The De-Escalation Misfire: Police Resistance to Change Increases Civilian Resistance to Trust

This article was originally published on July 7, 2017 with Exposure Magazine.

Tensions between law enforcement and civilians are historically prevalent and not uncommon, but media coverage of specific incidents has inspired the trending perception that these tensions are rising now more than ever.

One surprisingly minimized topic of conversation deserving more media attention is the resistance of law enforcement agencies to change the culture of how police officers engage with citizens altogether. Often, the explanation given for why an officer shot and killed during a common encounter like a traffic stop centers around the need for officers to protect their own lives or the lives of other officers. While there is no denying that officers do experience danger as a result of their job description, they are also in a profession that is rooted in a mission designed to help communities feel safer. Police are part of a large organization with significantly more resources than most policed communities and can effectively implement training and protective measures to improve community relations with a little planning and a lot of commitment.

So why is there a historically recognized problem stemming from improper training techniques, a promising solution inherent in de-escalation training, but significant resistance and slow adaptation to making the changes? For an in-depth review of how most states are neglecting to adopt and prioritize de-escalation policies and tactics, check out Curtis Gilbert’s article in American Public Media online reports.

This is clearly a de-escalation misfire across America. Whether intentionally shooting to kill our community citizens or fearfully firing their weapons during encounters, law enforcement agencies who fail to quickly implement substantial de-escalation training, awareness, and culture are sending a message that helping communities feel safer is no longer the law enforcement profession’s mission.

Community engagement efforts are failing because some law enforcement agencies are failing their communities. Without committing to change the recognized problems, law enforcement agencies should not expect communities to remain peaceful, to forgo riots and protests, or to trust police officers.

Our community citizens want to trust that law enforcement agencies and the legal system will make communities safer and protect communities equally. But without the outward actions required to demonstrate trust is warranted, the relationship between law enforcement and citizens will continue to be strained.

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