Thursday, August 23, 2018

Just another beating?

“Shocking video shows black man being 'beaten, punched and kicked by six North Carolina police officers'” shouts the headline on the UK’s Daily Mail website and echoed by many media outlets. It makes me wonder if they were reporting on an appendectomy whether the headline would read “Woman drugged and stabbed by masked gang”.

While the media are fighting for credibility like never before, the explosive bias of headlines like these can’t be balanced by the occasional reporting of actual facts buried in their narrative. Like moths to a flame, the assumption that police action is not only wrong but outrageously and gratuitously violent, seems to be irresistible. So, just in case any reporters read something other than their own bylines, let me break this down for them.

Shocking implies something wild, unexpected, and deeply wrong. Stories have a beginning, and this is where the story turned shocking – when the man was contacted by police and began actively assaulting them. It was very likely a surprise to the officers, but not shocking. After all, most cops have repeatedly experienced attempts by other to hurt or kill them. That part wasn’t shocking at all.

One perspective, almost always edited for effect by newscasts, showing a small percentage of the action being reported. Unlike television fictional fight scenes, street encounters are not choreographed, are not staged to show the tension-building falls and punches, and are not played to take greatest advantage of camera angles. The scenes, to my career-long disappointment, are also absent the background theme music and sound effects. Video can be evidence of something, but it is rarely automatically proof of anything.

“shows black man”
Why this racist approach to reporting continues in the face of culturally sensitive political censors is a mystery. The suspect’s behavior is hardly an asterisk in these reports and should be the focus of the finding of fact. If race, ethnicity, or gender were equally significant in all citizen-police encounters then headlines reporting the murders of police officers would routinely label the officers or their attackers as white, black, Asian, latino, female, male, gay or transgender. Victim officers are just cops. The demographics of offenders resisting arrest are rarely noted unless reporters smell the opportunity to cry racism.

“beaten, punched, and kicked”
No reader could doubt the connotation of this inflammatory language. There is little room for the reality of the careful calculation and restraint in use of force exhibited by these officers. Baton strikes are designed to be less than lethal efforts to stop an attack by interfering with nerve and muscle function. Baton strikes are aimed at specific parts of the body, but can be ineffective or land on an unintended target area during an actively attacking person. A single strike may not be effective in the most ideal circumstances when the baton is needed, so multiple strikes or strikes at more than one area simultaneously by more than one officer in no way constitutes a “beating” in the common understanding of the word.
Similarly, the use of an officer’s hands and feet to disable an attacker and bring an end to the resistance is perfectly aligned with lawful use of force to effect an arrest. Any observer familiar with the range of compliance options available to police officers to avoid lethal force can see that from verbal commands to empty hand control to Taser to baton, the officers heroically avoided killing a man who seemed intent on violently ending their attempts to take him into custody.

“Six North Carolina officers”
The number of officers is a fact to be reported, but to imply that there was an unfair number of officers against a lone offender is to rewrite the manual on use of force. Whether these officers intentionally engaged in a swarm maneuver, the concept of having multiple officers to enable a more peaceful restraint of a violent offender was developed for the very purpose of reducing injuries to suspects.

While it may be natural to emotionally identify with the officers with the belief that they are angry and offended, the reality is that the officers were using skills for which they were trained, equipped, and authorized to use. The story begins with the suspect’s resistance and violent attacks on the officers. The officers are aware that if the offender escapes, it isn’t just a blow to their ego, it pushes this violent man into the public’s risk. They are also aware that with each officer carrying multiple items which, if seized by the suspect in his frantic grasps, could be used to kill or disable an officer or other innocent citizen, the sooner this episode is ended, the safer it is for everyone, including the suspect.

A fact based headline
So, fellow journalists, can we stick to objective reporting in headlines? How about “Officers work together to arrest violent offender”, then a subheading of “man attempts to punch and bite responding officers, resists Taser”.

Now, roll that video. 

All of it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A brief history of Street Smart Force training

Hi, I’m Joel and I’d like to share the story of StreetSmartForce training.  

I can easily share my resume, but all that will tell you is that I’ve been very fortunate to know some of the best, most dedicated trainers and educators of our day in the criminal justice field. What I really want you to know is that I really care about America’s police officers. As I look back on my many years of service I am astounded by how I survived! 

You see, I started at a time and place where you got suited up and put on patrol with the possibility of attending an academy sometime in the future. In fact, I was part of the very first class in my home state that started after the mandatory training law went into effect, even though I was grandfathered and exempt. My academy was a whole 120 hours and I completed it in my eighth month of my career.  

Within two years I became a trainer, adding Field Training Officer and Supervisor to my experience. I obtained first responder chaplain certification before 9/11 and volunteered with the NYPD shortly after flight resumed. I also began writing for Calibre Press’ Street Survival Newsline, and still write an award-winning column for 

With further education I began to teach college courses part time and eventually became a full-time police academy instructor before moving into my first chief of police role. My biggest incentive came after taking the reigns of a police department just months after an unresolved officer-involved shooting, just about the same time I was finishing my doctoral dissertation on community policing through the University of Missouri.  

Being directly in charge of an OIS was a first for me, so I hit the research heavily. What I though I knew about high stress violent encounters. That was over ten years ago and led to my registration with the State of Colorado as a psychotherapist, and to my writing three of my books – Forward I Go – a collection of inspirational readings to encourage police officer, The Badge and the Brain – the central tenants of my training centered on human performance under stress, and Fifteen Ways to Calm Your Mind without driving yourself crazy – a guide for anyone, but especially first responders, for dealing in a practical way with anxiety and mental fitness. 

Although I can train your officers or employees on virtually any topic, since the focus of law enforcement right now is the two-fold concerns of use of force and mental health, that is where my current emphasis is. Contact me soon if you have any questions or issue I can help you with – personal or professional, or to get a sample of my training material and quotes on costs – which I’m sure you’ll find quite reasonable and competitive. It will be a joy to engage with you, so call, email, or message me soon!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Moral Imperative of Coercion and Compliance

 The consent of the governed establishes authority in our constitutional republic. Our representatives enact laws with the intent that most citizens will comply, but with penalties attached if they don’t. The only way for those penalties to be meaningful and ensure the safety and equality of law-abiding citizens is to have a mechanism for activating those penalties provided under the law.
That mechanism is force. It is the legitimate police power of government.

 Our history as a nation has included unjust and immoral laws. These laws have often been amended or eliminated by democratic action. Some have been changed through resistance and rebellion. Some remain to be aligned with the best of our natures. But the law requires obedience except in the most extraordinary circumstances. 

When police officers refer to the thin blue line, they mean that element of government that is empowered to bring those who break the laws of the land into accountability to their fellow citizens. This accountability is through a carefully crafted system that, though not flawless, faces the accused with a judgement by his or her peers in a court of law. Without these armed government agents, the system collapses, and those who would happily and peaceably obey the laws would be forced to fend for themselves at the mercy of the violent.

As a nation whose history includes revolution and civil disobedience for a higher moral calling of greater freedom and justice, we hold a culturally sacred place for thoughtful resistance. Historians of the future, and astute contemporary observers, will find the current culture of resistance to law enforcement is based on a tragically misplaced, destructive, delusional belief.

In the study of human behavior, especially collective and “viral” behavior, it is observed that while criminal behavior often derives from the offender’s ability to disregard social norms by some internal justification. When that criminal behavior gets defined by others with social influence and leadership as acceptable or at least justifiable, and in some cases admirable, the stage is set for broader social permission, or license, for others to emulate the once unacceptable behavior.

The narrative of rampant, enculturated unlawful behavior by law enforcement has been expressly and tacitly endorsed by an increasing number of persons of influence. These influencers, from President Obama to other elected officials, sports and Hollywood personalities, and social activists, have embedded in a layer of national consciousness the pernicious idea that the police in the United States have no moral authority to enforce the law. 

The results of this narrative is increased crime and violence against law enforcement officers by offenders, and injustice to officers lawfully engaged in their sworn duties who face punishment in the courts and in their agencies. At a time when study after study endorses the reality of the overwhelmingly appropriate and courageous actions of officers in the millions of daily transactions with the citizenry, the misguided endorsement of mistrust of the institution of policing in this country has veered from legitimate accountability into a national travesty.

The solution is for the voices of sanity to become louder than the increasingly irrational voices of encouraging lawlessness. The majority of Americans overwhelmingly respect and rely on their police. Those voices must be encouraged and  heard. Facts must become the substance of the narrative about racism, use of force, and police accountability. Lawmakers, clergy, journalists, and even members of our own profession must become better informed both on the facts, and on the reality of coercion as a legitimate democratic function of government, and compliance as the duty of its citizens. 

There are few people in a position to lead this education effort. If police officers, trainers, and leaders don’t take that responsibility, no one else will.