On January 29, 2016, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) made recommendations for use-of-force evaluation standards that deviate considerably from the Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Connor, and that “agencies must provide comprehensive new training, new tactical skills, and new equipment to support the new policies.”
More than a decade and a half earlier, an officer in Dayton (Ohio) tried to follow a use of force philosophy similar to PERF’s new proposals. The ideas didn’t work then and they had severe consequences. Officer Mary Beall has a message for those at PERF who are willing to listen.
An Unheeded Foreshadowing of Tragedy
In May of 2000, Officer Beall and her partner responded to a call of a man firing a .30 caliber rifle at his girlfriend. Beall would pay dearly for her misjudgment during the response.
Officer Beall and her partner, along with other officers, made contact with the suspect. He was ordered to put down his weapon. The challenge came back for the officers to put their weapons down. Eventually, Officer Beall put her weapon away in an attempt to diffuse the situation and raised her hands in a surrender position while trying to talk to the suspect.
The suspect then shot Officer Beall in the neck before being shot by another officer.
Officer Beall testified at the suspect’s trial — during sentencing — from the wheel chair she would spend the rest of her life in.
She said in court, “How can you shoot a person that has put her gun down and I was kneeling on the ground and I had put my gun down and put my hands in the air and you still, you still shot me, I was no, I was no, there was nothing there for me to hurt you and you still hurt me. Why? You don’t know me, I didn’t do anything to you, I tried to help you.”
Officer Beall succumbed to her injuries on August 25, 2002 and was honored as a hero for being willing to stand in the gap for the people she served. She did not have to die and she should not die in vain.
Don’t Bet Your Life on Shared Values
I have used this story countless times in an attempt to prevent other officers from making the mistake of thinking their values are shared by everyone they encounter. Treat all people with respect, but never assume they share your values. What is being propagated as the new training theory for law enforcement, by some, is the same philosophy that Officer Beall used in Dayton. This new ideology is dangerous to the people who serve as the thin blue line between good and evil.
I fully support teaching officers how to de-escalate situations or how to treat people with respect. But the importance of de-escalation also has to be balanced with officer safety concerns. The narrative in the headlines — and being spoken of politically — is that the officers have somehow done something wrong and caused these problems, but the facts don’t bear that out. Our officers are trained to deal with all kinds of situations, but the job is dangerous.
The tone of the PERF report presupposes a lot about the current climate in police/community relations. The assumption that the problems lie with the police instead of certain segments of society itself are a concern. Policy 1, outlining the sanctity of human life, incorrectly assumes that officers do not value life. Quoting from the report, “Agency mission statements, policies, and training curricula should emphasize the sanctity of all human life—the general public, police officers, and criminal suspects—and the importance of treating all persons with dignity and respect,” PERF actually unwittingly highlights the priority of human life that officers already understand. If a choice needs to be made in terms of protecting life, it would follow that order. The life of a police officer is more important than a criminal when a difficult decision in a critical incident needs to be made.
Policy 3 and 4 speak of proportionality and de-escalation of force. Again, the presupposition is that police are not already taking these into consideration. When Policy 1, 3 and 4 are overly emphasized like the overall presuppositions of the PERF report, we would do well to study history before we repeat it.
This new training ideology may lead to officers to making deadly errors. The training officers have been getting has continually improved in my 35 years in law enforcement. From talks about the Newhall incident to reality-based training based on actual research on what officers may encounter, police officers are very well-trained. It is time for the politicians, police chiefs, and citizens to stand up against new thinking like the PERF report and begin to support their officers both publicly and with training that will actually help keep officers and citizens alive.
Officer Beall tried the approach that PERF — and other alleged experts — want the rest of the law enforcement community to now try. We owe it to her and all law enforcement to hear the lesson that she has for us.
About the author
Tim Barfield is entering his 34th year as a police officer. He was recently appointed as police chief in a village outside of the Cleveland, Ohio area. He spent almost 32 years on a police department in an inner ring suburb of Cleveland where he worked many different aspects of the job. He has taught police combat mindset, defensive tactics and firearms to numerous officers in the Cleveland and Chicago areas.