If Police ‘Use of Force’ is Declining, Why have Killings Increased?
Police ‘use-of-force’ incidents are decreasing, according to the latest Toronto police data. Fact – statistics show that use-of-force has decreased for three straight years.
The problem with statistics is that they don’t always reveal the truth. Statistics are often skewed to support the message or image desired by those who report statistics. Result - we may be left confused, even misinformed.
Certainly, it is encouraging that use-of-force has declined three straight years in a row. This means that the police are listening, which means there is a growing number of police officers who point firearms, use physical control, shoot pepper spray and shock with tasers, less often. But, what Deputy Police Chief Federico and Police Chief Blair chose not to reveal, statistically speaking, is that the number of killings of citizens has increased over the last three years.
In 2009, a good year, there were no killings. In 2010, 4 killings – 1 killing every 3 months on average and 2011, 3 killings – 1 killing every 4 months. In 2012, 2 killings to date. We are only 3-3/4 months into the year 2012 and already 2 citizens have died. If this statistical trend continues, police will have killed one citizen every 6 weeks, which by year-end, will surpass the highest number of killings ever – 7 citizens killed in 2004. If this trend continues, 8 citizens will die this year alone.It is encouraging that in general, police seem to be listening and a growing number of police officers, who do serve and protect, are considering whether to employ use-of-force tactics. Statistically, it seems that more are choosing other methods, perhaps de-escalation, when interacting with our citizens. Unfortunately, there are a few police officers, who may be growing in numbers, choosing a militaristic style of policing methods and opt to kill someone without consideration for less lethal methods against someone unequally armed to protect themselves.
The role of policing in our community is to serve and protect. Who are the police serving and protecting? A Toronto Star article reported that Police Chief Blair stated that the goal is to resolve every incident peacefully, “but sadly, there are some cases that pose a significant risk in which sometimes use of force is deemed necessary.” This use of force Chief Blair states was deemed necessary when a hospital patient in an altered mental state, without shoes or coat on a cold February day holding two blunt end household scissors in each hand chose not to drop the scissors on command. It seems unimaginable that 12 police officers were protecting their own safety first. Likewise it seems improbable that they were protecting the public’s either when three bullets went astray hitting other targets.
One citizen, Ken Straiton, believes police culture is at the root of the problem. In a submission to the Toronto Star newspaper, he states, “the fundamental problem is in the culture of the police, their apparent sense of impunity when applying a use of force, and the subsequent acquiescence of those who are charged with monitoring police behaviour.”
We have a justice system. It works this way. The police apprehend, due process begins. We do not endorse capital punishment in Canada. Why does a larger group of police officers, who clearly are trying to work towards remedying the faltering policing system, choose to protect a minor few police officers who are making bad and lethal choices? The danger here is the public’s loss of trust in a policing system. The worrisome message for our entire society, including police, is when a society no longer trusts in its law enforcement and its law and policy makers we begin to erode into a dangerous society, one that does not turn to the police for help or justice but chooses to retaliate in fear.
We have noted a recent example of this, with the recent stabbing of police officer Jeff Blair. The result of this retaliation has not gone unnoticed by the public. Peter Lumanglas, the man who stabbed officer Blair, was fired at 5 times. Peter Luminglas is now dead. Officer Blair is expected to recover. The police chief wishes him a speedy recovery. We all do. According to Police Chief Blair, the best medical care was offered to officer Blair. I wonder what medical care was offered to Peter Lumanglas as he lay crumpled in a heap on the street, while the firefighter secured officer Jeff Blair’s gun in his home, then returned to hold paper towel to officer Blair’s neck.
As a nurse, I understand that all medical and first aid is given in triage, priority sequence, with the first response to the most lethally injured. I thought that firefighters followed the same protocol. I might be wrong. I wonder if now is the time to treat the police officer with the same level of respect we show the public and that is to triage everyone according to lethality of injury vs level of importance in society.
Without consideration for the public’s safety as well the police officer’s, I forsee a future where retaliation against all police is a cost too high to pay for a few officers who choose to take justice into their own hands.