Deadly force continuum changing officer safety

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The use of force is a fluid decision tree that requires instant recognition of threat often in response to another’s intention to do bodily harm and cause mayhem – Sefton 2016

WESTBOROUGH, MA March 23, 2016 Police agencies across the country are changing their use of force policies because of the hue and cry of constituents everywhere over police shootings. Some wrongly believe that street cops should use counseling techniques first to reduce the need for lethal force and – in their view – reduce officer involved shootings.

The clamor for the change in this policy is placing greater onus for limiting lethal force on the street officer. In effect, this is pushing him or her to be an armchair psychologist in addition to the ultimate defender of human rights when life is on the line. There is a growing expectation that crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques will be inserted into the use of force continuum in the officer’s armamentarium.  This adds to the officer’s conundrum on whether to shoot or not to shoot.  In the instant he thinks ‘can this situation be eliminated through dialogue and de-escalation tools?’ he may be killed or maimed. Police Commissioners in Los Angeles are considering a revamping of the use of lethal force by adding de-escalation language that officers might use to reduce the need for lethal force (LA Times, K. Mather).  The policy in Los Angeles dictates that officers be guided by “a reverence for human life” as the critical underpinning for the avoidance of using force.

The use of force continuum requires that officers may only use force when force is being introduced against them. The expectation that the average citizen is going to comply with police officer directives is no longer the case.  People of all sizes and shapes become violent often with little or no provocation. Passive resistance may not be met with a baton strike or taser.  Where as the baton strike and taser may be deployed when active resistance and an aggressive posture are demonstrated or directly administered against a police officer.  The increase in force against police takes just an instant and police officers train for this “oh shit” moment of attack. Too often an officer is caught off guard resulting in injury or death.  As a police officer, we practiced for these moments when on the range or during our night shoot twice a year.  Our range instructor had a special device that measured the time from when you drew your firearm until the first shot was recorded.  The fastest draw each year won a prize like a new knife or a light for your your pistol. Something as routine as a traffic stop can leave an officer dead when the operator may be in hiding or attempting a getaway unbeknownst to the officer.

The need for verbal dialogue is already part of officer training.  It is called “giving commands” and officers-in-training practice it for hours in all academy classes.  It becomes part of the daily behavioral vernacular of most citizen contacts – especially those with noncompliant, resistant or agitated subjects.  Adding verbal de-escalation commands to the use of force protocol will create a greater lag time when that moment of attack occurs or is about to occur.  I understand the need for sensitive dialogue in all potentially violent police-citizen encounters.  I believe it is a safe bet that all police officers are guided by the reverence for human life as the LAPD edict would espouse.

Counseling is not appropriate when the bad guy escalates to a lethal force moment such as when he draws a gun unexpectedly, or is fighting for an officers firearm or when he rushes an officer with a knife attempting to do grave bodily harm.

America’s moral failure: Veteran health and the slide into oblivion

WESTBOROUGH, MA December 26, 2015 The topic of suicide among America’s war veterans comes up over and over when morbid stories become known – generally after the death of a former soldier, marine, or airman. This must raise the consciousness of each of us and greater attention to the health of our veterans is our moral duty. So far, the incidence of suicide among America’s war heroes seems not to have diminished in 2014.  22 veterans are said to commit suicide daily – more than are killed fighting in war. How is it possible that more is not being done for these men and women and their families?  A society unmoved by these facts is a moral failure.

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Amy Miner now speaks out on PTSD (AP PHOTO – Holly Ramer

No greater failure comes to mind but the case of Kryn Miner, a Vermont veteran of 11 wartime deployments who was killed by his son in 2014 after threatening his family with a firearm. Miner was seriously injured in 2010 sustaining a TBI after a roadside blast threw him into a concrete wall. But it was not his first exposure to trauma. He returned to his home with a brain injury and PTSD and was unable to receive the treatment he needed to release his demons.  His wife Amy was quoted as saying “the truth of the matter is if we can’t take care of our veterans we shouldn’t be sending them off to war.”  Miner’s mental health slowly languished as he fought the fight to gain access for veteran’s health benefits.

America failed to provide for access to meet his basic needs causing both he and his family to suffer immeasurably.  Some might argue that Kryn Miner and his family represent the unconscionable and symbolic misfortune of  America’s war heroes. Ironically, it was Kryn Miner who strove to gain access to benefits for many of his fellow Iran and Afghanistan war veterans via the Lone Survivor’s Foundation.  Eventually, he became a spokesman for the foundation.  But Miner struggled with his own demons that eventually cost him his life in a troubling case of patricide in rural Vermont.  Kryn Miner suffered with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.  On the day he died, he had attended a wedding with his wife and arguably consumed too much alcohol.  He became angry and menacing ultimately threatening to kill his family.  In self defense, one of Miner’s children used a handgun to defend members of the family.  The state’s attorney general did not bring charges calling Miner’s death a justified homicide.

This family, like so many others has suffered immeasurably and will experience the pain of this death forever. It would be all too easy to point the finger at the Veteran’s Administration Healthcare System for having too few mental health clinicians or too long a waiting list. In fact as much of an advocate Kryn Miner was for his brother servicemen and women he did not help himself. He threatened his family with a firearm and may have killed them all were he not stopped by a courageous child in a unconscionable turn of events that no one could anticipate.

Are childhood sports becoming venues for expression of unencumbered anger?

WESTBOROUGH, MA January 20, 2016  “Childhood sport represents an opportunity for children to learn the value of teamwork, sensible competition, winning, and loosing. Some important lessons in life emerge from the spirit of youth competition,” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., Director of Psychology at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough.  “I have coached youth hockey up through high school-age boys and have found 99 percent of the families I worked with to be very reasonable and respectful,” remarked Sefton in preparation for the blog post.  Just as importantly the games must be fun or children will not want to play. In recent years there has been a growing notoriety of fan behavior while attending the sporting events of children.  It is almost a “mob mentality” as parents shout at referees over botched calls, yell at other players, and become obstreperous toward the opposing fans.  Sometimes this becomes violent as it did in Reading, MA in 2002 when two men squared off and fought over a youth ice hockey practice resulting in the death of one.  “The fight was less about hockey than about the loss of control and unencumbered anger” according to Sefton. For his part, Thomas Junta who outweighed the victim by over 100 pounds was sentenced to 8 years for manslaughter.  He was released from the state’s prison in Concord, MA in 2011.

Social scientists have been interested in mob behavior for years and when it comes down to what the underpinnings of fan behavior experts cite alcohol, adrenaline, and blind team loyalty as primary culprits. But as far as parent behavior at childhood sporting event goes some parents become delusional and behave out of some overdriven striving on behalf of their child. Some parents see scholarship money in a child as young as 5-years old when in actuality only 2 percent of athletes will ever receive scholarship funds for playing football for example, according 2008 NCAA published data – most receive only a partial scholarship package and not the coveted “full ride” – published in the NY Times.  As a parent I took my children to an NCAA ice hockey playoff event that was so much fun. The kids were given ice time to skate with coaches and players from the playoff teams.  During this time I attended a parent education seminar on scholarships and the lengths to which some parents will go to get their child athletes noticed.  How is it possible that an angry father might physically attack a volunteer referee over a missed call or become enraged at a youth coach over the amount of playing time a son or daughter receives?

According to Brooke De Lench, Mom’s Team executive director, parents lack the basic coping skills to respond to the ups and downs of their kid’s competition and are injured when their child does not succeed. De Lench seeks a shift from an adult-centered model to a child-centered philosophy as a way of eliminating unruly and sometimes outrageous fan behavior. When fans loose control the results can be deadly. “We lose ourselves when we watch our children play sports” said Sefton who regularly attends high school parents’ night in Massachusetts speaking on concussion.  But becoming lost as children play youth soccer or football must never include losing control as it sometimes does. Because for some parents, a child’s failure, or even the perception of failure may evoke strong emotions.

In 2002 during a youth hockey practice 2 children jostled and battled for the puck.  One parent, confronted the coach, whose son it was involved in the on ice scrap.  He objected to the rough play during the on ice scrimmage.  A shouting match ensued followed by the 270 pound Thomas Junta, 45, jumping the much smaller Michael Costin, 44, and punching him violently and killing him in front of his child and other players in the ice arena in Reading, MA.  Junta was charged and served 8-10 years in the state’s prison for manslaughter.  The lives of both families were destroyed by this event.  Both Junta’s and Costin’s boys have grown into troubled men and have themselves served time in prison.  This sensational story left quite an impression on me as an outrageous exemplar of state of the art parenting.

Most of us know there is much psychology in youth sports including developing core beliefs about winning and loosing, team cohesion, mastery of physical skills, and the growth of healthy competition. Balance is needed pushing children to become something for which they are may not be physically or emotionally equipped. Just as important parents must recognize their own feelings at their children’s games and accept that some things should not be worthy of the fight to end all fights.

Dr. Michael Sefton is a neuropsychologist and former police sergeant in Westborough, MA .  He along with 3 colleagues published a psychological autopsy on the Dexter, ME domestic violence homicide from 2011 and presented the research before the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board at the state house in Augusta, Maine in November 2011.

via Are parents at kids’ sports games harmful? (Opinion) – CNN.com.