In the United States, anyone charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But many people accused of crimes never make it to court or even to the police station. Too many police interactions end with suspects being shot and killed for dubious reasons. Naturally, these stories - many involving minority suspects - have strained relationships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they have sworn to protect.
Is there a better way to handle highly charged situations with suspects? The answer to that question is a clear "yes." In fact, hundreds of law enforcement officials met in Washington, D.C., last month to discuss new policies and principles that some hope will be adopted nationwide. The list of 30 principles was created after years of research by a group called the Police Executive Research Forum.
Many of these policies are common-sense measures designed to buy time, keep the situation from escalating and to avoid the use of deadly force. According to the New York Times, suggestions include:
- Police should immediately give first aid to someone who has been injured by the officer's use of force
- Policies justifying the use of force should be based on legal standards higher than those in use today
- When force is used, it should be proportional to the level of threat that officers are facing
- Police departments should abandon a rule authorizing the use of force when emotionally volatile suspects come within 21 feet of an officer, instead trying to buy time and exhaust other options first
- Police should use simple de-escalation techniques (often conversation) to keep suspects calm and to encourage peaceful surrender
As obvious as these suggestions may seem, they are not standard practice in many law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
Police officers have a dangerous and difficult job, and many officers have said that public scrutiny and criticism makes the job that much more difficult. But it is important to remember that, outside of a military setting, police officers are the only people legally authorized to kill other humans. No one should be given that much power without incredibly judicious oversight and scrutiny.