Is an officer with more experience fighting less likely to pull his gun?
That question struck me as I covered the trial of Officer Randall Kerrick last month. Capt. Mike Campagna, who used to head the training division, was on the witness stand, explaining how the department prepares recruits to be police officers. Most CMPD recruits, he told jurors, had never been in a fight.
The police department doesn’t hire candidates with a violent past. Still, a big part of the job is being ready to pursue and apprehend people who don’t want to go to jail and many officers have to learn, simply, how to win a fight.
In 2013, the 5-foot-7, 170-pound Kerrick found himself on a dark street, backpedaling as the 6-foot Jonathan Ferrell rapidly approached him. Although Ferrell was unarmed, Kerrick, who was charged with voluntary manslaughter, told jurors he feared the larger man would take his gun. Prosecutors say he panicked and fired 10 bullets into Ferrell. Defense Attorney George Laughrun said Kerrick’s training was inadequate: “You ought to be concerned about some training issues, because the training issues for CMPD are all over the place,” Laughrun told jurors in closing arguments.
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The trial ended with a hung jury. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said he would not re-prosecute Kerrick and charges were officially dropped on Wednesday.
Last week, Police Chief Kerr Putney gave interviews with reporters about the ramifications of Kerrick’s trial for the city and the department. Putney’s perspective was valuable, not just because he’s chief, but also because he’s a former trainer at the police academy and training issues came up repeatedly in the trial.
One thing he said was that officers being trained would see more confrontations and more fights.
They’ll get “a lot of scenario-based training, a lot of increased physicality to the training. You have some people internally who are saying they want more of it. Well, be careful what you wish for.”
CMPD spokesman Rob Tufano provided more information about what officers will receiving in training.
“It will include role-play and real-life scenario-based exercises that will stress de-escalation in situations involving individuals who are not compliant,” Tufano said in an e-mail.
Tufano said the department will make greater use of the Firearms Training Simulator, measuring officers’ responses and giving “specific feedback from trainers that will highlight deficiencies and provide recommendations to improve performance.”
The department will also take “appropriate corrective measures” for officers who repeatedly don’t meet standards.
Putney said he thinks the increased repetitions will help officers respond better in real life.
“We should be able to engage resistant people,” Putney said. “And we should be able to appropriately defend ourselves and our positions. That’s what we do.”