Words cannot express the continuous exhaustion and grief I feel over the constant killing of innocent black people at the hands of those who have vowed to protect and serve us. I believe that the collective soul of black people experiences pain each time a story breaks of a police-involved shooting of an innocent black person. This time, the precious life that was stolen from her family and community while playing video games with her nephew was Atatiana Jefferson, in Forth Worth, Texas. The officer involved in the shooting, Aaron Dean, has been arrested and charged with murder. Now the black community will continue our tradition of collectively waiting to exhale until we hear a guilty verdict.
The purpose of this post is not to relive or review the most recent police shooting involving Atatiana. A simple Google search will give you all the information you need concerning that case. However, this post will attempt to answer the perennial question: why does this continue to happen?
There are many explanations as to why we see a disproportionate amount of police killing people of color. This can range from the origins of policing as slave patrols, minority threat theory, racial profiling, disrespectful communication patterns, and a solid dose of pure racism. While all those explanations are undoubtedly true, I would like to focus on another reason why police function in this manner – their training.
One of the most overlooked facts about policing is that they are trained to kill more than anything else. In 2013 the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Training Academies released their findings of 664 state and local law enforcement academies in the United States. The chart below displays the average hours spent on various training topics:
It is easy to notice the discrepancy in training focus. Police officers spend the most time (71 hrs) on firearm skills and defensive tactics (60 hrs). In the self-improvement category, officers spend only 8 hours on ethics and integrity, 6 hours on stress management, and 11 hours on professionalism. In that same category, 49 hours focus on health and fitness. This study also stated that police academies have increased firearms training since 2006, which is surprising because policing is now the safest it's been in the last 50 years. This is probably because news media outlets have increased their coverage of officer-involved deaths - giving a false impression that the job has become more dangerous.
After examining this data, it should come as no surprise why many police officers shoot first and cry later. It should also come as no surprise why many officers seem to not handle stress well, have questionable ethics and integrity, and may lack professionalism when engaging with communities of color. Priority is placed on training officers to kill rather than “protect and serve.”
The study from BJS also included data on community policing tactics:
Here, you will quickly notice only 12 hours of cultural diversity/human relations, and the 9 hours of conflict management are not close to the 71 hours of firearms training. Additionally, you'll see that the time spent on special topics such as mental illness (10 hrs), victim response (5 hrs), hate crime (3 hrs), sexual harassment (3 hrs), and human trafficking (3 hrs) still does not meet half the time spent on firearms training – even when added together. You’ll also observe that, overall, police academies are less likely to cover many of the special topics.
The training of officers in this country paired with racial biases leads to increased police violence on black and brown bodies. Yes, if police officers are to be responsible for the use of deadly force, they should be well trained with that equipment. However, that is not the only aspect of their job. Self-improvement and community policing should be a training focal point that is equal to or more than firearms training. I think we can all agree that police officers know how to use their weapons very well – perhaps too well. Imagine what 71 hours for each category of ethics and integrity, stress management, professionalism, cultural diversity, and conflict management would look like?
This is not the only solution to the issues we see (because most of it is systemic) and should not be treated as such. I have spoken with family and friends who are in law enforcement (black and white), and they ALL agreed that police need more training in many areas. Perhaps this is the way policing is meant to function. Maybe this could lead to less fatal interactions with police – who knows.
One thing I know for sure is that practice makes perfect (killers).