Let’s debate new police tactics, not slogans

Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth, background, was shot in Houston.
Sheriff's Deputy Darren Goforth, background, was shot in Houston. AP

A year after Ferguson, the country is arguing over slogans – Black Lives Matter v. Cops’ Lives Matter v. All Lives Matter.

This angry debate over rhetoric misses the real, post-Ferguson issue for law enforcement: how police can better do their jobs to protect and serve, restore trust, and save more lives, including their own.

That’s not just my view. It’s the view of several hundred police professionals who have been meeting and talking since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Eric Garner’s death in New York, and many other incidents involving police use of lethal force.

“What we have learned from police chiefs across the country in the last year is that good practices in policing protect everyone’s lives... This is not an either/or question,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank.

The findings – put together in a just-released report – add up to a call for police to dramatically rethink training, attitude, and culture. Officers, for example, spend many hours learning how to shoot a gun, “but we spend much less time discussing the importance of de-escalation tactics and crisis intervention strategies,” the report notes.

Wexler notes that some conclusions may be difficult for law enforcement officials to accept.

No surprise there, given the spate of headlines about police officers murdered in Texas and Illinois. What has been labeled as the “cold-blooded assassination” of Deputy Darren Goforth, 47, in Harris County, Texas, is terrible to contemplate, as are other cases of officers gunned down in the line of duty.

But that should not stop the soul-searching that began in Ferguson and continues following the release of another video that shows two officers in Texas shooting and killing a man who appears to have his hands up.

As Daytona Beach Police Chief Michael Chitwood states in the report, “What we did 20 years ago is not good enough. Society has changed, and our job has changed. People are calling us because of poverty, inequity, and all these other issues. And our young men and young women have to be able to deal with that. It’s our job as leaders . . . to come up with a way to accomplish that mission.”

It will take more than slogans to perform that very difficult task in today’s complicated world.