Why Do the Police Shoot so Many Times and Miss?

Police officers are required to qualify at least once a year with their service weapon. Generally speaking, an officer is considered qualified with a minimum score of 70%. In most states, officers who fail to qualify are suspended from duty until they pass. When the police are involved in a shooting, have you ever wondered why these qualified officers fire so many rounds yet they miss so often? Let’s examine this phenomenon. 

In the late 1980’s, police departments began a transition from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols. This transition increased police firepower from 6 rounds with a revolver to about 16 rounds depending on the make and model of the semi-automatic pistol. Over time, this has brought into focus the fact that the police miss a lot. The Uniform Crime Report (UCR) published in 2017 reported that the initial police officer involved in a shooting fired 9.7 rounds and hit the suspect 3.9 times   for a 40% accuracy rate.  A 2018 Dallas Police Department report examined 149 officer involved shootings over a 15-year period. The results suggested that officers who fired at a single suspect missed 65% of the time. In other words, more than six out of ten rounds fired by the DPD missed the suspect. According to a study conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department from 2012-2016, officers involved in a shooting hit the suspect 33.4% of the time. The report concluded that more than six out of ten rounds fired by the LAPD missed the suspect. 

There are many factors involved in why the police shoot so many times and miss. Let us examine this using two interconnected factors: physiological responses and training. Research suggests the response time of the average adult is one-half to three-quarters of a second. What this means is that from the time the average adult perceives a threat (their brain recognizes a threat and begins to send stimulus to respond) until they begin to move in response to this stimulus (begin to turn to run, begin to reach for a weapon, etc.) one-half to three-quarters of a second passed. This same response time works in reverse. From the time the average adult recognizes a threat is over until their body begins to cease an action is also one-half to three-quarters of a second. Research further suggests that the average adult, not under the stress of a life and death situation, can fire four rounds a second from a semi-automatic pistol. This means that the time the average adult fires the first round until the fourth round is fired is approximately one second. When the requisite level of stress is added, the number of rounds per second increases. 

Let’s examine how police department training addresses these physiological responses. While these are just a very small sample, I did not find any states that had radically different qualification requirements. The State of Kansas requires officers to shoot three rounds in three seconds from three yards; three rounds in five seconds from five yards; and four rounds is ten seconds from seven yards. At twenty-five yards officers shoot five rounds in fifteen seconds. The State of Arizona requires officers to shoot three rounds from three yards in four seconds; three rounds (with a simulated malfunction clearing) in seven seconds; three rounds, magazine exchange and three rounds if fourteen seconds from fifteen yards; and three rounds in ten seconds from twenty-five yards.  The State of Alabama requires twelve rounds (six strong hand unsupported and six weak hand unsupported) in twenty-five seconds from five yards; two rounds in eight seconds and twelve rounds in twenty-five seconds from seven yards; four strings of three rounds in five seconds from fifteen yards; and twelve rounds (six standing barricade and six knelling barricade) in thirty-five seconds from twenty-five yards. The State of Ohio requires three rounds in five seconds from four feet; two rounds in the torso and one round in the head in six seconds from nine feet; four rounds (dominate hand only) in eight seconds from twelve feet; three rounds reload and three rounds from twenty feet in twelve seconds; three rounds from thirty feet in eight seconds; and two rounds from fifty feet in eight seconds. The State of Ohio also requires the qualification to be conducted during daylight hours. The State of Vermont requires three sets of two rounds fired from three yards, each two round set fired in three seconds; three sets of two rounds fired from five yards, each two round set fired in four seconds; six rounds (two strong hand and four support hand) in fifteen seconds from seven yards; six rounds in seven seconds, also from seven yards; four rounds magazine change and four more rounds in twenty-five seconds from twelve yards; four rounds in unlimited time from twenty-five yards. For full disclosure, some of these states require a flanking step, firing while retreating, the use of barricades, and other similar physical movements.  However, there seems to be a limit to the physical demands placed on the qualifying officer. 

How does all of this relate to the number of rounds fired in an officer-involved shooting and the number of misses? As the UCR published in 2017 indicated, the initial officer involved in a shooting fired 9.7 rounds. This may suggest that the initial officer involved actually fired for less than two seconds. One interpretation of this is that the officers involved used a “grip it and rip it” response to the threat.  Research supports this “grip it and rip it” theory, finding that officers rarely use the sights, looking across the top of the barrel at the suspect, and instead they pull the trigger as fast as they can. Decades of research suggest the physiological changes that occur to an officer involved in a shooting include tunnel vision, audio breakdown, reduced manual dexterity, hypervigilant (failing to recognize the threat has ceased) decision-making–and these are just the high points. This suggests that the theory behind police firearms training does not meet the reality of a shooting situation, since firearms instructors spend vast amounts of time instructing in the use of sights, grip, and trigger control. These are all needed and are required fundamentals of good pistol marksmanship. They are clearly most beneficial in a situation where the officer is behind cover and can take the time to line up a shot and take it. 

One skill generally not taught, and the one skill that is paramount in a “grip it and rip it” response, is recoil management. All of the qualification times described above give the shooter ample time to recover the recoil and fire the next round. It is very easy to do even when firing one round a second. Recoil management is not so easy, however, when firing four or five or even six rounds a second. The reality is that in close quarters officer involved shooting, this is exactly what happens.

Most of the police qualification courses and times I reviewed were nothing more than “plinking” at the target. These are skills that every Saturday afternoon shooter can successful accomplish plinking at the range. When they are finished, they can go home and feel really good about their pistol proficiency. Most of the indoor ranges I am familiar with will not allow rapid fire for safety reasons. One round a second is not considered “rapid fire.” 

Police officers don’t miss because they aren’t qualified. Police officers miss because they don’t train as if they were in a shooting situation. A flanking step or a retreating step does not provide the physiological response training to adequately perform in a shooting situation. Police officers don’t train in recoil management. There is enough time in the qualification courses to allow the officer to successfully recover from the recoil. Current police training is set up so the officer is successful. It is set up so there is minimal risk the officer won’t qualify. It is set up so the officer can continue to carry a firearm.  

So, the next time you wonder why police officers miss, go to the range, set up your target at 10 yards (30 feet) and “grip it and rip it.” See how many times you hit the X-ring. And remember, the only stress you are under is trying to hit a piece of paper that is not moving or shooting back. 

Maybe It IS Time for a Change!

Affecting change is difficult, particularly in the culture and environment of policing. Policing in America has gone through some major metamorphoses since the early 1900’s. The Political Era   (1840-1920) of policing was dominated by political corruption, graft, and bribery. Appointed by political leaders, police officers often were given the job description of carrying out the often dubious mandates of those in political office.

The Professional Model Era (1920-1970) was ushered in with the goal of centralizing police administration, improving the quality of police personnel, and removing policing from the political arena. The Wickersham Commission Report (1931) recommended that policing move away from the service-centered model and toward a law-enforcement model. Policing was to be based on well-trained, well-disciplined, and tightly organized police departments, embracing technology and incorporating a merit system for hiring and promotion.

The 1960’s and 1970’s proved to be a very challenging time for policing in America. Crime rates doubled, the Civil Rights movement began, and anti-war sentiment was prominent, as were urban riots. These events spawned the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice as well as the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. Police were seen as partially responsible for the continuing high crime rates and civil unrest. The number of complaints and civil actions brought against the police skyrocketed during these decades.

The Community Policing Era (1970-2000’s) changed the focus of policing from Sgt. Joe Friday approach (“Just the facts, ma’am!”) to recognizing that embracing the public and encouraging its cooperation, could improve the effectiveness of the police department in the areas of crime control and order maintenance. This era also saw the emergence of community relations programs, citizens police academies, fear reduction programs, and D.A.R.E.

Problem-oriented policing was a spinoff of community-oriented policing. Such an approach analyzed the connections between events that on the surface may have appeared to be unrelated. It allowed officers to work with citizens and representatives from various city and state agencies to find more permanent solutions to a variety of problems that have gradually migrated to becoming a policing responsibility.

Contemporary policing strategies have brought forth several notions, including “one size fits one” policing, reassurance policing, and intelligence-led policing. Today, police utilize crime mapping and other such technology-based methodologies that have a significant effect on the prevention and investigation of crime.

These shifts in policing philosophy were implemented with the purpose of making policing more efficient and more effective, precipitating fundamental changes in how policing has been operationalized in the last 120 years. These changes were driven from two distinct camps: the judiciary and politics.

The responsibility of the judiciary is to interpret whether or not the statutes have been enforced appropriately. As judiciary changes are top-down driven (i.e., from the United State Supreme Court down to local courts), police trainers have had to adjust to these judiciary fiats.  For example, when the Supreme Court ruled on Miranda, the typical response from the policing community was that the “Miranda Warnings” would greatly impede criminal investigations. This did not turn out to be the case; nevertheless, it is reflective of how the policing community tends to resist change.

The bulk of changes in policing over time have been politically driven. Something has happened that has caused the political entities to become involved in policing. The George Floyd incident is the most recent and possibly the most consequential happening in recent history.  And now, the political influences, particularly in metropolitan areas, have stepped forward attempts to “correct” the perceived problem.

The focus of this narrative is not on the historical changes in policing, but rather to ask the questions: Why don’t the police drive the change? Where are the forward thinkers? Why do we do the same things over and over, until there occurs an event that forces change upon us?

There has been a school of thought for decades that suggests the police psychological evaluation should shift from a “select out” process to a “select in” process. Instead of having an evaluative instrument that identifies candidates who “demonstrate an abnormal psychopathy” and, hence, would be deemed unfit, why not develop an evaluative instrument based on the characteristics the community and the police department consider desirable for the type of policing that meets the community’s standard? Not all community standards are the same, so why do we tend to hire police officers from the same mold?

The Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform reports that 36 states allow a police officer to begin working, for as long as a year, before attending the police academy. The website Trainingreform.org reports that on average, the time requirement for police basic training is 647 hours, with the range being from 408 hours (Georgia) to 1,321 hours (Connecticut). Mandatory police in-service hours average 21 per year, with a range of 6 (Alaska) to 40 being required in several states. For comparative purposes, to become a licensed barber requires 1,300 hours, which does not include varying lengths of apprenticeships and exams.

De-escalation is a hot topic for police. A training deficiency has been identified and nationally exposed by virtually every news outlet both in America and around the world. To address this issue, 13 states have initiated “de-escalation” in-service training. This preparation ranges from requiring the training with no minimum number of hours set, to one hour of training per year, to three hours of training every three years. Wouldn’t you think that learning how to de-escalate a situation like the one involving George Floyd would be of paramount importance? Yet, 37 states do not require in-service de-escalation training.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that police academies run by POST agencies and colleges/universities were more likely to use a “non-stress” training model, which is based on academic achievement, physical training, and a more relaxed and supportive instructor-trainee relationship, as opposed to a “stress” training model, based on intensive physical demands and psychological pressure. How do you teach police recruits critical thinking skills if you do not put them in situations where they have to think and respond immediately? How do you teach a police recruit to critically assess a situation and initiate a response when their training is sitting in a classroom and memorizing “Student Performance Objectives” to regurgitate on a written final exam?

In the early 1980’s, the Commonwealth of Kentucky required a Basic Academy instructor to have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, five years’ of on-the-job experience, and the completion of a 120-hour Instructor Development Course.  As of this writing, the police academy instructor requirements are a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, a minimum of three years’ experience, and the completion of a 40-hour Instructor Development Course. So, over the past four decades, while society advances, the requirement for those charged with training the police in Kentucky has diminished. I am fairly certain that Kentucky is not the only state that such a digression has occurred.

Research has been neutral on whether or not college-educated police officers function more effectively than do officers with a high school diploma or GED, with one exception: the use of physical force. The research is clear that a police officer’s educational level is inversely related to the officer’s propensity to use physical force. What this means is that the higher the level of education a police officer has, the less likely the officer is to use physical force. One could make the argument that the critical-thinking skills learned in college makes de-escalating a potentially violent confrontation more manageable.

I used to work with a police officer who was not overly successful in high school. He graduated but not anywhere near the top of his class. I remember once when he and I responded to a domestic call. He was attempting to give some direction to the husband. When the husband did not respond as the officer wanted, the officer repeated the exact same instructions, but louder. When the husband still did not respond, the officer repeated the exact same instructions, but louder still. Apparently, the officer felt getting louder would make the husband understand the command better. After the husband again failed to respond, the officer hit him. This is clearly a lack of critical-thinking skills. While only one example, what if this happens during 1% of the police-public contacts? This would mean it’s happening approximately 3.5 million times a year.

I attended the 83rd session of the Administrative Officer’s Course at the Southern Police Institute (SPI). The education and training program was geared for police management personnel. This was at a time when Community-Oriented Policing (COP) was hitting its stride. Dr. Forrest Moss, then director of SPI, had finished a presentation outlining the benefits of COP: how will making the police more transparent to the community and how involving the community help the police be more effective and efficient, just to name a few. The basis for the presentation was how police departments could implement the COP program. At the conclusion of his presentation, I asked him if this COP program was new and for whom was it new? At this time I was the police chief in a small-town and we had been doing COP policing for years, but we did not know it. Generally, small departments look to larger departments for policing strategies. This is because it was and may still be believed that due to the sheer number of calls larger departments take, they are much better at responding to particular incidents, and smaller departments want that insight. It may be time to invert the formula, encouraging larger departments to look at how smaller departments respond. In the aftermath of George Floyd and the calls to defund the Minneapolis Police Department, one of the changes proposed was hiring social workers to take non-emergency calls. I refer you to Bulletin of Applied Criminal Justice (www.bacj.us Vol 1, No. 3) for an article written by J. Michael Ward, Police Chief in Alexandria, Kentucky. Several years ago Chief Ward initiated a program where social workers responded to non-emergency calls and the program works very well in Alexandria. This is an example of forward thinking.

It may be time for a change . . . a change in policing philosophy. It may be time for a change in how and whom we hire. It may be time for a change in how and what we train. It may be time for a change in identifying who the police should be.

Let’s encourage the forward thinkers to show themselves. Let’s get away from our comfort zone of “how we have always done” policing. Let’s finally take control of our industry before the politicians ultimately mandate what we will do and how we will do it.

While We Are Rewriting History . . .

I find it interesting that there is a need in this country to rewrite history. I understand that history is written by the victors (just ask the indigenous peoples of the United States). Their sense of history differs radically from the traditional, textbook version. That being said, the removal of Confederate monuments, the removal of Confederate battle flags, and the renaming of parks and highways in an attempt to address the issue of racism is an interesting phenomenon. A phenomenon I find very skewed.

George Washington, the once Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and first President of the United States, has a 555-foot monument erected on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This obelisk commemorates his profound contributions to this country. History depicts President Washington as a hero. He was a hero of the Revolutionary War, he was a hero as the first President of the United States, and he was a hero in the founding of this country. But George Washington was no hero. George Washington should be depicted for what he really was: a white supremacist, a racist, a slave owner. He owned slaves prior to the Revolutionary War, and he owned slaves during and after his presidency. Some accounts suggest he owned as many as 317 slaves. The name “Washington” should elicit a white-supremacy-oriented, racist response. Clearly, the Washington Monument needs to be demolished and his name removed from our nation’s capital.

Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States. The Memorial erected in his honor is a national landmark listed in the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. The National Park Service website describes Jefferson as a “Renaissance Man.” The statue of Jefferson inside the Memorial was intended to represent the Age of Enlightenment, reflecting Jefferson’s stature as a philosopher and statesman. The architect’s intention was to synthesize Jefferson’s contributions as a statesman, architect, President, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, adviser to the Constitution and founder of the University of Virginia. However, history depicts Jefferson through a skewed lens. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, was a white supremacist and a racist. He owned more than 600 slaves, far more than any other president. DNA testing has confirmed that Jefferson also fathered numerous bi-racial children. While we are re-writing history, we surely need to demolish the Jefferson Memorial as it clearly exacerbates the racial divide in this country.

James Madison was the fourth President of the United States. He is memorialized as a hero and founding father of our country. There are numerous cities, counties, rivers and parks commemorating James Madison. Buildings were constructed in his honor. The James Madison Memorial Building is one of three United States Capitol Complex buildings that house the Library of Congress. Madison Square Garden in New York City is named in honor of James Madison. There is James Madison University, James Madison College, and the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation all bearing his name.  But let me ask you: has history depicted Madison in the proper light? Madison possessed in excess of 100 slaves. He owned slaves prior to, during, and after his Presidency.  He is the author of the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which counted three out of every five slaves for purposes of taxation and legislative representation. This highly respected and highly regarded historical figure drafted legislation that did not count a slave as a whole person. This clearly was a demonstration of white supremacy and racism. Therefore, Madison’s name should be removed from all cities, buildings, parks, and universities because his name is an obvious manifestation of white supremacy and racism.

Arlington House, the 1,100-acre estate of Robert E. Lee, was seized by the Federal Government during the Civil War for failure to pay taxes. This occurred even though Lee’s wife, Mary Anne Custis Lee, attempted to pay the taxes on several occasions. This seizure ensured that Lee could never return to his estate. Statues of Lee have been removed in New Orleans, Richmond, and a stained-glass image of him was removed from a church in Idaho in an attempt to address suggestions of overt racism. If we follow this logic, then Arlington House and the estate are clear representations of slavery and, therefore, racism as Lee did own slaves and these slaves worked on this estate.

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, clearly needs to be eradicated as a U.S. National Memorial. It needs to be removed from the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The 1,100 acres, which were separated from Arlington House by the Government, also clearly need to be plowed under as a National Monument. It needs to be completely repurposed so as not to reflect any connection to white supremacy or racism.

If you are going to re-write history, you cannot pick and choose what parts of history you want to re-write. You cannot remove a statue of a Confederate general in the name of white supremacy and racism and let stand the monuments to our forefathers who owned slaves and used slaves in the founding of this country. If you do, you are just as racist as those about whom the statues commemorate.

Oh, by the way, Robert E. Lee’s 1,100-acre estate is Arlington National Cemetery!

 

Black Lives Matter?

The recent killing of George Floyd by an officer of the Minneapolis police department has spawned another round of civil unrest. Make no mistake, what happened to George Floyd was unconscionable in any circumstance, but clearly a miscarriage of justice when consummated at the hands of a 19-year veteran of the police department.

This narrative, however, is not about what happened to George Floyd.

What happened to George Floyd has brought another round of focus on Black lives matter. My questions are the following: to whom do Black lives matter and when do Black lives matter?

I know going into the research that the initial response to this blog by certain groups will be negative. I also know that people who are emotionally tied to an issue have a very difficult time with facts. Mark Twain once said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!” Maxwell Scott was quoted as saying, “. . . when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” People believe what they believe. Or, more precisely, people believe what they are told to believe, and facts don’t matter. Just read any newspaper or watch any national news program for examples of same.

For the last several years, approximately 1,100 individuals per year have died at the hands of police in this country. Statistics indicate that in 2017, 457 Whites and 223 Blacks died in this manner.  In 2018, 349 Whites and 209 Blacks died the same way. And in 2019, 370 Whites and 235 Blacks died at the hands of the police. What this projects is that approximately .000314% of the total population in the United States will be killed by police while approximately .000493% of the Black population will be killed by the police.

Statistics indicate that 59% of high school students in the 50 largest cities in the United States drop out of school. Statistics further indicate that 60% of Black high school dropouts spend time in prison. The Pew Research group reported that at the end of 2017 there were approximately 476,000 Black prison inmates and approximately 436,000 White prison inmates. Prisonpolicy.org reported in 2010 that 2,306 Blacks per 100,000 population are incarcerated. This is nearly twice as many as the next ethnic group. The “Sentencing Project” and numerous other criminological research projects have identified educational outcomes as one of the individual level factors in the disparity in the incarceration rates by race. This is nothing new. Where is the outrage? Where are the demonstrations to improve the educational outcomes for Blacks? Where are the forward thinkers and their proposals to reverse this trend?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that from 1999-2015 the largest percentage of cause of death for male Blacks aged 18-34 was homicide. The “Murder” category of the 2016 Uniform Crime Report published by the FBI indicates there were 2,870 single victim/single offender Blacks killed in the United States. Of the 2,870 Black victims, 2,570 were killed by other Blacks. This is an 89.5% Black-on-Black homicide rate. By comparison, in 2016, 3,499 Whites were killed in the United States. Of the 3,499 victims, 2,854 were killed by Whites. This is an 81.5 % White-on-White death rate.

Such a statistic is only reported when information about the offender is available. One might expect the same-race murder rate to be reflective of the general population. Whites comprise approximately 77% of the population of the United States so the White-on-White murder rate of 81.5% is not too far out of line. However, the Black-on-Black murder rate is 89.5% and Blacks comprise approximately 13% of the population of the United States. This is inordinately skewed. Where is the outrage? Where are the demonstrations for resources to address this trend? Odell Owens was the medical examiner in Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio. Dr. Owens had stated on numerous occasions that the primary mitigating factor in homicides in Hamilton County was the drug trade. This is nothing specific to Hamilton County, Ohio. This is a trend in most urban areas of the United States. Where is the outrage? Where are the demonstrations to reverse this trend?

Blacks are disproportionately represented in the jails and prison systems of the United States.  Approximately 60% of violent crime in the United States is perpetrated by 6% of the population–young Black males. Where is the outrage?

The Center for Disease Control published findings that suggest the following: “Blacks had a higher death rate and a higher prevalence of many chronic health conditions, and lower prevalence of some healthy behaviors. Blacks were less likely to participate in leisure-time physical activity and maintain a healthy weight. This report suggested that Blacks had significantly lower educational attainment and home ownership and almost twice the proportion of households living below the poverty level and unemployed than whites in all age groups.” Where is the outrage here? Where are the demonstrations for resources and education as they relate to a healthy lifestyle?

In 2018, Whites comprised 77.1% of police officers in the USA while Blacks comprised 13.3% of police officers. This is reflective of the demographic of Whites and Blacks nationwide. In 2018 police officers averaged $69,000 annually. This is approximately $15,000 above the national average salary. This is not a bad wage, particularly in urban areas, which have a tendency to pay more. If policing is systemically racist, why has there not been a movement by Black leadership to become active in the recruitment of Blacks to the police forces? If policing is systemically racists, why has there been no civil unrest when a Black police officer shoots a Black suspect, or a Hispanic officer shoots a Black suspect? If there is systemic racism in policing, then these shootings also should be considered racist and evoke calls to justice.

The “Sentencing Project” identified poverty, education outcomes, unemployment history, and criminal history as individual level factors for many of the disparities in incarceration rates.  Where is the outrage over the poor educational outcomes for Black Americans? Where are the attempts to interdict the lifestyles that land a disproportionate number of Blacks in the jails and prisons of this country? Where is the outrage when rioters carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs loot businesses that have Black proprietorships, where Blacks work and shop? Where is the outrage over the disproportionate number of Black-on-Black homicides?

All lives do matter. Unfortunately, it appears that Black lives matter only when the life of a Black individual is taken by a White police officer.

 

 

 

Hero

The word “hero” has been bandied about recently in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Webster defines “hero” as, “A man admired for his achievements and qualities.” Dictionary.com defines “hero” as, “A person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character; a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.” Maybe, the definition of a “hero” could also be, “An ordinary person doing extraordinary things.” For example, Sgt. York in WWI, Audie Murphy in WWII, Jorge Otero Barreto in Vietnam, Pat Tillman and Chris Kyle in Iraq. These were ordinary individuals who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.

You cannot watch television during these times and not see commercials thanking our “heroes,” those people on the front lines, for their service. Pictures of doctors, nurses, truck drivers, teachers, cashiers, firefighters, police officers and paramedics are flashed across the screen. You see a collage of actors and professional athletes thanking and praising people in occupations they often might hold in distain. Maybe these “stars” have had a change of heart and are truly thankful. Or maybe, because they are not working, they are making these videos so the shuffling masses who buy their products can still see them and, in this way, these “stars” can remain significant.

What were these front-line workers, these heroes, before the pandemic? Were the nurses really, as Washington State Senator Maureen Walsh described: “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” The backlash from nursing professionals that followed this statement was understandable. Washington State Department of Health published the following statistics as of 04/24/2020:  12,077 confirmed cases, 723 deaths, 160,324 total tests. During this pandemic, State Senator Walsh has been eerily quiet. Were police officers really as Black leadership described when a White police officer is forced to shoot a Black suspect? In the midst of this pandemic, where Black Americans are dying at a higher rate than White Americans and Hispanic Americans due to their increased risk factors, Black leadership has been eerily quiet. Were teachers really incapable of teaching, assessing student outcomes, and managing their classrooms to the point where politicians felt the need to step in and dictate how a classroom should be conducted? These are the same teachers who had to convert all of their classes to an online format in a very short period of time to keep educating their students because the schools were closed. On this point, politicians have been eerily quiet. Were truckers really the reckless, endangering, negligent drivers that liability attorneys depict in their commercials? Now, however, these same attorneys are praising said drivers for working during the pandemic. Were cashiers really the slow, incompetent, knuckleheads deserving the ire of shoppers which is readily apparent to anyone who has ever shopped at, say, Walmart? Now such front-line workers are considered heroes.

These police officers, correctional officers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and others on the front lines are not heroes because they are working during this pandemic. They are heroes because they get up every day, grab their gear, and go to work. They work during hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Maybe a hero is someone who goes unnoticed until the time and place are right for them to be noticed!

Undocumented Immigrants and the CARES Act

I read on Facebook the other day (I know, but CNN published a report that suggests 75% of adults in the U.S. get their news from email or social media) that congressional Democrats proposed a rider to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the “CARES Act” that would grant undocumented immigrants the same Coronavirus economic incentive benefits as U.S. citizens would receive. Of course, this created a firestorm on social media. A little closer examination may be beneficial.

The CARES Act is a $2 trillion Coronavirus pandemic response bill to aid in the U.S. economic recovery. The CARES Act allocates $603.7 billion to individuals, with $300 billion (15% of the $2 trillion package) being earmarked for direct allocations. Those earning less than $75,000 will receive a one-time cash payment of $1,200. Married couples will each receive a $1,200 payment plus $500.00 per child. For example, this bill establishes that a family of four will receive $3,400.

The Pew Report suggests that in 2017, the U.S. had approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants, of which, 7.8 million were part of the U.S. workforce. The breakdown of these undocumented immigrants indicates that 4.95 million are from Mexico, 1.9 million are from Central America, and 1.45 million are from Asia. The report further indicates that approximately 7 million of these undocumented immigrants have been in the U.S. longer than 10 years, and approximately 2 million have been in the U.S. less than five years. Tangentially, the Center for Migration Studies estimates that 44% of undocumented immigrants are here because they have overstayed their visas.

This would seem to suggest that 7 million undocumented immigrants have contributed to the national economy by working, raising children, and paying taxes. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that between 50% – 75% of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes per year. Several sources indicate that undocumented immigrants pay a total of approximately $25 billion per year in federal, state, and local taxes; which includes Social Security and Medicare. In 2016, according to the New American Economy, undocumented immigrants contributed $13 billion to Social Security funds and $3 billion to Medicare. It is important to note that undocumented immigrants do not have Social Security numbers and are not eligible for any Social Security or Medicare benefits.

The Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy approximates that half of undocumented immigrants (approximately 5 million) file a Federal income tax return. These are 5 million undocumented immigrants who could each receive a $1,200 CARES Act allocation. This is because the Internal Revenue Service would have a valid address or a valid bank account for which to apply the funds. Hypothetically, should these 5 million undocumented immigrants each receive a $1,200 allocation, the total would be $6 billion, or 2% of the $300 billion allocated for individual payment and .3% of the $2 trillion package.

As stated earlier, undocumented immigrants pay approximately $25 billion in taxes each year. For the 10-year period the majority of undocumented immigrants have worked in the U.S., this totals approximately $250 billion. If the undocumented immigrants each receive $1,200, this calculates that they would receive 2.4% of what they have paid in taxes in the last 10 years.

A central theme of the responses I read regarding this Democratic proposal was that undocumented immigrants would be receiving a government benefit of which they were not deserving, and, therefore, this benefit would be borne solely on the backs of American taxpayers. Statistically, however, this is simply not the case.

 

Freedom of Speech: Perception vs Reality

I used to be a fan of the National Football League. I enjoyed the speed of the game, the contact, and the mano a mano nature of the offenses and defenses. I lost any desire or interest in following professional football, in part, when the sports pundits shifted their focus and conversations from the game on the field to the issue of kneeling during the National Anthem. Colin Kaepernick is the primary face of this kneeling controversy. While there were other players who participated at different times in kneeing or remaining seated during the National Anthem, Kaepernick is by far the most recognizable participant.

This is not a discussion on the political correctness or incorrectness of not standing for the National Anthem. This is a discussion of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as it relates to free speech. One of the prevalent discussions during the Kaepernick controversy was his “right” not to stand during the National Anthem. To paraphrase a consistent theme projected by those in the sports media and more mainstream news outlets, we have free speech in this country, and he has a right not to stand during the National Anthem. In one respect, this is true. He does have the right to kneel during the National Anthem, but he also may suffer any consequences from team ownership because this is an action that is not protected by the First Amendment.

We don’t really have total free speech in this country. What we have, at best, is limited free speech. You cannot go into a crowded room and yell, “Fire!” You cannot use language that is designed to induce panic. You cannot burn a cross in the yard of an African American. You cannot use “fighting words.” One does not have an unfettered right of free speech in the United States.

The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. James Madison wrote these amendments, which list specific prohibitions on government power. These amendments were added to provide greater constitutional protection for individual liberties. What does the Constitution protect you from?  The Bill of Rights protects individual liberties from unlawful governmental intrusion.

The First Amendment states, in part ”. . . Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Keep in mind that speech, in this case, is not limited to the uttered word. The United States Supreme Court has included symbolic free speech as an area protected by the First Amendment. In Cohen v. California (1971), the Court ruled that the First Amendment prevented the conviction of Paul Robert Cohen for the crime of disturbing the peace by wearing a jacket displaying the phrase, “Fuck the Draft,” in the public corridors of a California courthouse. In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Court invalidated a Texas statute that prohibited the burning of the American flag, stating the burning of the flag was protected free speech under the First Amendment.  The Court issued a similar ruling on the federal statute prohibiting flag burning in United States v. Eichman (1990).  These are examples of symbolic free speech. In 1968, the International Olympic Committee suspended Tommie Smith and John Carlos for raising a black gloved fist during the playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Avery Brundage, the president of the International Olympic Committee, interpreted this action to be a domestic political statement unfit for the apolitical, international forum of the Olympic games. As such, he suspended Smith and Carlos, banned them from further participation in the Olympics and ordered their removal from the Olympic Village. Granted, this took place in Mexico City, clearly outside of the jurisdiction of the United States Constitution, but it is an example of consequences that may arise when issues of speech are not protected by the First Amendment.

So why is the Kaepernick debacle not a First Amendment issue? It’s very simple. There was no unlawful intrusion by the government.  You can utter the same statement to two different people and obtain radically different results. For example, you get pulled over by a police officer and are issued a ticket for speeding. When the officer hands you your ticket, you respond by saying, “Kiss my ass!” Under most circumstances, provided you have not threatened the officer or raised your interaction to a level consistent with disturbing the peace, you will not be arrested for your comment. Should you be arrested, the arrest would be an unlawful intrusion by the government because this is protected free speech. Should you be called into your boss’s office for a personnel review and at the end of your review you tell your boss, “Kiss my ass!” there is a good chance you will be fired. You may have some protections in this event, but a First Amendment protection is clearly not one of them.

When you look at events like those surrounding Colin Kaepernick, ask yourself a couple questions: Was there intrusion by the government? And if so, was this intrusion unlawful? Answers to these may clear up a substantial amount of misconception concerning issues of free speech and First Amendment protection in this country.

Perceptual Biases in Policing

There have been a number of incidents where unarmed Black men have been shot by White police officers. These incidents have led to a number of assumptions, up to and including the suggestion that policing in America is racist. While this deduction is clearly unsubstantiated, the issue does warrant closer examination.

Recent data indicate that Black males are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White males. A 2017 research article, “Racial Bias in Judgements of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, addresses why some of these events may have occurred. The article suggests that Black men are stereotyped as threating, which may be causing a disproportionate targeting by police even when the victim is unarmed. Prior research suggests a stereotype of young Black men as physically threatening, less innocent, and perhaps even physically “superhuman.” These stereotypes may create conditions where the police officer has a distorted perception of a Black man’s physical size and formidability. The officer may perceive danger when, in fact, none exists. These perceptions have been demonstrated in shooting simulations where unarmed Black men were shot.

This research also found that people have a predisposition to perceive young Black men as bigger (taller, heavier, more muscular) and more physically threatening (stronger, more capable of harm) than young White men. This can easily be seen in the differences of the physical descriptions given by police officers who have shot unarmed Black males and the descriptions in the medical examiners’ findings. Furthermore, research conducted in 1982 suggests that racial differences in formidability judgments are a product of bias rather than accuracy. Biased formidability judgments in turn promoted participants’ justifications of hypothetical use of force against Black suspects of crime. Thus, perceivers appear to integrate multiple pieces of information to ultimately conclude that young Black men are more physically threatening than young White men, and, therefore, must be controlled using more aggressive measures.

An interesting twist: this research was not conducted using police officers. It was conducted using randomly selected White males and White females. Considering that 80% of police officers in the United States are White, and the hiring process for police officers selects “out” candidates and does not select “in” candidates, the individuals used in this research are actually representative of a police officer.

This research suggests that police officers commonly make decisions to shoot, not on whether the suspect was armed, but based on how large and physically formidable they perceive the suspect, and how this formidability may translate into potential danger.

I was still a patrol officer in 1982 when a research article was published that identified a bias in perceptions for physical formidability and threat posed by Black men and boys. I was never exposed to this physical formidability information in any in-service training, nor in any command decision training as a police chief, nor in any training materials as a field training officer or as a police academy instructor. The last basic police academy class I taught was in 2016. This poses a series of questions, like what happened to this data? Has this information ever been reviewed for use in a training format? In this day and age of interactive police training, has this bias been built into training scenarios? Has this information made it out of the academic journals and into the real world of police training? Why are we not using this information to better police training?

For the most part, I find theoretical research in criminal justice generally and in policing specifically as simply an academic exercise (and I have been there and done that). These findings on size and formidability as they relate to threat perception should be integrated into police training at all levels. This clearly has the potential to reduce officer involved shootings based on a racial bias.

Mental Illness and Gun Control

In the wake the recent push to blame mass shootings on something, the focus on mental illness, mental health and gun control has come into prominence. So just what is mental illness? The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as, “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness as, “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.” The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness, also called mental health disorders, as, “a wide range of mental health conditions-disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.”Medline Plus defines mental disorders (or mental illnesses) as, “conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.”  Using any of these definitions, someone who has been married more than one time could be diagnosed as “mentally ill” because of the inability to relate to others. Military veterans with PTSD would, by definition, be mentally ill. Bear in mind, military veterans are actively recruited to work for police departments. In fact, veterans’ preference points are used as a recruitment incentive into a job where they are given guns. When you fill out the questionnaire for the doctor and you answer yes to the question about ever feeling depressed, you could be diagnosed as mentally ill.

So how are shootings, particularly mass shootings, and mental illness related? First off, we need to define mass shooting. A good working definition of a mass shooting is “an event where three or more people are shot in one incident, at one location, at roughly the same time, excluding gang-related and drug-related shootings.” On 08/14/2019, six police officers were woulded in a stand-off in Philadelphia when police tried to serve a warrant. In 2018 Philadelphia experienced 351 homicides. On 08/04/2019, 10 people were killed in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio. In 2017, Dayton experienced 30 homicides. On 08/03/2019, 22 people were killed in a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.  In 2018, El Paso experienced 23 homicides. Washington D.C. experienced 159 homicides in 2018, an increase of 40%. In 2018, Chicago experienced 561 homicides, which is down 100 from 2017. Detroit experienced 261 homicides in 2018, down from 267 in 2017. New Orleans experienced 146 homicides in 2018, down from 157 in 2017 and 174 in 2016.  Baltimore experienced 309 homicides in 2018, down from 342 in 2017. Miami experienced 51 homicides in 2018, down from 59 in 2017.

How does all of this relate to mental illness? There is a movement afoot by politicians that suggests the mass shootings are perpetrated by the mentally ill. Even President Trump targeted mental illness as the cause of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. It is easy to say that someone who kills a lot of people must be mentally ill. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots of WW2 were not considered mentally ill when they flew their aircrafts into American warships in an effort to win the war. As a matter of fact, it was a great honor to die for the Fatherland as a Kamikaze pilot. Nobody has suggested the 09/11 terrorists were mentally ill when they flew passenger aircraft into the World Trade Center. There are some who even believe that these terrorists died as martyr’s and were rewarded for their actions. Soldiers in combat who kill the enemy are not considered mentally ill. They are considered heroes.

What is unique about killing three victims that does not apply to killing only one? Why must the single shooter in Dayton be mentally ill when those that committed the 30 homicides in Dayton in 2017 are not? So, if those who perpetrate homicides are mentally ill, then the standard for criminal culpability must designate these people unfit to stand trial. The M’Naghten rule, which is the standard in for measuring competency to stand trial, states, “at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” Using the previously discussed definitions of mental illness, someone who commits a homicide would clearly be laboring under a defect of reason and, therefore, unable to stand trial.

So just how are mass shootings and mental illness related? Or are they? Furthermore, is the mere suggestion of a link that does not clearly exist an attempt to legislate gun control? In an August 22, 2019 article titled, “New York’s ‘Redflag’ Gun-Control Measure Goes into Effect this Weekend,” the New York Postoutlined the new gun control measure: “Petitioners must provide evidence that individuals own, possess or have access to a firearm and pose a threat to themselves or others. Applications will be heard and a decision to move forward with a hearing will be made on the same day a petition is filed. If a person is found ‘likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to himself, herself, or others,’ a temporary ‘extreme-risk protection order’ can be immediately issued, effectively blocking the individual from firearm possession or purchase, according to the legislation. Such an order would allow law enforcement to immediately remove any guns from the person’s home.” A mere subtle change in the definition of mental illness could have a wide range of unintended consequences.

I am not suggesting that we do not have a mental illness problem in this country, because we surely do. Newsone.compublished an article in 2013 by Michael Arceneaux that led with, “The three largest mental health providers in the nation are the following jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York.” What I am suggesting is that we exercise caution when linking mental illness to mass shootings. There are always unintended consequences. Poorly drafted mental illness legislation, in an attempt to legislate gun control, could lead to those who truly need help not to seek it in fear of government reprisals. An article published in 2017 by Leah Samuel on Statnews.comclaims, “Medicine is grappling with rising levels of physician burnout, one of the factors driving high rates of depression and suicide in the profession. But physicians who suffer from mood disorders are often reluctant to seek treatment — in part because it might jeopardize their license to practice.” Two-thirds of U.S. states ask doctors the broad form of mental health question, “Are you currently diagnosed with a mental health condition?”  This interrogative is included despite the fact that groups including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Federation of State Medical Boards recommend against asking such a generalized question. The suggestion is that DOCTORS are foregoing treatment for fear of losing their license.  Food for thought.

 

Do We Need Diversity in Congress?

There have been numerous posts, articles, and comments on Muslims in Congress. While I clearly understand the phobia behind these comments, I have to wonder, historically, what are the truths behind these fears. 

This country was founded on immigration. If it wasn’t, you would not be reading this commentary in the language it is written. This country was settled by immigrants who were seeking freedom from a variety of persecutions, including religious persecution. While we were founded on immigration, we have never been overly inclusive or accepting. Our founding fathers nearly decimated an entire indigenous people.  Our founding fathers also brought slaves and the slave trade to this country. The phrase “Chinaman’s chance in Hell” is the result of the White construction manager’s placing no value on the life of a Chinese laborer during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Among the more dangerous duties the Chinese were given was the task of placing nitroglycerin charges, a job that had a very high mortality rate. As late as the 19th and early 20th centuries one could see signs that read, “No Irish Need Apply.”  For those of you old enough to remember and for those of you who aren’t, when John Kennedy ran for President of the United States in 1960-61, there was a real fear of a Catholic in the White House. The paranoia was that the Pope eventually would be running the country. To date, Kennedy is the only Catholic ever elected President, and he was assassinated while in office in 1963. 

How many of these paranoias have panned out? The indigenous people of this country are no longer being persecuted; as a matter of fact, some of the most profitable casinos are owned by Native American tribes. The persecution of Blacks in this country has abated. If you truly think Blacks are still being persecuted, read a previous blog entitled, “Is the Criminal Justice System Racists?” The Irish and Chinese have assimilated into our population as have most other immigrant peoples who came to this country for a better life. The Catholic paranoia in Congress seems to have abated, as approximately 30% of the 116th Congress members are Catholic. 

Women were not readily included in our culture in the early history of the United States. They couldn’t own property, they were very limited in what jobs they could hold, and they didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 — 52 years after slaves (males) were given the right to vote in 1868. Now I am not suggesting that Blacks effectively had the right to vote in 1868, but the language of the 14th Amendment granted that right, which was more than White women had at that time. These are just a few examples of our history of lack of inclusion. 

So, this brings us to today. Social media is awash with anti-sentiment directed towards the two Muslim Congresswomen in the 116th Congress. First term Congresswoman Iinan Omar is very outspoken and wears a traditional Hijab. First term Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is also outspoken but does not wear traditional Muslim female head covering. Lumped in this group is first term Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez. Some social media postings have identified her as Muslim, also. 

What is the problem that has caused these women to be targets, not only in social media, but also from within Republican leadership? Is it the fact that they are Muslim? Cortez is clearly not, she is Catholic. Five-term Congressman Andre Carson from Indiana is also Muslim, but you don’t hear anything about him, either now or in his past five re-election campaigns. Is it the fact that Omar wears a traditional Muslim headpiece? This is an expression of her faith. How is this different from a Catholic wearing a cross or a Jew wearing a yarmulke? Is it because these Congresswomen are outspoken? Is it because these women are first term Congressional members and have not paid their dues? Is it because they are female? Is it because they are Democrats? Is it because they are different? Or, is it because they are all of the above?

These are all questions of introspection. You, gentle reader, must make a value judgement. You make them all the time. Every time you process a piece of information, you make a judgement. Do you have to justify your judgement? NO! You just have to live with it.

If we want our Country’s leadership to continue as it has for the past 200 years or so, then we don’t need any diversity. If we want our country’s direction to be driven by old White guys, then we don’t need any diversity. If we want women to be seen but not heard and kept at home, barefoot and pregnant, then we don’t need any diversity. Data from 2012 indicates that Whites made up approximately 63% of the U.S. population, followed by Hispanics at approximately 17% and Blacks at approximately 13%. The United States is 51% female, but women comprise only 25% of the Senate and only 23% of the House. Women hold more seats in the House and Senate than ever before. Minorities have made advances in the electorate at both the State and Federal levels. There is no reason to believe this trend will not continue. 

We, as human beings, are the aggregate of our life’s experiences. These experiences influence how we approach any situation, which includes our thought process and our decision-making process. Prejudice is learned. There is no prejudice gene. Prejudice is rooted in fear. What we as individuals should do first is to address our own fears and stop blaming what happens on someone else. Maybe then we could move forward as a society.