Shared from the 2018-02-18 Austin American Statesman eEdition

OTHERS SAY PAUL BRICK Special Contributor

If officers can’t protect themselves, keeping citizens safe isn’t possible

The editorial in the Jan. 27 edition of the American-Statesman addressed the recent changes in the Austin Police Department’s policy “that mandates officers to calm volatile situations before reaching for their guns, batons or Tasers.” While this seems like a laudable goal, it fails to recognize some critical elements of survival training.

During my 28-year career as a uniformed officer and an undercover detective at the Austin Police Department, I taught police use-of-force training and had many opportunities to employ varying levels of force in my job. While working uniform patrol, I had the benefit of learning Japanese karate from an excellent instructor and a longtime friend to the police department, Joe Alvarado. He developed methods of “pain compliance” that left no permanent damage and did not appear aggressive in use but convinced an unruly subject that it was best to follow the officer’s instructions and submit to arrest. These were basically pressure points and leverage movements. Some can literally succeed using only two fingers.

When APD moved to Tasers as a level of force, I resisted being issued one because I felt that I already had enough tools on my belt and that I could rely on my empty hands in most situations. I did not want to have to worry about maintaining control over an electric gun on one side of my body and a firearm on the other while engaged with an unruly or dangerous subject.

The concept of de-escalation is a valid area of study for both the police and the residents of our community. This should not be a one-way street, where only the police modify their behavior to satisfy the demands of a relatively small group of people advocating for change.

We just witnessed a terrible mess at City Hall after months of diligent negotiations in the police labor contract that resulted in a return to a 1980s style of civil service. Gone were most of the advances in transparency and oversight developed over many years of compromise from the police and the community at large. A relatively young, somewhat inexperienced but very vocal group of activists convinced enough council members that scrapping the entire negotiating process was a worthwhile outcome. Cooler heads should have prevailed.

An officer needs to leave home with the singular goal of returning safe. If officers can’t protect themselves, they can’t protect citizens. If we are to define police encounters as “local high-profile use-of-force cases” based on whether they “go viral,” we have surrendered to a court of anonymous opinion that watches horrific events from around the world as entertainment, not enlightenment.

Use of force can be unattractive; people at their worst don’t look their best. That is a sad reality. When violence occurs, cooler heads should engage and calmly analyze the facts and make decisions on the outcome based on fact and reality, not public perception. We have reached a state of police chiefs urging their employees to avoid “lawful but awful” situations, meaning that the officers’ actions were within the law and the written policy but still looked “awful.” Perception is now the important “reality.”

Austin suffers from a truly overextended patrol division as the city grows geographically and more densely in its urban core. Morale is at a dangerous point and many experienced and valuable officers have elected to retire at their very first opportunity, taking decades of institutional knowledge with them. Officers drive from call to call, all the while knowing that any self-initiated activity may put their career and their long-term well-being at risk.

One area in great need of discussion is the problem of citizens who believe that they have nothing to lose by fleeing or fighting. The recent case in Williamson County of an intoxicated driver speeding away with a uniformed deputy clinging to his steering wheel while he kicked at her illustrates the challenge of survival. That deputy showed phenomenal courage and fortitude in stopping him. The news media did an excellent job of reporting the facts. It was only when the mugshot became public that the race of the offender was known and that is as it should be. The man’s race had no more to do with his behavior than did the sex or ethnicity of the officer.

“Just the facts” used to be words to live by.

Brick is a retired APD officer.

We have reached a state of police chiefs urging employees to avoid ‘lawful but awful’ situations.

See this article in the e-Edition Here