Let me begin by saying that in no way do I take the risks of being a police officer lightly. I know, first hand, the feeling of being called to the scene of an armed robbery, of chasing a fleeing suspect down a dark alley without back up and kissing my girls good night with a promise of returning home safely when they awoke. I created the analogy between the game of football and law enforcement to help better understand the meaning behind the Graham v. Connor Supreme Court case.
The Supreme Court case Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 104 L.Ed 2d 443, 190 S.Ct. 1865 (1989) created the standard that all law enforcement officers must follow in the use of any type of force against a citizen in the United States. The Supreme Court stated, “All claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force – deadly or not- in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure’ of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its ‘reasonableness’ approach”. The Court stated, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments, in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
So, to put this into language that made sense to me, I likened these findings to the game of football.
1. The commitment to wear the uniform can mean risking their lives.
There are some athletes that play their entire career without injury and some law enforcement officers that never have to fire their gun. There are athletes that endure career ending injuries and officers that struggle with incapacitating pain. Both can experience the lingering mental effects of an event gone wrong, like a concussion or PTSD. In more serious cases, athletes and officers, alike, can experience debilitating injuries like a hit that causes paralysis or a gunshot wound that does the same. And in the worst cases, the football player can be met with accidental death from heart failure and the officer can be killed by a gunshot wound.
In both professions, the individual accepts the risks associated with their career choice. They put their bodies and minds in harm’s way. The deteriorating relations between law enforcement and civilians have heightened the risk for officers to a frightening level. In my 30 + years of law enforcement experience, never have I seen a climate such as this. Officers are being targeted, some say hunted, but they still put on their uniforms each day and put their lives on the line to protect and serve.
2. Both operate in a complex, fast moving, tense and rapidly evolving environment.
The argument can be made that civilians don’t understand what it is like to operate in the type of environment football players or police officers work in. For example, a quarterback has to check down each potential offensive option before throwing the ball while the offensive line is crumbling or an officer that pulls a driver over on a traffic stop and finds a weapon in their lap. Each professional must make the best decision in the moment. They must weigh their options, evaluate the perceived threat and act in a way to control the situation and generate the desired outcome.
I agree that, for those who have never been in this type of environment, it is difficult to understand the thoughts and emotions that take place at the time. But, as law enforcement professionals, it is our job to allow civilians to understand. If civilians are able to voice their opinions, in regards to reasonable responses to resistance when viewing a specific scenario, then they become an empowered part of the conversation.
3. Football players and law enforcement officers are highly trained professionals.
It is undeniable that football players devote uncountable hours to physical and mental training. From working out at the gym, cross training and executing plays to learning new plays, watching film and studying their opponents moves. These athletes would be unable to do their jobs effectively without ritual training. Law enforcement officers are the same. They study their environment, learn about the cases and the suspects they are pursuing and study, perfect and implement use of force techniques. Their continual training is a necessity for their safety as well as enabling them to safely protect and serve civilians.
The training of law enforcement officers and football players is similar in another, rather disturbing way. Both groups of professionals are trained using different methods, teaching different techniques and learning different game plans. Now, for the game of football, this is necessary for each team to have a chance at beating their opponents. While each team is trained differently, they all know and observe the same basic rules of the game. They know what constitutes a foul, they know the penalties associated with committing a foul and everyone has made an agreement to follow these basic rules. For the law enforcement community, this is not the case. Keep this thought in the back of your mind while reading the rest of this blog post, as it is critical and will be revisited at the end.
4. The rules are the rules regardless – often we don’t even know who is under the helmet.
Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve civilians, regardless of race, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. The individual motives of some officers have come into question, with the recent release of cell phone videos, images and accounts given by civilian bystanders. While I refuse to comment on the actions of a few, I will firmly state that law enforcement officers have all taken the oath to protect and serve and the vast majority fulfill that oath daily and to the best of their abilities.
The game of football, too, has clearly defined rules established to protect the players. These rules apply to every player and coach regardless of race, age, entity, etc. Many times we are unable to distinguish who the player is under the helmet. As with individual law enforcement officers, the actions of a few football players, referees and coaches come to question on a seemingly regular basis. But, in the end, each person involved in the game has committed to play by the rules as they have been established.
5. Everyone understands the rules, but fairness can depend on the team you’re cheering for.
As stated in my first blog post, nearly everyone has watched a football game and while some understand the rules better than others, we all can agree that when we see someone commit a foul, like taking a player down by their facemask, we know that it is wrong. It can also be said that the reasonableness of the penalty varies depending on which side of the stadium you are sitting, home or away.
The same can be said for the law enforcement community. Based on the results of over 60,000 law enforcement and civilian surveys, there is very little disagreement between what citizens and trained officers believe are “objectively reasonable” responses when viewing the exact same scenario regardless of race, age or gender. In other words, people instinctively know what is reasonable when they see it. In fact, current survey data reveals less than a 1% variance regarding responses that are considered reasonable when an officer is confronted by a suspect using hands, fists, feet, knives or a firearm to seriously injure or kill. However, the term “reasonably objective” is subject to individual interpretation.
Here in lies the critical, life threatening difference between the game of football and the law enforcement community, our officers are not all operating by a basic set of rules.
The perceived threat of an individual’s actions is what drives the officer’s response. But what are standard, reasonable responses to specific situations? Currently, Graham v. Connor offers the only guidance, that the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene. This means that police officers are attempting to perform their jobs with no clearly established baseline. They are risking their lives and trying to protect ours with no national guidelines or basic rules for what constitutes reasonable responses to resistance. And this is why Response to Resistance was formed.
The current national turmoil regarding the purported disproportionate use of force by law enforcement against minorities is fueled by the fact that there is not a hard and fast definition of what constitutes “objectively reasonable force” or how “reasonable officers” respond to resistance, assault and aggression as mandated by the US Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor.
As civilians and officers, you have a rare opportunity to make your voice heard, to demand national guidelines for reasonable use of force. By taking the Response to Resistance survey you can be part of a grass roots effort to support the public safety community and aid their efforts to safeguard the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. The goal is to obtain over 1 million responses and establish a national guideline for response to resistance, assault and aggression. By joining together and speaking out, the powers that be will no longer be able to ignore the issue regardless of the interests of the media, of politicians or of big businesses.
Join us! The database is growing daily as more individuals and police agencies take the RTR survey.