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.There are currently no comments highlighted.