Police need training to de-escalate perceived threats

Published on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 20:47
Written by The LA Times

Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert’s decision not to file criminal charges against the two officers who shot 22-year-old Stephon Clark to death a year ago did not reflect a determination that the officers acted properly.

It was not a clean bill of health for their training, their department or their profession. It was not a statement that all is as it should be in policing and in racial equity.

It was merely a conclusion - a proper one - that the officers did not commit crimes.

Murder charges against police officers are too often held up as the gold standard of justice in fatal police shootings of young unarmed African American men like Clark.

That simplistic calculus allows us to pretend that racism and injustice are alien forces that police spread through neighborhoods while on patrol, and that ridding ourselves of those evils can be as simple as weeding bad cops out of our law enforcement agencies.

And indeed, there are bad cops. But not every shooting that seems in retrospect to have been avoidable is committed by a bad cop.

The officers who followed Clark to his grandmother’s backyard were responding to reports of vandalism in the neighborhood. They encountered a man who turned toward them, advanced and, Schubert said the evidence showed, assumed a shooting stance.

They shot him, expecting that they would find a firearm in his possession. They found instead a cellphone.

The killing was “justified,” as that term is used in evaluation of police shootings.

When armed police do respond, they ought to have the training and experience to de-escalate the situation when they can.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Tuesday, 12 March 2019 20:47. Updated: Tuesday, 12 March 2019 20:49.