Police ‘interaction Training' Will Be Worth It If It Eases Fear on All Sides

Beginning next year, Texas teenagers will start getting "how to" lessons in the startlingly obvious: how to get stopped by a cop. Under a new state law, the 2018-19 school year will include instruction for public school and driver's ed students in "interactions with police," including safety recommendations and individual rights. At the same time, police officers will be given similar training about how they should behave during traffic stops and similar routine encounters with citizens. Maybe this training is necessary, and it probably does no harm. Proposed curricula, which will be based on information already included in state driver-training manuals, is pretty straightforward stuff: Stay in your car, open the window, keep your hands visible. Be polite. What I find distressing about all this is perhaps irrelevant, which is this: Such "training" might reinforce the notion that law enforcement officers and the communities they police are alien species, natural adversaries who inevitably misunderstand and mistrust one another. Unhappily, that notion is grounded in genuine tragedy. Wherever you come down on the dueling narratives that either officers pose an ever-increasing threat to civilians — particularly minority males — or vice versa, the cases that fuel them are terrible. Five officers murdered by a deranged gunman on our downtown streets. An unarmed kid killed when a suburban cop fired blindly into a passing car. And that's just in our own yard. The argument is made that fatal shootings of civilians by police or of police by civilians remain comparatively rare compared with, say, wrecks or civilian homicides or fatal lightning strikes. But the mistrust is there, and it makes everything worse. It fuels rage and riots; it swells simple misunderstandings into deadly showdowns. It's poison. "There's a lot of tension in terms of interactions between law enforcement and citizens in traffic stops," said Dallas Sen. Royce West, author of the new bill. Yes, there is. We-the-media come in for a lot of blame for reporting on tragic encounters; I would argue that new technology and social media allow the world to see how quickly a routine encounter can go bad. The polite, mundane interactions — "Your registration is expired; better get that taken care of" — aren't going to generate a lot of YouTube views. And we have all heard the ugly, profoundly distressing cases in which an officer's version of events isn't borne out by the evidence. The bad instances are rare, but they get a lot of attention. With luck, the new training — innocuous though it may be — will have the same sort of effect as a really good marriage counselor: It will convince both sides that keeping the peace is a lot more valuable to the relationship than being the one who's "right" or entitled to "respect," more beneficial than sorting out who gets to be the alpha dog. Sadly, that's easy to say and hard to do. Our culture is very much about establishing alpha-dogness, about viewing "respect" as a precious commodity that everybody wants to hoard without giving any up. I'm not afraid of police officers. And I hope I have enough sense not to make any of the obnoxious remarks that tend to run through the errant motorist's mind when nailed for a traffic violation. ("Why don't you find some real crime," "I pay your salary," etc.) I'm also a grandma-aged white lady who lives in the suburbs and drives a presentable, if not particularly impressive, car. Do I get the same treatment as a 20-year-old black male in southern Dallas, or even a professional suburban female who happens to be African-American? It would be presumptuous for me to say, because I am not those people. Just telling those whose experiences are different to "obey" and "show respect" may be awfully oversimplified advice. But I'm sure of this: Something as routine as a traffic stop should not inspire fear. Law enforcement officers and civilians should not be afraid of each other. It's that fear — more, I believe, than deliberate ill will — that blows routine events into split-second tragedies. "In most police shootings, officers don't shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred," writes Seth Stoughton, an officer-turned-law professor who advocates for less militaristic training for police departments. "They shoot because they are afraid." I hate the notion of teaching new drivers, teenagers on the threshold of adult citizenship, that law enforcement officers must be handled warily, like wild animals or dangerous explosives. If we're ever going to get past the angry, politically charged standoff between cops and minority communities, we have to find a way to ratchet back the fear on all sides.It that possible? I don't know, but a little simple understanding all around can't hurt. If the new training accomplishes that, it'll be worthwhile.  Continue reading...

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