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Police Killings…

…or media-speak, “officer-involved shootings.” But these don’t include choking, taser, or blunt force trauma deaths. In any event, deaths and serious injuries as the result of law enforcement actions have occupied a huge amount of air time and bandwidth. To be sure, any death involving government officials is concerning, but I have to object to the level and direction of commentary and protest. The harangue is that deadly force used by police is a national and federal government issue. A death in Ferguson, Missouri spun off dozens or hundreds of protests around the country. To what purpose?

Of what possible concern is it to me that a suburb near St. Louis has problems with officer selection, training, and management and with that municipal government’s ability to fairly govern? What can I possibly do to change things in Ferguson or in Baltimore or in New York City? None of these incidents are the result of policies implemented by anyone I voted for or pay taxes to. Why are protesters in Seattle shouting their outrage to me? I can understand a response to a local tragedy, but to one half way or all the way across the continent? I cannot vote for a mayor or city council in Missouri.

By long political tradition the matter of law enforcement is a local responsibility. Despite the exponential growth in federal law enforcement since 9/11, policing is a city and county duty. The cities and the counties hire and train their officers, provide them with policies, manage their work, and deal with their poor performance or bad conduct. It is not the business of the citizens of Miami how employees of the City of Chicago do their jobs.

The misconduct I have seen reported in these recent deaths are the result, in my opinion, of poor training, poor selection, and poor management, by local officials duly elected by voters far away.

In recent decades the states have implemented training standards for officers, but not centralized training institutions. Missouri is like that where an individual can receive certification from any number of certified institutions usually colleges. Part of the training is the use of deadly force, particularly shoot-don’t-shoot situations. Trainees are run through realistic computerized video scenarios where a subject pulls a gun one time and a cell phone the next time. It’s all random. The idea is to teach when and when not to use deadly force.

Even in states which have their own academies, the local agencies do their own hiring. Even with state-wide standards it’s still up to the departmental selection committees who gets a job.

On to working the street it is up to the cities and counties, not the states and not the federal government, to hold officers accountable for conduct and performance. Having served in the police accountability field for three years as a civilian and as a law enforcement manager for 15 years I can report that reconstructing and evaluating conduct is a daunting task. But officers need to know that their work is subject to review, not the case in every department. Every department is not within the purview of every citizen across the country.

Other than being able to cut school and shouting in the streets with friends, of what possible use is a demonstration in Seattle against a local problem in Missouri or New York? 

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