“He shouldn’t have gotten out of the car”, a phrase heard consistently in both the Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown shootings. In essence the argument being both citizen George Zimmerman and officer Darren Wilson held responsibility for the outcome because they exited their vehicle.
We have discussed this viewpoint as the “Safari Principle“, however now the Ferguson/Saint Louis police department is considering the argument -under the auspices of “tactical retreat”- as a standard policy.
SAINT LOUIS – Like many officers involved in deadly force encounters, Darren Wilson said his training took over when he shot Michael Brown in Ferguson.
But what if Wilson had been trained differently?
The national upheaval from Brown’s death, and some others since, has put enormous pressure on law enforcement to find ways to control people’s behavior while using less violence. One possibility — simple but repugnant to some officers — is to teach police to back away from certain difficult situations until help can arrive.
The concept is known as “tactical retreat” or sometimes “tactical withdrawal” or “tactical restraint.”
“We add the word, ‘tactical’ and not just ‘retreating’ or ‘giving up’ because that’s what makes it palatable for police officers,” explained Seth Stoughton, a criminal law professor at the University of South Carolina. The former Florida officer is a nationally prominent advocate for applying the softer approach.
“It’s basically the choice to work smarter rather than harder.”
Wilson has said he was in his police SUV on Aug. 9 when Brown, standing outside, struggled with him through the vehicle window and Wilson’s gun fired twice. Brown was struck at least once in the hand, and ran. Wilson gave chase, and Brown turned back. Wilson then shot him multiple times, explaining later that he feared for his life.
Had Wilson been coached in tactical retreat, Stoughton said, he instead might have stepped on the gas to drive away from the encounter, and kept Brown in sight while waiting for backup.
Wilson “could have been trained to do something different to allow him to apprehend Michael Brown without putting himself in a situation that made him feel deadly force was the only safe response,” Stoughton explained. “Train police officers to avoid putting themselves in danger, and you will see them use less force to get themselves out of danger.
“That’s good for everybody.”
Chiefs of the St. Louis and St. Louis County police have said in recent interviews they are reviewing training with the principles of tactical retreat in mind.
But it’s a delicate dance, warned Sam Dotson, the city chief.
“Society has to realize that we pay police officers to keep us safe. And if every criminal knows, ‘If I confront an officer, they will take four steps back, that’s my escape route,’ then that becomes the new norm.” (read more)