are used to give us the experience of the effects of tear gas. This is done not as punishment, but like the riot simulation mentioned above, it is done to prepare us. It is done to train us for what to expect so that when it happens in real life, we know how it feels and we know how to react.
Training is education. And education is the key to freedom, to equality, and to justice. While training may not eliminate all bias or racism, it is the beginning from which true reforms can be built. So in saying all this, I would love to know more about why citizens think defunding the police would be better than changing how funds are used to train our police forces?
A working theory in my mind is that we have SWAT teams, negotiation teams, chemical/biological teams, and emergency reaction teams on police forces. Why then, can we not have mental health teams, domestic violence teams, or specialized de-escalation teams? Why could we not have special teams, requiring specific training, education requirements, and programs to give police officers options as to where their service can expand to? As an example, a nurse, one can go into any number of fields: social work, nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, research, psychology, etc. Specializing police to specific fields could help to solve issues. For instance, when someone is calling 911 because of a possible suicide with a weapon, utilizing police officers with a focus on psychology and mental health could be utilized to deescalate the situation without immediately reaching for their weapon when the person steps outside of their domain or when police enter. Integrating suicide hotlines, which already exist, could also help to deescalate by communicating with the individual who is hopeless and struggling to cling to life. This could also give the police a better idea of what they are walking into, which could in turn, decrease threat risk.
Mental health of officers is another important component of reform that must be addressed. Often when mental health is mentioned, people automatically jump to words like crazy, out of control, or insane. That’s not what I mean. The reality is, the brain is like any muscle in the body. When overworked, it affects reasoning, logic, bias, etc. It can make individuals more bitter, more angry, and yes, if we experience PTSD on the battlefields of war, you can be rest assured our police officers struggle with it at home. This is not an excuse for the actions of those who have harmed people in their custody. But as expressed by a fellow veteran during conversations this week, in the military, we rotate members in and out of active operations due to the toll it takes on the mind. The Army, at one point, was deploying members for 18+ months at a time, only to find out, it was not effective because of the negative effect it was having on its members. Typical rotations are now between 6-9 months. Police officers do not get these rotations. It is for this reason that perhaps officers should be required to do rotations within the police force itself. A combination of administrative work, community outreach, educational periods (i.e., time off from active patrolling and going to school with pay, like the GI Bill for veterans), etc. Policies could also change regarding how long shifts can be or how many hours can be worked per week, including side jobs that officers are eligible for regarding security (think construction sites on highways, professional sporting or concert events, etc.) This will ensure officers are not persistently overworked (whether by choice or not) and will assist in better decision-making when stressors occur. (It’s possible that many of these suggestions are already in place. I am not in law enforcement, so I do not know. Please comment if this is already happening.)
There is no doubt that treating citizens, whether criminal or not, must be done within the confines of the law. When a prisoner or person under arrest goes to a hospital, the medical staff cannot disregard their care because of their status. They will lose their license and possibly face jail time. Likewise, police should not be able to disregard the law and should not be protected by a partial and biased system when they do.
As previously stated, education is the key to all of this. Weapons training is important for a police force, but so too is the education on when to use it and how to handle a situation without using force. A common statement heard when treating PTSD for veterans is that we are trained to go to war, but we are not trained on how to come home. It has led to a devastating number of suicides and mental health issues. For the police departments across this country, when asking for reform, is it necessary to want to defund the police or is better to find the kinks in the system that are causing issues downstream? I’m not suggesting band-aids. I do not think some online trainer or an hour long class on de-escalation is effective. I’m talking about real education, real long-term training, just like in the military, where if a Marine unit is not in combat, they are constantly training, and yes, that includes de-escalation, restraint, and care of enemy combatants in custody (for corpsmen especially).
Perhaps I’m biased because of my own privilege or maybe it’s because of my own service to the military. However, it seems that many of the police officers in DC and across the country are serving not because of a power trip or because they want to be in shootouts. They serve, because they felt called to serve, like firefighters, nurses, doctors, military personnel, etc. They want to protect their cities, their neighborhoods, their friends, their families. There is no doubt a culture exists within the law enforcement system that needs to be changed and reformed. Perhaps, instead of demolishing the entire system, we could rebuild it, so that those who honorably and so willingly stand and serve for our protection, can continue, so that all Americans can experience liberty, justice, and equal protections under the law. Education and reforms may not defeat racism as quick as we would hope, but it is surly a path to finding the peace we seek. Perhaps defunding the police is a short-term solution to a much larger issue. In times of unrest, rapid decisions and quick reactions could lead to more issues. Practical, well thought out solutions will be required for long-term reform to take hold.
Regardless of what reforms occur in the future, please know that as we are doing now, veterans will stand to hold to their oath to support and defend the Constitution. We will stand with the oppressed. We will not tolerate the rights of any citizen to be diminished. We stand with you. We stand with the BLM movement. We stand for Justice For All. We remember our oath.
What do you think? Please, if you’re for defunding the police, I welcome your reasons and look forward to necessary dialog. We want to learn. We want to be a part of the solution.