We should all be hesitant to weigh in on a police shooting before the investigation is completed for two reasons. The first reason is completeness; it is generally not good to toss around opinions on something when all of the facts are not known. The second is that police officers are entitled to due process, just like everyone else, we should not try them in the court of public opinion.
There’s still much we don’t know about the officer-involved shooting in Brooklyn Center outside of Minneapolis, but I feel it’s appropriate to make a few observations based on the release of the bodycam footage.
It appears the officer intended to use her Taser—a less lethal tool—on the suspect who was actively attempting to defeat the arrest. The officer threatens to tase the suspect, and then yells “Taser, Taser, Taser” to alert her partners just before she discharges her firearm. From the released bodycam footage, it does not appear that she intended to use deadly force on the suspect only realizing after the gun discharged that she had shot him.
This is as far as I am willing to go in analyzing the officer’s intentions until all the facts are revealed. I think it is fair to say that at best, this was a tragic accident. But there are larger issues we can address that really get to the heart of police reform, and why training is absolutely the first place to begin.
It may sound counter-intuitive at first to suggest that making officers more skilled in their use of force will improve problems with using force, but it is absolutely necessary. Skilled and competent officers will make better use-of-force decisions. Unskilled officers will often overreact to a threat or underreact, and both can have tragic consequences. The decision to use a Taser in the Brooklyn Center shooting appears completely justified, and if that was the officer’s intention then it was not a lack of judgment or poor decision-making that resulted in the shooting.
But just as important as decision-making is competence in applying force options. Police officers must be intimately familiar with all of their tools and weapons, skilled in their use, and knowledgeable in their own abilities and that of the tools they have at their disposal. Physical skills are a very real part of a police officer’s toolbox and cannot be supplanted by communications and de-escalation techniques. They must instead be integrated into a comprehensive skill set that officers are able to execute seamlessly.
This is not easy and requires training—better training than we currently provide most officers. Training is one of the first things that would be cut if we defund our police officers, ensuring they will make poorer use-of-force decisions rather than better ones. Police officers should be training continuously, similar to the way athletes do, and integrating all of their skills and tools in scenario-based training environments that improve and maintain the very perishable physical skills (and somewhat less perishable communications and de-escalation skills).
The difference between a Taser and a pistol is obvious, except under extreme duress and/or to someone not very familiar with either. The Taser is a very effective less-lethal tool (almost always non-lethal) and would have been an appropriate tool for the scenario we saw on the bodycam footage. Under the stress of physical confrontation, police officers must be extremely well trained in order perform properly.
Choosing the wrong tool could indicate several training failures. But choosing the right tool and then grabbing the wrong one is indicative of a failure to regularly train with supplied equipment until its use is nearly subconscious, a level of skill that takes time and resources that we rarely provide for our police officers.
The police chief for Brooklyn Center said he felt the shooting was accidental. That’s what the bodycam footage says to me. If this is correct, then Daunte Wright died not because a police officer made a bad decision to shoot him, but because the officer made the right decision and then did it wrong—very wrong.
If we want to prevent such incidents in the future, we can only do so with training. And we cannot properly train while also defunding our police. Good equipment and advances in technology do nothing without the corresponding skills in applying them.