Police ‘Culture of Urgency’ Faulted in Use-of-Force Cases

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This month in Salt Lake City, police officers walked a suburban street looking for a 13-year-old boy with autism. His mother said the teen might have a gun, hated cops and was experiencing a psychological break. Less than 20 minutes later, an officer shot the boy after a short foot chase despite a colleague’s telling him she didn’t want to get into a shoot-out with an emotionally disturbed kid. The teen survived, and the incident is just the latest in a string of high-profile, use-of-force encounters fueling an ongoing national debate started by the death of George Floyd. In almost all cases, officers say they acted consistent with their training. Experts say law enforcement training is often outdated and promotes a react first, think later mentality, validating officers’ decisions even when they appear to defy logic, USA Today reports.

“The officer makes that decision in the heat of the moment, and then their supervisors and you and me and everyone else looks at it afterwards,” said criminologist Geoff Alpert of the University of South Carolina. Alpert never has seen a police officer admit to acting unreasonably in any of the thousands of police shootings he’s reviewed over four decades. “Of course they’re going to say that [they were following their training], wouldn’t you?” Experts say the “culture of urgency” leads officers to react with immediate violence whether the situation warrants it or not. Detroit police officer-turned-civil rights lawyer David Robinson argues that officers often create life-threatening situations because they react out of a sense of urgency instead of evaluating circumstances calmly before reacting. In Rochester after the death of Daniel Prude at police hands, union president Michael Mazzeo said, “An officer doesn’t have the ability to go off-script. They have to follow protocol and do what they are trained to do.”

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