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Excerpt: "The grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was focused on whether he might have acted in self-defense when he shot and killed unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown. But the case raises another question: Could Wilson have avoided getting into a spot where he had to make that split-second, life-or-death decision?"

Ferguson police under holiday decorations. (photo: AP)
Ferguson police under holiday decorations. (photo: AP)

Teaching Cops to 'Just Walk Away'

By Gene Johnson and Eric Tucker, Associated Press

30 November 14


he grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson was focused on whether he might have acted in self-defense when he shot and killed unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown.

But the case raises another question: Could Wilson have avoided getting into a spot where he had to make that split-second, life-or-death decision?

Departments around the country have in recent years stepped up their training in "de-escalation" — the art of defusing a tense situation with a word or a gesture instead of being confrontational or reaching for a weapon.

Proponents, including the Justice Department, say the approach can improve trust and understanding between police and residents, curtail the unnecessary use of force and improve the safety of officers and civilians alike.

"We haven't taught officers to just walk away," said Cambridge, Massachusetts, Police Commissioner Robert Haas. "But if the only reason a person is acting up is because you're standing there ... isn't that a viable approach?"

Haas and other law enforcement officials said they didn't want to second-guess Wilson's actions because they weren't in his shoes at the time of the Aug. 9 shooting.

But, many said, the case should accelerate a national discussion about police culture and the potential for broader training in de-escalation, which is considered especially important in dealing with people in mental health or drug-related crises.

In Missouri this month, a federal law enforcement team held training with St. Louis-area police, including top commanders from Ferguson, on how unintentional bias affects police work. That approach goes hand-in-hand with de-escalation.

"In every police encounter, the officer and the civilian bring with them and see the world through their experiences. The more these views diverge, the more they immediately see the other as a threat," said Jenny Durkan, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle who led the effort to curb excessive uses of force by city police.

According to Wilson's grand jury testimony, Brown and a friend were walking down the middle of the street when he drove up and asked them to use the sidewalk. When they declined, he suggested it again. Brown responded by cursing at him, Wilson said. He backed up his vehicle to confront Brown, who was carrying stolen cigars.

Brown shoved the vehicle's door shut as Wilson tried to open it, and then attacked the officer through the door's open window, Wilson said. The officer began shooting, then got out of the car, chased Brown, and fired some more when Brown turned around.

"My job isn't to just sit and wait," Wilson told ABC News.

In its investigations of police agencies, the Justice Department has singled out poor de-escalation tactics.

In a July report on the Newark, New Jersey, department, the DOJ faulted a "pattern and practice of taking immediate offensive action" rather than acting within the bounds of the Constitution and displaying the "thick skin and patience" needed for the job.

In Seattle and in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the DOJ blasted police for too quickly using flashlights, batons or stun guns as weapons when force could have been avoided.

In Seattle in 2010, an officer killed a Native American woodcarver who had crossed the street while holding a small knife and a block of wood. The officer got out of his car, and when the carver — who turned out to be hard of hearing — didn't immediately drop the tool as ordered, he was shot.

Like Wilson, the officer wasn't charged criminally because of the high bar for such prosecutions against police, but the case helped spur the federal civil rights investigation of the department. A consent decree overhauled the department's training, putting a premium on de-escalation and bias-free policing.

The DOJ has already launched a similar investigation in Ferguson.

In practice, de-escalation can take many forms, said Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb. Sometimes it means that multiple officers respond rather than one, because the larger presence can make excitable subjects realize they're outnumbered.

But for an officer, it can also mean calmly introducing yourself, listening to what someone is saying and simply relating to the person. The use of body-worn cameras can also help, experts say, because both officers and civilians tend to behave better when they know they're being recorded.

"If we can use language and presence to get people to comply with lawful orders, we can consider that a win," Whitcomb said.

Still, reducing tension can be easier said than done. A 2012 report from the Police Executive Research Forum describes challenges in utilizing de-escalation techniques, saying a younger generation of officers accustomed to communicating through email and other electronic media may be less skilled at face-to-face encounters.

And some officers worry about giving away the upper hand.

A group of Seattle police officers sued over the department's new use-of-force policy. They said while they too want to prevent excessive uses of force, the policy is overly complicated and could endanger officers by requiring them to hesitate before using force. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, but the officers have appealed.

"Traditional police training reinforces that you must always display a very strong, assertive presence," said Sue Rahr, executive director of Washington state's police academy. "But if the officer reacts to a challenge as most human beings would — by challenging back — the situation is going to devolve." your social media marketing partner


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+3 # babaregi 2014-11-30 18:45
Men tend not to change their direction until there is violence or something like it; women, not as much.

So force/violence will always be an ultimate factor in law enforcement.

If authority is not granted by the people/communit y upon whom it will be exercised then there will not and should not be any respect for it.

If force is used in the service of the State and the elite to control the common resources then it is invalid.
+14 # California Neal 2014-12-01 02:07
In many situations, especially where white officers encounter people of color, the language used by the officer--includ ing vulgar terms & insults--along with the officer's tone of voice escalates the situation from the beginning. Often, that sets off a macho confrontation that continues to escalate.

There was no good reason for Wilson to go after Brown & shoot at him, as opposed to calling for backup. And if you believe any of Johnson's testimony--whic h sounds more credible than Wilson's overall--Wilson was confrontational from the start, unnecessarily escalating a minor situation into the death of an unarmed 18 year old. At the end of the confrontation, only a few witnesses supported Wilson's view that Brown was charging at him, while many others thought he was surrendering or otherwise not posing a danger to Wilson.
+9 # backwards_cinderella 2014-12-01 04:13
there is NOTHING credible about wilson's testimony.
+13 # gregs 2014-12-01 04:40
Seems like walking away is what occurred in the Bundy stand-off in Nevada.
+1 # Buddha 2014-12-01 11:46
Yes, but those were armed whites. Different rules, you know...
+10 # E-Mon 2014-12-01 05:39
To be fair I'm trying to put myself in both Wilson's and Brown's shoes. i.e. See it from both perspectives and also not immediately assume that Wilson was acting out of a racsist attitude. According to Johnson the first thing they heard out of Wilson's mouth was "Get the "F" on the sidewalk." I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, that immediately set the stage for everything that happened, and could be seen as racsist attitude from the get-go. Wilson makes it sound like he politely asked them to please get on the sidewalk. Who do you believe? Johnson said Wilson grabbed Brown and Brown was struggling to get away. Wilson says Brown reached into the vehicle and punched him a couple times fracturing his eye socket then tried to grab his gun. Who do you believe? One thing is certain, there was a shot fired while Wilson was still in the vehicle and Brown's blood was found on the gun and the inside of the car. But I saw the photos of Wilson's alleged injuries caused by Brown and he certainly didn't have a fractured eye socket. If anything one cheek looked slightly red.That to me put serious doubts on Wilson's story. Regardless of who you believe this whole affair seems like it got blown way out of proportion. Just the fact that Brown was running away would seem to indicate Wilson was no longer in a "life threatening" situation. Assuming he ever really was to begin with.
-10 # arquebus 2014-12-01 10:05
Let's say Wilson was an asshole and the first words out of his mouth was "get the fuck on the sidewalk"--a lawful order if crudely delivered. The appropriate response is "yes sir" and compliance.
End of story. Oh, and Brown would still be alive.
+3 # Billy Bob 2014-12-01 14:26
So, the legal advice you offer is this:

"Shut the fuck up and do what you're told, or be murdered."

Spoken like a truly authoritarian conservative showing his true colors.
+1 # skylinefirepest 2014-12-01 20:50
Ya' see, billybob, this works both ways...all Brown had to do was NOT rob a store and face off with a cop.
+7 # lobdillj 2014-12-01 08:06
The police appeared to wait to see what they needed to say to build their legal case instead of laying all their cards on the table immediately. If Wilson was obviously just doing his job then there is no reason to play the situation like a poker hand. But that is what authorities seemed to do. That creates a justified impression that they had something to hide.

If I recall the play correctly, the police did not say Wilson had any reason to suspect Brown of a crime more serious than walking in the middle of the street when the confrontation leading to the killing began. At one point, I seem to recall, they even admitted Wilson did not know of the stolen cigars and the convenience store incident at the time he pulled the trigger.

To bring that incident into the inquiry of Brown's killing at such a late time smacks of preparing a legal defense to the effect that Brown richly deserved what he got anyway.

At this point the police are guilty of failing to disclose critically important information immediately. That has damaged their case IMO.

In any encounter resulting in shots being fired in a public place, civilian witnesses notoriously tell different stories, not because they are lying, but because they were where the bullets were flying. (the OK Corral case, for instance).

What did they know, and when did they know it? The waters have been deliberately muddled in this case.
+7 # Glen 2014-12-01 09:02
Keeping some distance would be a better procedure than simply walking away. If you review many instances of cops killing unarmed, or even armed individuals, you'll see how many times they roar in, stand or park just a matter of feet from the "suspect", make no effort to assess the situation before shooting and putting not only the victim in danger but also the cop and bystanders.

Rushing to put yourself in danger is a stupid cop method of excusing their right to kill.
-2 # geraldom 2014-12-01 22:29
This is BS. The content of this article is assuming that Darren Wilson's version of what happened is accurate and true and that he wasn't lying to the grand jury in order to save his own skin from going to jail.

The grand jury trial was basically a trial not to determine if officer Wilson should be held for a jury trial, but a trial against the victim himself, Michael Brown, who was unable to defend himself against officer Wilson's accusations for obvious reasons.

Based on many witnesses, officer Wilson didn't ask Brown and his friend in a nice way to get onto the sidewalk, but told them to "Get the F--k on the sidewalk." Witnesses also stated that officer Wilson grabbed Michael Brown and forcibly pulled him up against the open window of his squad car. No one could see what was going on inside the vehicle. Brown's DNA and blood on Wilson's gun could have easily been caused by a struggle between Brown and Wilson where Brown was attempting to prevent officer Wilson from shooting him from inside the car, which is what I contend was officer Wilson's intention from the very beginning.

After Brown was able to release himself from officer Wilson's hold, he walked away from the vehicle. Wilson then exited his car with the intention of murdering Brown. When Brown turned around and held his hands up to surrender, he was nowhere near officer Wilson who then simply shot him to death.
-2 # geraldom 2014-12-01 22:33
As an addendum to my comment above, I'd bet you dollars to doughnuts that prior to taking the stand in his own defense, which is highly unusual for a grand jury hearing, that Darrin Wilson was heavily coached by the DA's office in how to present the story he gave to the jurors.

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