More than ever, officers are being accused of violating citizens’ rights.
An empowered public, fueled by a renewed interest in defending their constitutional rights, seek opportunities to confront officers and record their encounters.
Almost immediately, these encounters are posted on social media for millions to see.
While it is reasonable for some in the law enforcement profession to view these citizen activists with a degree of disdain, I would like to propose another avenue of thought.
After evaluating numerous videos of these police-citizen encounters, I came to two sobering conclusions.
First, it crossed my mind that law enforcement was possibly losing the national narrative when it came to defending the message that we are the good guys.
That message is being overshadowed by a group of citizen activists armed only with a recording device and motivated by their desire to find a chink in our professional armor.
Secondly, I realized that if we are honest with ourselves and look fully in the mirror, we can conclude that there are indeed chinks in our professional armor.
This weakness is demonstrated when officers lack understanding and confidence in their constitutional authority, particularly as it relates to the Fourth Amendment.
Last fall I was asked to present at the Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee’s annual conference in Sioux Falls, SD, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office.
The title of my presentation was “An Honest Assessment – How Law Enforcement May Be Losing the National Narrative and How to Reclaim it.” My presentation included an assessment of the current state of affairs in law enforcement training.
I provided information that helped agencies evaluate their own training programs and offered tools for officers to assess their basic knowledge of Fourth Amendment topics including search & seizure and use of force.
Immediately following the presentation and over the next few weeks, many in attendance sought me out to tell me that the presentation was eye-opening. They were encouraged to take steps to patch holes in the armor of both their officers and agency by providing better training on a consistent basis.
My years of experience training numerous officers representing state, county, city, and tribal agencies – including prosecuting attorneys – have uncovered a disappointing commonality: the majority of officers – no matter how many years spent in service – failed basic knowledge assessments covering the fundamental concepts involving Terry stops, Terry frisks, search and seizure, and use of force.
The majority of police-citizen contact involves the Fourth Amendment. This includes every stop, detainment, warning, ticket, arrest, search, seizure, and all use of force.
Here is where we come in: those of us who are committed to this profession and believe that the answer lies in training should seek every opportunity to positively impact training curriculum at both the academy level and at the agency level.
We can lead this effort by encouraging agency decisionmakers to address the increasing challenges their officers face every day by considering the following:
- Recognize that at this moment in our society, a renewed focus on training is needed to significantly reduce civil liability. Action must be taken.
- Develop and provide assessments to gauge the knowledge of officers (including FTOs and PTOs) regarding Fourth Amendment topics including Terry stops, Terry frisks, search and seizure, and use of force.
- Use the results of these assessments to guide training. Make adjustments as needed.
- Prioritize this training by dedicating the necessary time and budget.
- Select the proper entity to provide this essential training. This is critical.
- Remember that laws change. Training must be consistent and ongoing.
Take inspiration from a scene from the 1987 movie The Untouchables.
After Al Capone (Robert Di Nero) was convicted, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) moved purposely toward Capone and boldly spoke the words – “Never stop! Never stop fighting until the fight is done!” Capone yelled “What you say? What you say?” Ness then looked Capone straight in the eyes and loudly declared “I said, never stop fighting until the fight is done!”
In closing, our profession needs us to continue fighting for it.
Never lose heart.
Keep fighting the good fight.
By working together we can positively influence law enforcement training on the national level.
We must motivate and train officers to protect and serve their communities like never before.
I believe we CAN reclaim the national narrative. We ARE the good guys.