Burlington, VT – Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo has declared that law enforcement officers are too quick to defend themselves against potential deadly threats.
Chief del Pozo’s thoughts on the matter were published in an op-ed piece by The New York Times on Nov. 13.
“We tell officers that a knife or a shard of glass is always a lethal threat and that they should aggressively meet it with a lethal threat in return,” the police chief wrote. “But doing so forecloses all of the better ways to communicate with a person in crisis. There are alternatives.”
He said that one of the biggest mistakes trainers have made has been to teach law enforcement officers “to lead with the gun.”
American law enforcement leaders should instead try to mimic techniques used in countries were officers are unarmed, such as Britain or Iceland, Chief del Pozo suggested.
Yelling commands at a knife-wielding attacker “is unlikely to make a difference,” especially when the officer is unarmed, he said.
But unarmed officers would instinctually back away from the attacker, which could then allow for the situation to de-escalate, the chief claimed.
“Unarmed officers will cultivate an instinct to de-escalate,” Chief del Pozo declared. “They will keep a safe distance, they will try to assess the true level of threat rather than see a weapon as a cue to rapidly escalate, and they will communicate in ways that reach people.”
“There is good psychological research on what type of communication stands the best chance of calming people in distress, regardless of what is in their hands,” he added. “And it is certainly not yelling at them or threatening their lives.”
Chief del Pozo suggested that law enforcement academies should “start by sending officers into scenarios where they have to solve problems without recourse to lethal force…before they ever handle a firearm.”
Duty weapons shouldn’t even be involved in law enforcement training until the final phase of an academy, he added.
“By the end of academy, the officers will have learned that yelling at a person as you threaten to shoot is a panicked, last-ditch effort, not a sign of competence,” Chief del Pozo opined.
“Training officers to act as if their weapons are insurance policies, rather than persuasive devices, will transform the nation’s police work,” the chief declared. “Every American will be made safer by police officers whose first instinct is to communicate with the people they encounter and whose success lies in getting the psychology of persuasion right.”
Chief del Pozo did not specifically address the impact such training would have on law enforcement officers’ safety, however.
The chief noted that he works in a “progressive” city, where at least one city councilperson has already suggested “that we should explore ways to disarm our city’s police because it would prevent them from killing people and force them to approach crises differently.”
Chief del Pozo said that such a concept is a “non-starter” in America, and acknowledged that it was unsafe for the community for police to be “rendered helpless” in the case of mass shootings or other firearms-related incidents.
“But if the police profession doesn’t want politicians broaching these ideas, we owe the public a commitment to doing everything we can to respect the sanctity of life,” he added. “We should fundamentally change the way police officers view their guns.”
A total of 42 law enforcement officers have been stabbed to death in the line of duty since 1990, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.