It’s time for mainstream media to evolve when it comes to police use of force reporting.
I was recently contacted by a reporter from Global News who was looking for insight into a recent use of force incident involving members of the Winnipeg Police Service.
The reporter asked me to look at the video and offer an opinion if the officers involved were guilty of using excessive force.
The video clip was shot by a passerby subsequently identified as Andrea von Wichert.
“It was shocking, actually, the extreme violence of the incident and I recorded the last little bit of it before we moved along in traffic because we couldn’t keep blocking Main Street,” she told CBC news.
The video shows two officers attempting the arrest of a subject who is clearly resisting arrest.
It’s important to consider all relevant factors when you assess police officers use of force.
What happened before the video starts is important.
Its called context.
In this case, the WPS advise officers were called to Jarvis Ave and King Street regarding a report of a fight. Upon arrival, the officers observed two men involved in an altercation. One of the men took off running while the other subject dropped a can of bear spray and ran at the officers.
It wasn’t a very intelligent decision.
Police charged the suspect, identified as Milad Horriat (22), with assault peace officer, resisting arrest, unauthorized possession of a prohibited or restricted weapon and fail to comply with a probation order.
(The later charge tells us it wasn’t the first time the man has come into conflict with the law.)
The video wasn’t exactly the “smoking gun” I presume von Wichert hoped it would be.
The “extreme violence” she reported was not all that extreme after all. In fact, it was a text-book example of two police officers using the absolute minimal amount of force the situation called for.
In order to make an assessment regarding the officers use of force you have to understand what options were available to them.
I’m confident Andrea von Wichert has no idea what those options may have been.
That did not stop her from rushing to judgement.
Tragically, Andrea von Wichert couldn’t resist injecting race into the equation;
“It looked to me, if you took away the uniform, that there were two white men beating on a First Nations guy.”
I’m sorry Andrea, you can’t take away the uniforms because they are central to the issue – the police use of force.
This wasn’t two white men beating on a First Nations guy.
This wasn’t a random act of violence on the streets of Winnipeg.
This was two police officers arresting someone who broke the law.
The race of the officers and the perpetrator is irrelevant and it’s unfortunate you couldn’t resist the temptation to engage in a little race-baiting.
Police Officer Use of Force – WPS Model
The WPS has a clear and distinct policy when it comes to the use of force.
The policy clearly establishes force options to be used in direct connection with resistance encountered.
Officer Use of Force
- police officer presence
- verbal direction – providing lawful orders
- soft empty hand control – joint locks, pressure point control tactics
- hard empty hand control – striking, kneeing
- intermediate weapon – baton, pepper spray, taser, K9
- lethal force – firearm
- psychological intimidation – gang colours, posturing
- verbal non-compliance – refusal to follow direction
- passive resistance – dead weight, “die-ins”
- defensive resistance – slapping hands away, pushing away
- active aggression – striking, kicking
- aggravated active aggression – weapon attacks, lethal force used
When you view the video you see the officers delivering a number of knee strikes in their efforts to handcuff the subject who is clearly resisting their efforts to take him into custody.
When you do the analysis you should conclude the officers are using hard empty hand control techniques and the subject is exhibiting defensive resistance. It’s quite likely the subject was demonstrating active aggression prior to the video being recorded, a reasonable inference given the man is reported to have “charged” at the officers.
The one-plus-one doctrine comes into play here.
The “one-plus-one doctrine” stipulates police officers are not obligated to use the same level of force a subject uses against them.
Officers are permitted to select use of force options higher than the level of resistance encountered.
Police officers are not trained to “fight fair” – they’re trained to end physical confrontations as quickly as possible using as much force is as reasonably necessary.
It stands to reason, a long drawn out physical confrontation will only result in an increased likelihood of the subject and officers sustaining an injury.
What I saw in the video was two police officers using the lowest and most reasonable force option available to them.
(They may have been justified in using an intermediate weapon (s) but opted for a lower force option.)
No story here.
I’m happy to report most local media outlets were responsible in their reporting of this incident.
Unfortunately, major media outlets have failed to evolve when it comes to objective, non-biased reporting of police officer use of force.
Case in point.
I had occasion to watch a 60 Minutes episode that aired on April 2, 2017 ,that covered the fatal officer involved shooting of Terrence Crutcher that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma on September 16, 2016.
Crutcher was a forty (40) year old man who abandoned his running SUV in the middle of 36th Street North just west of Lewis Avenue.
The shooter was identified as Tulsa PD Officer Betty Shelby (42).
(It’s difficult to find reporting on the matter that doesn’t include the fact Crutcher was black and Shelby was white even though there is little evidence to suggest race was a factor in the shooting.)
The shooting was captured on dash cam and police helicopter video and was highly controversial as many people interpreted Crutcher’s behaviour as compliant when he was shot.
“His hands were in the air from all views,” Paster Rodney Goss said in a post shooting interview.
“It was not apparent at any angle from any point that he lunged, came forward, aggressively attacked or made any sudden movements that would have been considered a threat or life-threatening toward the officer,” he continued.
In reality, Crutcher was a clearly non-compliant subject who appeared to reach into his vehicle at the time Shelby shot him.
The fact he had his hands up is of little relevance given the fact he was refusing to obey commands to stop and get on the ground.
Autopsy results indicate Crutcher had “acute phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication” at the time of the shooting. A vial containing PCP was found inside his vehicle.
Look no further for insight regarding Crutcher’s non-compliance.
So, was the shooting justified?
That question is for a jury to decide after hearing all the evidence presented in the case.
I can tell you this, many police officers have lost their lives because they failed to stop an unarmed subject from entering a vehicle to retrieve a weapon.
Expect Shelby’s defence team to present ample evidence highlighting such cases.
The public outrage in the aftermath of the shooting was extraordinary.
Black Lives Matter held protests.
Crutcher’s family demanded criminal charges against Shelby.
The protests and demands were heard.
On September 23, 2016 ,Officer Shelby was arrested and charged with first-degree-manslaughter and booked into the Tulsa jail. She posted a $50,000 bond and was released pending trial.
The case remains before the courts.
Enter Bill Whitaker – 60 Minutes
Bill Whitaker is a CBS News Correspondent who graduated from the University of California, Berkley with a degree in journalism in 1987.
(The same year I started my career in Law Enforcement with the Winnipeg Police Service.)
He’s a high-profile journalist with over thirty (30) years experience.
He has the ability to inform, educate and influence public opinion by virtue of the platform he’s been given.
That platform should come with a degree of responsibility.
The responsibility to be an objective truth teller.
Whitaker’s line of questioning demonstrates the continued intentional effort on behalf of media to mislead, misinterpret and undermine public trust in police officers.
Whitaker: “If things had worked out differently, he would go before a judge, have his day in court.”
Whitaker: “But as it turns out, you’re judge, jury, and executioner on the spot.”
Shelby: “No. I saw a threat and I used the force I felt necessary to stop a threat.”
Whitaker: “Do you think, “I could shoot him in the leg, I could shoot him in the foot”? Is there nothing else you could’ve done?”
Shelby: “No. And I’m not trained to shoot someone in the foot. We don’t train to be cowboys and to be like what they show on the movies.”
There you have it.
A highly trained, experienced journalist asking a police officer if she could have shot Crutcher in the leg or foot.
Police Agencies have gone to great lengths to educate the media and public regarding police officer use of force and the necessity to shoot center mass in deadly force encounters.
The concept is widely accepted and not controversial.
Shelby answered the question to the best of her ability.
She might have informed Mr. Whitaker that;
- front line police officers are not trained snipers
- shooting center mass is necessary to increase the chances of stopping a threat
- shooting at extremities is inappropriate, ineffective and may increase the danger to the officer and public
- shooting accuracy is drastically reduced when officers are subjected to high-stress life or death situations
- shooting weapons out of a subjects hands or targeting arms, shoulders, legs or feet is something popularized by Hollywood movies and has no basis in reality
She could add police officers are not trained to shoot to kill – another widely believed myth often perpetuated by the media.
Mr. Whitaker knows, or should know, that by simply asking Shelby the question, “Do you think, “I could shoot him in the leg, I could shoot him in the foot” a public expectation is created and the collective perception altered.
It was an irresponsible question.
You can assess the sensitivity, fairness or appropriateness of Mr. Whitaker calling the officer “judge, jury and executioner.”
(It’s clear from the video the officer struggles with the fact she took a man’s life.)
The question you have to ask is why do experienced journalists working for respected news agencies continue to attempt to intentionally influence the public perception at the expense of police officers?
Journalists have participated in use of force scenario training in partnership with Law Enforcement Agencies and know the principles stated in this article are valid and widely accepted.
So why perpetuate police use of force myths?
The time has come for main stream media to evolve when it comes to police use of force reporting and to take their responsibility to be objective truth tellers seriously.
At some point, the truth should matter.
May 17, 2017
In an ironic twist of fate, after spending the morning writing this story, oblivious to the fact the case was about to come to a dramatic conclusion, I checked my twitter feed before retiring for the night and see this tweet from Sunny Hostin.
As expected, Tulsa PD Officer Betty Jo Shelby was found not guilty of 1st degree manslaughter.
The case was prosecuted and a decision rendered in 8 months.
WPS Use of Force Factoids
- In 2016, 99.6 % of calls were handled without the use of force
- In 2016, officers used force once in every 240 calls
- In 2016, WPS officers responded to 205,641 calls for service
- In 2016, WPS officers used or threatened to use force in 855 calls
- In 2015, WPS officers responded to 201,174 calls for service
- In 2015, WPS officers used or threatened to use force in 933 calls
- There were no police involved shootings in 2016
- Police threatened to use firearms in 1 in every 5 cases where force was required = 21.87%
- Officers are using asp baton strikes less frequently and most often use the taser
- In 2016, subjects were injured in 236 use of force instances = 27.6%
- In 2015, subjects were injured in 239 use of force instances = 25.6%
- In 2016, 97 Officers were injured in the line of duty – a 5 year high and trending upwards
WPS Anatomy of Use of Force
- 16 baton strikes
- 69 taser deployments
- 30 taser used as stun gun
- 2 pepper spray deployments
- 234 K9 utilized
- 19 K9 bites