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BACK OF THE BOOK – Disengagement


July 29, 2015
By Robert Lunney

Police in the United States are dealing with a crisis of public confidence on the use of deadly force, with overtones of racism, in a notorious series of fatal shootings, most recorded on video.

To name a few: The killing of a 12-year-old boy with a pellet gun by a police officer in Cleveland OH; the shooting of an unarmed man in Charleston SC fleeing from police after being called upon to account for himself; and the fatal shooting of a suspected bicycle thief (mistaken identity as it turned out) in Gardena CA, a jaw dropping display of questionable judgment by police officers recorded on a video just lately released by the court.

Progressive police leaders in the United States are keenly aware of the threat to police legitimacy and slipping public support. Make no mistake; the crisis faced by policing in the U.S. is contagious, and Canadian policing is in jeopardy because of our adoption of American training materials.

My generation of police leaders is responsible for the current state of risk regarding use of force training. Despite a stated commitment to community policing and some creditable development of use of force models, we unwittingly opened the door to a portfolio of tactical training materials introduced by commercially inspired “experts” in officer safety that led to misleading beliefs and aggressive militaristic tactics. Much of this problematic content is contained in training modules and videos developed in the United States, where laws and cultural mores on firearms and deadly force differ distinctly from Canada.

Before Canadian policing falls prey to the unfortunate outcomes suffered by policing south of the border, (some would say it already has), all U.S. training films and simulation programs regarding use of deadly force and defense against edged weapons should be withdrawn from Canadian police training curriculums forthwith. They should be replaced by Canadian produced training aids reflecting the policing philosophy of this country.

Canadian police officers, either on their own or through sponsorship, have often attended use of force training offered by private contractors in the U.S. While attendance probably cannot be prohibited, it should certainly be discouraged. The divergence of policy and practice is now too wide and insoluble. Instruction modules developed by home-grown police trainers and consultants steeped in the ethos of Canadian policing should be given exclusive preference.

Disengagement is the first priority, but just the beginning. Deadly force is far too critical an issue to be left to simple solutions. A more comprehensive process must involve a review of policing philosophy, strategy, education, training and accountability. But that is another story.