Death by First Responder by Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

“You can’t watch this appalling video posted by brave eyewitnesses on social media without seeing police officers’ callous disregard for a black man’s life,” ACLU of Minnesota Executive Director John Gordon said, calling the death “both needless and preventable.” ACLU of Minnesota Executive Director John Gordon
The death scene in Minneapolis, MN was horrific. I am sickened by the bull shit police work that brings forth justifiably angry people who are themselves suffocating in a society who does not regard them as human. I get that and I share the anger they espouse toward law enforcement. That is not how I was brought up and it was not how I was trained. But not all cops are murderers. First off, there was no need to kill this suspect – George Floyd. No urgent call to control his life and ultimately end it. Mr Floyd had not committed a felony nor was he trying to escape or attack the police. The African American male was suffocated to death by the officer placing his body weight upon the carotid artery of the human being who was in custody. It is well known that once someone is under control and in handcuffs the need for such restraint is reduced appreciably. 
“There will always times when police officers encounter those with mental health needs especially in times of crisis and social disorder. Training and education offer the best hope for safe and efficient handling of cases. A continuum of options for detox, dangerousness assessment and symptom management must be readily available – but here in Massachusetts they are not”  Michael Sefton, 2017
I have had previous posts about the use of force continuum. Officer’s can get off the suspect once control has been established. A law enforcement officer can let up the fight and assuredly, most do so when the fight is over. Whether or not suspect X fought the police after being identified as a suspect in a check forgery scheme or not he did not deserve to die. Even if he were the ringleader in the check forgery scheme and cashed thousands of dollars worth of bad checks, he did not deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. The police will say that the suspect fought until his death – trying to hurt or kill police. Perhaps they will say he was thrashing about and kicking – just off camera. Even if he was the use of deadly force would not be allowed. Bystander video tape will prove or disprove this theory. There is also the body worn camera footage that will surely be published into evidence. From the video released so far, it does not appear that Mr. Floyd was continuing to threaten law enforcement after he was handcuffed. It would appear that the police officer whose full weight rested upon the neck of George Floyd did not reduce his use of force to meet the resistance put forth by Mr. Floyd in kind. That is a serious abuse of power and the officer is now being held on the charge of murder in the second degree. 
“It emphasizes accountability, making amends, and — if they are interested — facilitated meetings between victims, offenders, and other persons like the police.” Center for Justice and Reconciliation
Community policing requires not only programs bringing community members together with police officers in various ways including block meetings, police athletics leagues, and “coffee with a cop” but also developing a mutual trust between law enforcement and the people they are sworn to protect. How does this happen? Police chiefs, deputy chiefs, superintendents, command staff, and patrol officers need to press some flesh out in the neighborhoods. Trust and visibility brings forth accountable and transparent policing. By doing so it opens the doors to community membership by inviting input and honest dialogue.  Restorative justice is a process that slowly repairs the harm caused by crime and malfeasance through ongoing dialogue, respect, and genuine contrition even as it pertains to police abuse of power. Community members, including police officers, and victims of abuse meet for talks aimed at transforming mistrust and anger.  Policing reforms are being introduced from coast to coast Most cities have (again) banned the choke hold that was taught but not permitted in 1982 when I first went through police training. On June 22, 2020, a NYPD officer was put on unpaid suspension for again choking out a suspect who was black. The suspect survived the arrest and was checked out at a local hospital. Meanwhile, the work of the police must continue especially now as Americans learn what to expect from the new normal and beyond. Call 911 if you have an emergency and need the police. 

Benchmark behaviors for healthy police service

Law Enforcement flag

What are the bench-mark behaviors that are reflective of healthy police officer career development? How does a young man or woman go from a squared away academy graduate to an over burdened, irascible and embittered mid-career cop? There is a growing literature that suggests officer behavior and law enforcement culture become instilled in the field training process that takes place immediately following successful formal classroom training. The answer to the question about officer embitterment is a mystery but after spending time with members of law enforcement in Chicago in late March 2019 it begins to become apparent that police officers grow and remain productive in an environment of support: both within the organization and within the community in which they serve.

There are factors intrinsic to law enforcement that detract from career satisfaction like the risk of personal harm or death, career ending injury, time away from family, shift work, and forced overtime. This is a well known set of stressors that officers learn shortly after signing on. But things that may be unexpected include the quasi-military chain of command that often stifles education and innovative thinking, professional jealousy, arbitrary executive orders, the lack of opportunity to participate in policy making, nepotism among non-civil service personnel, and the lack of support for the sacrifice made by the field qualified troops for physical and behavioral health injuries. The period of field training differs from job to job. Field training picks up where the academy classroom education leaves off. Newly minted LEO’s all must undergo field training and are assigned to a single field training officer (FTO) who provides on-the-job training about the realities of frontline police work and closely monitors officer behavior and responses in the field.

Field training usually lasts between 12-18 weeks and was first initiated in San Jose, CA in 1972 according to research published in 1987 by McCampbell of the National Institute of Justice at DOJ (1987). “The primary objective of the Field Training and Evaluation Program (FTEP) is to ensure that all probationary police officers receive optimal field training, predicated upon staffing the Field Training Officer position with qualified officers, and to ensure through proper training and evaluation that only competent, motivated, and ethical individuals become Chicago police officers” as published in the Chicago PD Field Training Program and Evaluation Standards (2018). Field training officers have specific training in mentoring with an understanding of the demands of “street work” and the transition from classroom recruit to patrol officer. The FOR training process lasts several weeks as seasoned veterans learn how to be mentors and evaluation the training needs of individual probationary officers. 

The selection of FTO’s differs from department to department and has implication on long-term officer success. Attrition rates exceed 25 % under the FTO’s leadership and tutelage in many agencies. FTO’s can be expected to experience training fatigue and should be permitted time between assignments. “Dworak cautioned about agencies falling into situations in which they over-work their FTOs, resulting in diminished quality of work, and subsequently, decreased value delivered to the recruit being instructed” Wyllie, 2017

“The FTO is a powerful figure in the learning process of behavior among newly minted police officers and it is likely that this process has consequences not only for the trainee but for future generations of police officers that follow.” Getty et al. (2014) There is little standardization of training protocols aside from FTO catechizing war stories day after day with tales from the street followed by endless inquiry over possible decisions based on department protocol as the sometimes defiant FTO sees fit.

“New officers can be taught when to legally arrest and use force, but the academy cannot instill in each trainee the breadth of intangible, community, value-based decision-making skills that are necessary to manage unpredictable incidents in varying situations.” Getty et al. (2014)

FTO’s are closely monitored by the department training hierarchy and are required to provide daily observation report as to the demonstrated progress of probationary police officers toward developing competence in over 10 areas of police-related duties including decision making, judgment, court testimony, use of force, etc. At the end of each 28-day cycle FTO’s submit a detailed review of progress and potential deficiencies that arise. In Chicago, IL a probationary police officer (PPO) must complete a minimum of 3 28-day cycles with an FTO. It is known that FTO’s help to instill the police culture in PPO’s including policing by the book and prevailing beliefs and attitudes as they exist within individual agencies. I strongly believe that FTOs play a role in reinventing the police service and lowering the stigma associated with behavioral health and response to exposure to trauma.

Job satisfaction is greatest soon after the law enforcement officer is taken off field training and designated “field qualified”. Following the 12-18 week field training officers remain on probationary status for up to 2 years from date of hire. There is some thinking that FTO behavior rubs off on PPO’s and can impact career identity including misconduct later on long after field training has ended. Officer resilience depends upon solid field training with adequate preparation for tactical encounters, legal and moral dilemmas, and mentoring for career development, job satisfaction, and long-term physical and mental health.

Chicago Police Department (2018) FIELD TRAINING AND EVALUATION PROGRAM http://directives.chicagopolice.org/directives/data/a7a57be2-1294231a-bf312-942c-e1f46fde5fd8c4e8.html taken March 29, 2019.

Wyllie, D. (2017) Why the FTO is one of the most important police employees. Police One https://www.policeone.com/police-products/continuing-education/articles/338249006-Why-the-FTO-is-one-of-the-most-important-police-employees/ Taken March 30, 2019 Sun, I. Y. (2003a). A comparison of police field training officers’ and nontraining officers’ conflict resolution styles: Controlling versus supportive strategies. Police Quarterly, 6, 22-50. Getty, R, Worrall, J, Morris, R (2014) How Far From the Tree Does the Apple Fall? Field Training Officers, Their Trainees, and Allegations of Misconduct Crime and Delinquency, 1-19. McCampbell, M. S. (1987). Field training for police officers: The state of the art. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Leadership in a time of missing or dead leaders in 2018

A good friend and co-author of our published Psychological Autopsy (2011) told me that if I “want to be a leader that I need to be more concise”. I had recently promoted to sergeant in the Police department from which I am now retired. At the time he was angry at me because I had promised him I would give my decision about travel plans we had discussed.

“If a man is solely judged on his moment of weakness there will be not leaders in the world” said a 91-year old man with skin cancer seated at a bar in Florida

Eventually, I called my colleague to say I was ‘all in’ when he let me know he had made other plans. Okay, my bad. I remembered at once him telling me that if I wanted to have followers I needed to be more concise and communicate more clearly. How true his remarks ring to this day and I hear it often from other friends and family.
He had given me a deadline and I failed to let him know of my intentions and he decided he needed to move on or risk losing air fare, hotels, etc. He was right, I was vague and noncommittal. I was hurt by his gruff response but it taught me an important lesson. If I want to have followers I need to be concise. Since then these words resonate with my belief system but I’d say I still remain uncertain when given too many choices.
“The genius of leadership lies in the manner in which leaders see, act on, and satisfy followers’ values and motivations as well as their own” and I can fully relate to this and attribute my leadership to a model of shared responsibility and collateral command.

Institute of Medicine (US) (2004). Committee on the Work Environment for Nurses and Patient Safety; Page A, editor.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US)

Thin Blue Line

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The loss of Weymouth, MA Sgt. Michael Chesna impacts all of law enforcement and the behavior of the shooter must not be repeated. Sgt. Chesna will be buried on Friday July 20, 2018 with the full honors for the hero he was.

“And maybe just remind the few, if ill of us they speak, that we are all that stands between the monsters and the weak.”       Michael Marks