Sequita Thompson and her husband called 911 at their home in South Sacramento, not knowing the police were already in the couple’s backyard, and in this instance, the couple was presumed to be the threat.
Thompson’s grandson, Stephon Clark, was only 22 years old when he was shot and killed by the police outside of Thompson’s home. The young man was holding a cellphone in his hand that police said they thought was a weapon. The officers proceeded to fire 20 bullets at the unarmed man. Eight of the bullets hit him and ended his life, leaving his two children fatherless and a grandmother in unbearable grief.
The officers’ reckless use of deadly force reveals a flaw in police training, police convictions and ultimately, a lack of empathy for the marginalized. If law enforcement increased training hours and focused more on de-escalation in high-intensity situations, rather than immediately reacting with firearms, many victims might have lived another day.
In California, officers need less training than a cosmetologist. Police trainees need a minimum of 664 hours academy training and 14 weeks of field training to receive a badge, while a cosmetologist needs more than 1600 hours of training to receive their license.
Officers need substantially more hours of real-world training to prevent reckless killings, as they are trusted to protect people’s safety.
In Clark’s case, the police were responding to a report that a man had broken car windows and was hiding in a backyard, an offense hardly punishable by death.
On average, 1,000 times a year, on-duty officers shoot and kill someone, according to 2017 research by Bowling Green State University. More shocking than that, most officers are found to be within their legal rights.
The current standard says police can use deadly force when they see a need for “reasonable force,” meaning they have discretion to use as much force as they “reasonably” think necessary to protect both the public and themselves, according to Nolo, a site that provides legal information. The fact is, “reasonable” is subjective and in high-intensity situations, completely difficult to discern. The training combined with current laws shapes police officers’ mentalities in a hazardous wear.
“The increasing focus on making sure no one gets hurt has evolved into an obsession with trying not to injure the bad guy. Law enforcement officers’ primary concern should be to ensure that no innocent civilians or police officers get hurt,” Lt. Todd Keister of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation wrote in an article for Police Magazine.
Police Magazine is written by policemen like Keister. In the magazine, a feature article titled, “Less-Lethal: Mixed Blessings,” showcases a perspective from a veteran officer who has been in high-stakes situations. While it is understandable to consider officers’ lives when on scene, it is also important to remember suspects are human beings.
In most cases, a suspect is not identified until they are booked. There is always a chance the suspect isn’t the person they are looking for, meaning many innocent several deaths. Like Clark, many suspects have been unarmed and wrongfully identified, but immediately fired on.
Luckily, California is paving the way to change the way these cases are handled. The Police Accountability and Community Protection Act was been proposed by state Democratic lawmakers in April.
This act would raise the legal threshold for when a officer’s “reasonable force” would become “necessary force” and would require police to use non-lethal options when there is no imminent danger to themselves and the public.
If this step is taken, it will be a small yet significant step forward. The point is not to put the lives of suspects above law enforcement, but to protect the lives of all parties involved. In a high-stakes situation, an officer should be able to use force when their lives are being threatened, but not to a violent degree, such as firing a gun. This could lead to safer arrests and fewer accidental deaths.