A Better Alternative to Police Force

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I have been thinking a lot about a Washington Post article and accompanying police body camera footage.

In that footage, a black man is pacing around and around in the middle of a street talking loudly, mostly incoherently. He is not being confrontational, but he is not cooperating, either. Several white Fairfax County police officers and at least one EMT are trying to find out what help he needs and trying to coax him into the back of an ambulance. Finally, one officer, just arriving on the scene, tases the man and brings him down. After some struggling and yelling, plus a couple of more tasings, the man is handcuffed and lying on his side in the street. The upshot: The man is taken to a hospital, treated, and released; the county police chief expresses outrage at the way the situation was handled; and the officer is charged with three counts of assault and battery.

This is a vivid example of the dilemmas facing police every day. My initial reaction was: What are the police supposed to do in this kind of situation? The man did not seem to be a threat to the police or other people. Clearly, however, the police could not ignore him.

Fortunately, there is a way to deal with that kind of situation: crisis intervention training (CIT). Such training provides skills to enable officers to provide “the level of care and compassion for individuals suffering from a mental health crisis or illness in addition to providing a layer of security and safety for everyone.”  Such training is not available to police officers in every jurisdiction, but it is available to Fairfax County officers. In fact, according to the “Chief’s Page” on the Fairfax County Police Department website, 43% of all patrol officers have attended CIT courses. In addition, the county community services board has two mobile CIT teams. These units specialize in “responding to referrals from the police, fire, and rescue service, and other public safety agencies on cases where mental health consultation and intervention are needed.”

I was impressed with how the first officer on the scene, along with others, such as the EMT, was politely and patiently trying to understand what the man needed and to coax him into the back of the ambulance. It was the last officer to arrive on the scene who seemed to have the attitude that, like Dirty Harry, he was not going to waste time with this “touchy-feely” stuff and proceeded to deal with the situation with good old fashioned force.

I am trying not to second-guess the Fairfax County officer or the police chief. After all, I was not there and did not have to deal with a seemingly intractable situation. I do not know the county policy dealing with the use of tasers. Perhaps the policy limits the use of tasers to situations in which police are actually threatened with harm. Perhaps a CIT team was not readily available.But this episode illustrates a point I was trying to make in a prior post—most police are good and try to do the right thing. But there are those that don’t get it, who think that using force is their right and the answer for every problem. And when that force is used on poor black men, that makes all police officers the enemy in the minds of many.

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25 responses to “A Better Alternative to Police Force

  1. Excellent, and thoughtful, post.

  2. Fairfax County also has a Diversion First program that tries to identify people with mental, emotional or substance abuse-related problems and move them towards treatment, rather than immediately to the criminal justice system.

    I too don’t know the facts and believe everyone accused of a crime deserves due process. But I want to know what Timberlake’s previous record shows. I want to know whether he’s a Chauvin/Thao in the making. Is this an officer who should have been identified and removed earlier. I expect a helluva lot more from Bryan Hill and Jeff McKay than Minneapolis got from Jacob Frey.

  3. re: ” But I want to know what Timberlake’s previous record shows. ”

    and good luck on that – that’s one of the things the protests are about.

  4. Given what’s been going on in this country, they need to add a charge of stupid in the first degree for that (soon to be former) officer.

  5. Thoughtful piece. Mental illness is increasing and we have made the decision as a society not to institutionalize the mentally ill. Police need to develop protocols for dealing with these people if they do not represent an immediate danger to others or themselves. Perhaps police departments (at least the larger ones with more resources) need to field teams specially trained to deal with the situations like the one you described.

  6. The answer to the question “What are police supposed to do” may be a difficult one, but one thing I think we can all agree is they are not supposed to murder citizens by pressing their knee into someone’s neck for 9 minutes. Let’s not lose sight of the real issue here. As far as people who say “it’s just a few bad apples,” the real problem is the so-called “blue code,” by which “good” officers refuse to stand up to or rat out bad officers. The blue code is BS, and any officer who abides by it is just as guilty as the perpetrator. I heard a suggestion that I thought was worth exploring. Lawsuits and settlements for police misconduct could be paid out of police pension funds. You can bet good officers won’t be tolerating bad officers long after that. The police need to be held to a higher standard than most professions because, unlike most professions, they have the power to kill people.

    • yep. The senior policeman put his knee on the man’s neck and the other three did not really know what to do and did not feel empowered to do anything other than “help” or stand by.

      To a certain extent, it was the 3 standing by without any rules telling them to do anything otherwise – that killed Floyd.

      Had they had in their training – a duty to intervene – even with a senior officer – Floyd would still be alive and no one would be charged with murder.

      That’s the problem. It’s not just one bad actor… it’s a system.. that allows bad actors to do things while others feel helpless to intervene.

  7. Anybody want sign up to be a police officer?

  8. The idea of disbanding a police force is not new. It happened in 2012 in Camden NJ, a very high crime sort of place. The key? They did what any self-respecting management with any brains does: they closed up shop, then rehired the cops they wanted to keep. Most importantly, they went non-union, taking away the brain-dead defense of bad cops put forth by the union, very often the Teamsters after they lost the trucking industry in 1978. Management took a lot of heat but the results have been pretty good. See following, a recent repost of a 2018 followup story to what happened in 2012:


  9. If you liked the Farfax story, you’re gonna love this ‘un!


  10. The DOJ estimates that about 50 percent of all crime is committed by about 2 to 5 percent of the population. They also note that proactively identifying this cohort is impossible. Further, severity of punishment isn’t a meaningful deterrent to crime, but certainty of being caught and swiftness of reasonable punishment are.

    Given these realities, a rational restructuring of our police state would look like a 95 percent reduction in armed, militarized police with – more or less in order:

    – Counselors
    – Detectives
    – Mediators
    – Cuff and radio foot patrols based around something like Japan’s kobans

    With the remaining, armed five percent on call to act as backup as needed and spending most of their time in training.


    • That would likely result in a failure. No one knows when and where a violent or potentially violent crime would happen. If only 5% of the police were capable of responding to these types of situations, the odds of successful violence increases. To survive in an environment, everyone would need to be armed and be able to respond to violence with violence.

      • What you fail to understand is that police almost never stop a crime in progress. If an armed and violent crime or criminal is called in then sure, send in the armed response team. But the vast majority of crime doesn’t actually involve weapons. And if an encounter with an unarmed suspect turns violent at least the opportunity for a cop to get their gun taken from them falls to zero.

        The other thing people struggle to understand is that unless you shoot first your gun will not save you. And a shoot first mentality is how we end up with 1,000 dead American citizens at the hands of cops every year.

  11. Interesting story out of Philadelphia … a cop with what is supposedly a Nazi tattoo on his forearm. “Fatherland”. Defended on air by his police union rep.


    • Any job more complex than installing the left spindle nut on a Ford Mustang rolling down the assembly line ought to NOT be a union job.

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