‘Use of force' data will be useful for police training

Deputy Chief Ken Miller has mostly the right reaction to a report that the use of force by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers is up 27 percent. He said the department is “a little concerned about that” and he acknowledges “public trust requires us to do our jobs as effectively as we can using the minimal amount of force….”

Citizens may be more than “a little concerned,” viewing the data from the perch of possible contact with an officer. As Jim Gronquist, a Charlotte lawyer and ACLU member, aptly noted, the report should be a “red flag” and spark an examination of whether CMPD training is as effective as it should be in clarifying when it's appropriate to use force – and when it is not.

Deputy Miller seemed to agree. He noted that the internal review is not only a way for the department to be proactive against misconduct but to also analyze its training in the use of force.

That's good to hear. It's also a sensible strategy, particularly now that new Police Chief Rodney Monroe has announced reorganization plans that will put more officers on the street. That will inevitably lead to more citizen contact with police and the possibility of more situations where force could be used.

Officers need appropriate training to make prudent decisions on when to use force, and how much force to use. That is essential in developing and maintaining public trust, and for the safety of police and citizens.

That's not to say that officers should shy away from using force when it's warranted. Law enforcement is dangerous work. Officers must do everything necessary to keep themselves safe from harm.

A separate report earlier this year showed more than 300 officers were assaulted on the job in 2007, and two were killed. More than two dozen assaults on officers involved guns. Police say the streets are simply more dangerous.

This new report showed less than 1 percent of the 505 times force was used against citizens in 2007 violated department policies. That's good. Still, just because policy allows an officer to use force doesn't mean that's the best way to resolve a conflict. Good training helps officers make sound decisions.

The report is no indictment of the police, and shouldn't be viewed as such. Officers must make split-second decisions that impact the public's safety and their own. That's part of the job. It's an awesome responsibility.

Those who do this work are to be admired. But they must have the tools and skills to do that job effectively. This report should help make sure they get them.