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Welcome to another episode of Conversations with Coleman, my guest today is Dr. Michael Sanchez. Michael Sanchez is a criminal justice scholar with over 20 years experience in the criminal justice system. He's been a detention officer, booking officer, patrol officer, patrol sergeant, administrative supervisor, training coordinator, firearms instructor, investigator, lieutenant deputy chief of police, international police officer with the UN in Kosovo and regional commander for the UN police in Haiti. He has a master peace officer licensed in the state of Texas, a bachelor's degree in police science from Ottawa University, a master's degree in criminal justice administration from Utica College, and a PhD in business administration with a specialization in criminal justice from North Central University.
He's been teaching at Utica College since twenty twelve and is also a full time lecturer for the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley in the Criminal Justice Department. So I can honestly say this was the most interesting conversation I've had about policing in my life. And this conversation took place many months ago when the death of Jorge Floyd and the subsequent protests and riots were in the foreground of everyone's minds. So I was very excited to talk to someone who had both academic knowledge of policing and practical experience with it.
We start by talking about the difference between policing in America and international policing, then we talk about the steady stream of videos of unarmed Americans getting killed by cops. We talk about Brianna Taylor, George Floyd and Rashad Brooks. We talk about the mechanics of shooting and why cops tend to fire so many bullets. We talk about the difference between tasers and guns. We talk about how to hold bad cops accountable. We talk about qualified immunity. We talk about why America is unique with regard to the issue of police killings.
We talk about how police get trained and whether it makes sense to use mental health professionals instead of police in certain cases. And the most interesting part of the conversation occurs toward the end where we have a disagreement about what level of risk a cop should be expected to take on. So without further ado, Dr. Michael Sanchez.
OK, Dr. Michael Sanchez, thank you so much for coming on my show. A pleasure.
So can you give people your background as a police officer and in multiple different respects and as an academic before we get started?
Sure. I started my police career back in nineteen eighty eight. I have over twenty five years of experience in all aspects of the criminal justice system. I've worked in jails, detention, policing. I worked in every capacity from patrolman to deputy chief of police in the United States. I served as the assistant project manager or assistant warden of an immigration detention center, and I served four years as an international police officer for the United Nations. I served three years in Kosovo, where I reached the level of the director of administration for the UN police, and I was a regional commander for the UN police in Haiti.
I was actually in Haiti when the earthquake hit in 2010. That was a unique experience. I finished my bachelor's degree with Ottawa University and police science. I have a master's degree in criminal justice administration from Utica College in New York, and I have a Ph.D. in business administration with a specialization of criminal justice. From North Central University of Arizona. I am published. I have a few book chapters out and I have one research monograph book out about the role of culture in Unpoliced.
And I currently teach criminal justice at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.
So when were you in Kosovo?
I was in Kosovo from December of 05 to December of 08. And where were you, chief of police?
I was deputy chief of police in Indian Lake, which is down here in South Texas. OK, so, yeah, you have a huge well of policing, very different policing experiences to draw from. Which is great, I think a lot of civilians in the past six months or so are in the position of speculating what it's like to be a police officer, of seeing videos of unarmed Americans getting shot and killed, or videos of protesters getting beaten up and also videos of cops getting beaten up and often video clips that start the story in the middle.
And I think many people, at least I've noticed there's a conspicuous lack of police voices that I hear if I'm just paying attention to the op ed pages and, you know, the talking heads. Which sets up a situation where I think it's very easy to to sort of play backseat cop as someone who's never done the job, and I'm always aware of how my ignorance about the job can be informing my opinion on on these videos or on the wider problem of police brutality or racism in policing or racism in the justice system.
So I think it's really useful to get someone who's been on the other side of it just to, you know, fill the gaps in people's knowledge about these issues. So I'm very excited to talk with you first. Can you talk about the difference between policing in America and an international policing with the UN?
Yeah, international policing. It was the greatest experience of my life in Kosovo. We were basically trying to bring stability to a war torn region to develop a an organic police force out of the ashes of Yugoslavia. And this is when I was in the UN police in Kosovo, the unmarked police consisted of two thousand one hundred ninety police officers from forty seven countries. So I've lived an incredible multicultural existence. I've worked with police officers from all over the world.
And the goal there was to bring democratic police reform to Kosovo and to help develop their police force into a modern police force, and the stakes in international policing were so much higher. I tell my students that when you make a mistake in America, OK, maybe you get sued, maybe you get suspended, you make a mistake in an international peacekeeping mission, you start a war. So the stakes can be much higher and you have to be much more careful about everything you do and the ramifications of each decision you make.
So is the dynamic different at all because you're presumably exercising soft power in the case of being an international police officer where you don't have the teeth of a national or local law to to back you up?
It actually depends on where you are. When I was in Haiti, Haiti was already a sovereign nation, and that's what's called a development and capacity building mission. The U.N. was in Haiti to just help the Haitian police develop and improve Kosovo. The police in Kosovo actually had executive authority. So the U.N. police, for the time that we were there, had the power to investigate, had the power to arrest. So we did have the hard police powers.
So let's talk about the the American context. So you was all of your was everything from patrolman to deputy police chief in South Texas for you?
I did work a little bit in Virginia, but the vast majority of it is South Texas.
So when you see a video of an unarmed American getting killed by a cop, how does your perspective as a cop?
Lead you, if at all, to see it differently than the typical civilian might? OK, I actually am a master firearms instructor and I teach a lot of use of force, deadly force. So what I'm going to tell you is what I teach police officers, just because somebody doesn't have a weapon in his hand doesn't mean he's unarmed. If you're a police officer and I have you on your back and I have you by your collar and I'm banging your head on the cement in my arm.
Because I'm hitting your head against the weapon and not the weapon against your head makes the sidewalk no less a weapon. There's something in use, of course, called disparity of force, if you have a force that nine female police officers are trying to arrest seven, three hundred and fifty pound football player, does he have the ability to kill her with his bare hands? So it's not just that someone doesn't have a weapon in their hands, it's a little more complicated than that.
We had a comfortable here in the 90s killed because three men who were much smaller than him tackled him to the ground and beat him to death. So that scores of numbers, that's another disparity of force. So when I look at it, I look at it in the totality of the circumstances as to whether there was a disparity there that made escalation of force reasonable. And a lot of times it's not. But the mere fact of them being unarmed is touted as well.
The police had to have screwed up. He was unarmed and the best. All right. I'll give you a scenario that I that I tell everybody. If a police officer shoots an unarmed man in the back from one hundred feet away, is he wrong? And most people would say, yes, if a police officer was answering a call on the second floor of an apartment building and he heard a scream in the alley and sees a man choking a woman to death, and the officer yells, and maybe he throws his baton at the man.
But the man continues on and the officer knows by the time he gets down the stairs, out the building, down to the alley, the woman's going to be dead. Now he shoots the man. Is the officer wrong just because the man was unarmed? So it takes everybody asked me when the video comes out with a right or wrong. OK, first of all, you have to wait and find out what the facts are. And second of all, you have to look at it based on the totality of the circumstances.
Third, we in this country, we like to have binary choices politically. People want the magic button that's going to solve the problem. Right. And one of my mantras is there are no simple solutions to complicated problems, but we want the simple answer. And a lot of times it's not that the police were wrong with the police were right. Some things they did right, some things they did wrong. A great example would be the Briona Taylor case.
Now, whether or not no knock warrant should happen is a whole other issue. But the officers were following their department policy when the sergeant entered the apartment. Taylor's boyfriend was absolutely justified in shooting at the police on the knock and bang. I don't really agree with because you're not going to hear somebody say police search warrant. You're going to hear your door being broken down.
Right. Or you just might hear muffled voices or you might not you might hear the word police and simply not trust that it's, in fact, the police because it could be an imposter.
If I was going to rob somebody, I would come in the house saying, police, because you're going to make them hesitate. Right. But the average person woke up by their door crashing down in the middle of the night. It's reasonable for him to defend his home now. It was reasonable for the officer to fire back firing six shots. That's kind of high normal. But I wouldn't say it was ridiculously excessive. Where they went off the rails was the other two officers fired.
Twenty six shots through windows. So they don't have a clear identification of the suspect. They don't have the elements of deadly force, so to my mind, that was incredibly reckless. The officer was right. Boyfriend was right. But the officer fired from the outside were wrong. So a situation sometimes it's completely right or completely wrong. George was completely wrong and there's no mitigating factors. I don't think people were willing to accept a mixed answer.
I want to get to the George Floyd case in a moment, but let's linger a bit on the Briana Taylor case. My last reading of of the reporting on that was that there were two officers coming in from the door and then the third officer shooting crazily from the window outside who, you know, charges of reckless endangerment were brought against. And it seems as if I think I'm right about this, that the bullet that ended up killing Brianna was not from the first cop that got shot in the leg, but the cop very close to him also coming in through the door.
The one thing that I saw was that only the sergeant made entry. The other two were firing through the windows. And it wasn't the sergeant shot that hit Brianna. That was the killing shot. The fatal shot was fired from outside the apartment, so I think we're agreeing about everything, except my impression was that the sergeant made entry into the apartment and then there was someone just behind him outside the threshold of the door also shooting.
That's possible. I like I said, if I could see the official reports, that's one thing. If you look at the reporting and the reporting is all over the place, and I have to kind of use my experience to kind of sift through what probably happened when you get a dozen different scenarios. But no matter how you slice it, I don't think the sergeant did anything wrong. I would have to look at the police department's policy to know if they authorize shooting inside from outside of a building into a building behind them.
The problem is this was a terrible tragedy. And the screams to charge the police officers with first degree murder is an emotional one because that case would not meet the elements of a first degree murder. May be reckless homicide for the person because he was shooting from the outside, but then did he see Mr. Walker from the outside or was he just firing what we call sympathetic fire? It happens a lot when an officer shows up on the scene and you're you're shooting.
So I start shooting. I don't know what you're shooting at, but I'm shooting because you're issue. So did they just start shooting because they heard shots or did they actually see somebody with a gun?
Right. So there's still a lot of unanswered questions.
Yeah, agreed. I want to talk about a lot of the at least part of the outrage from people watching this from the outside pertains to how many bullets are fired in these scenarios. And having spoken, I've never fired a gun myself. But having spoken to some people who have, I increasingly get the sense that we don't really understand what the number of round fires translates into. Can you explain what does it mean for someone to fire three rounds as opposed to six rounds as opposed to nine?
And where what do you see from the point of view of someone who works in this? What no seems justified based on what level of threat coming a cop's way. Well, the application of deadly force doesn't just have to be justifiable, it has to be proportional and reasonable. So if a man approaches you with a nice if you shoot him 50 times, that's not proportional and that's not reasonable. OK, why officers shoot so many rounds is, in my opinion, a combination of things.
I actually have the good fortune of having started my police career with a ball. Which means when I worked, I had 18 bullets on my entire first. You're not looking to unload on a person when you have a revolver. So what we were trying to do was drawn fire to bang, bang and then come to what we call already and reassess if the target is still a threat. If they're still executing that threat, then you fire another shot and you re-evaluate.
So why they're shooting so many rounds is a couple of different things. Sometimes it's fear, they panic and they just shooting, sometimes it's a lack of training in the use of instant shooting and they do what's called spray and pray. Which is hose down the area and hope you hit the suspect and the third is really kind of a cultural thing where it's a statement of power, let's say, but it's not reasonable and it depends on what the suspect is doing.
OK, if let's say I have my off duty weapon, then I'm at the mall and a guy comes in and starts shooting with a fully automatic AK 47, I'm probably going to shoot him five or six times because his weapon is so much outclasses mine that I have to put him down hard to keep me from getting killed. Otherwise, I can't protect everybody else in the mall. If a person comes in and charges me with a knife, I might fire one time.
If he doesn't go down, I'll fire again if he keeps coming. So each individual case is different. You get Laquan McDonald where they fired six shots at a kid with a knife. There's no way to justify that to me, firing twenty six rounds from outside the apartment, that's not proportional to my mind. That's not a reasonable application of force. When you apply deadly force, it's not a switch. You don't flick it on and then shoot all your bullets if the guy.
Your goal is you don't shoot to kill, you shoot to stop, your goal is to stop the threat that is putting your life or somebody else's life in jeopardy. Once that threat has been stopped, you stop shooting. You can see some of the videos I use a lot of videos when I teach use of force. There's one video of a police officer that pulls a man over, arrest, the guy for his driver's license. The guy said, oh, OK.
And reaches into the car. And he reaches into the car to get his his wallet because he left it on the console, but the officer starts shooting and the last shot, the guy has his hands up and the officer is still firing, which means the officer stopped thinking he went on autopilot. Yeah.
The thing about this conversation is that of the roughly thousand or so Americans that get shot and killed every year by cops, you can find every possible scenario on every side of the spectrum. You can find cops emptying the clip into people that are face down on the ground. You can find cops that didn't take enough shots and ended up getting hurt or killed as a result. And everything in between. And it's it can be hard to predict based on a limited clip from the middle of an interaction or the very tail end of an interaction where on the spectrum that falls.
So in the Brianna Taylor case.
Six rounds from the from the officer who himself got shot, that can still seem like far too many to people. People can think, well, why didn't you just shoot once?
Now we get into dynamics that neither one of us have the answers to. How far apart were they, was his gun still up? Did he fire one shot and continue aiming it down the hallway? Did he drop it down to his side? Were they firing around corners? Now you get into and this is why I'm hesitant to say he fired too many shots.
If he fired a shot and still had his weapon up and pointed at the officer, the officer is reasonable to think that more shots are coming. So I couldn't really answer that with any sort of accuracy without knowing the finer details, because what a deadly force decision comes down to is what we call the totality of the circumstances.
And when it happens, I don't think the average person realizes that these decisions come in microseconds. And you have to take everything into account. I'll give you an example from my own career and this incident actually changed the way I see things. I was working with a partner of mine when I was the deputy sheriff of Virginia in the 80s, and we were at a Hardee's. And we're talking to a suspect and we had the suspect in a triangle. So I'm looking at the suspect and Paul is in my periphery on my left because we have the guy triangulate.
As I'm talking to the suspect, and this is three o'clock in the morning in the parking lot, out of nowhere, I see a hand enter my field of vision, grab Paul's gun and take it out of the holster.
I spun around and I drew and I'm an advanced shooter, so actually as I'm coming up with a revolver already pulling the trigger. And as I'm coming up and I'm pulling the trigger when I get up to this high, the suspect's eyes went and I stopped because just that shift and his eyes change the totality of the circumstances for me. And when I stopped to hammer of my revolver was all the way back when I recognized it was a friend of my partner playing a joke and Paul said the whole thing, he felt Tumbler and I was there.
He said it happened that fast to me. It felt like it took four seconds. But Paul said it had it couldn't have been more than a half a second. And of all the things I've been through, that is actually the one that will keep me up at night because I came thousands of a second from making a widow and two orphans over a joke. Now, by the rules that govern police, I would have been right about being right and living with it are two very different things.
So these things happen incredibly fast and you have to be able to continue thinking as some of the officers you're talking about who shoot too many times, stop thinking, they flip the switch, they go on autopilot and they start shooting.
And that's an incredible story. There's a lot of directions we can go here. But so another common thought that a lot of people must have is if the goal is to shoot, to stop, rather than to shoot, to kill, why not just shoot them in the legs?
You know what, I get this question all the time, and the answer isn't what people think it is. We teach police to shoot Center Mass because it's the safest place to shoot. For everybody else, if I'm put in a position where I have to apply deadly force, my greatest responsibility is to everybody else in the area. I'll give you a very good example. There was a I want to say, 2014. There was a constable in Pennsylvania who was serving an eviction.
The man he was evicting arrives at the front door with a rifle and pointed at the officers to the officer, fires one shot. Now, the officer is probably gaining center mass, but the shot went through the suspect's arm and killed this 12 year old daughter.
This is why we don't shoot at the leg. First of all, under stress, a leg is a hard thing to hit or a shoulder or the brachial nerve or the elbow where the gun advocacy.
Have you ever had a real adrenaline?
Yeah, like almost being hit by a car in New York City and or being followed. Being being. Yeah, a bit, definitely. When my first one was when that guy grabbed Paul's gun. And I remember lowering my hammer and I just got my gun in the holster. And I started shaking, and that's adrenaline. So imagine the adrenaline of being in a shootout. I'm supposed to aim for his leg. And if I missed the leg or the bullet goes through the flesh of the leg and doesn't hit the bone and ricochets and hits a three year old who's responsible.
So we teach Center Mass because this is the largest, safest place to shoot to where you won't get over penetration or you won't miss. Same concept with shooting at the gun. Guns are made of metal, if I shoot at the gun and it ricochets and hits a three year old, I'm responsible for that. So let's talk about Tasers. Have you ever used your Taser? Did you have Tasers?
Not not in my day. Tasers came out when I started going to the UN and I haven't actually used one. I think Taser is a great tool. Tasers don't always work. I know officers that used before we had pepper spray, we had seen gas, and I know an officer who maced somebody and then stood back and waited for this guy to, I guess, fall down on the ground in handcuffs, though sometimes they don't always work. There's cases where Tasers don't work on people that are severely hopped up on drugs.
Yeah, I've seen videos of people getting tasered three and four times and it's seeming to not faze them.
That could be that the Taser wasn't fully charged. There could be other issues. It could be drugs, but nothing works. One hundred percent of the time, I think Tasers are an excellent tool, but even a taser can be overused. You see a police officer who the tasers all in the use of force continuum or a baton falls. So if I'm justified in hitting you with a baton, I'm justified in tasing. You might see cases where a kid in school comply with what the officer says to the officer.
Kades is the kid. Or even a suspect on the street, tell them, sit down on the curb, they don't sit down on the curb, you tase them. If you envision applying the Taser like hitting them with a baton, if I tell you, sit down, you don't sit down and I justified in hitting you with the baton.
I would say no, because it doesn't cause permanent injury in most cases. It could be overused.
I've also heard some people say that the Taser should not be so so kind of blithely called non-lethal because it actually there's a small but not infinitesimally small chance that it kills you either if you have a pre-existing condition or if you just consider the fact that it makes your whole body stiff.
And then you go you can go down on the pavement or on a curb headfirst and crack your head open or break your neck and die instantly.
You actually hit on one of my pet peeves. I'm an instructor in specialty munitions, which is bean bags and rubber bullets and that sort of thing. And it grates my nerves when people call those less than lethal beanbags, tasers, none of those are less than lethal. They're less lethal. You can still kill somebody with a rubber bullet. It happened in Kosovo when I was there, two people and Ariah got shot in the temple with a rubber bullet and it killed them.
Yeah, a taser could create circumstances if it doesn't directly, like you said, if the person starts to move and they can strike their head and get a skull fracture or something, nothing is completely non-lethal. They are less lethal, more.
So did you see the the case of Rashad Brooks in Atlanta, I believe, from a few months ago where they were trying to make an arrest at a drive through the drive thru, called them for for some reason. And this guy is beating on the cop, grabs the Taser and then runs away from the cop. But as he's running away, turns around and shoots the Taser at the cop. So he's both running away and attacking the cop at the same time.
And then the cop opened fires.
What was your impression of that video, if you if you remember it? Yeah, that one. And there was one in South Carolina where the officer shot at the guy like eight times and the guy was running away. And he also the story was he grabbed my taser. And this is the great question, because this is some of the hairs that have to be sliced here. If I am confronting you one on one and you get my Taser, you have the ability to incapacitate me, take my weapon and kill me.
Right. Taser is a one shot weapon. If there's two officers and you get my Taser, can you take out both of us with the Taser now?
So with one officer, I may be justified in shooting because you can incapacitate me with that Taser when it's multiple officers. He can't take out everybody with the Taser. So if he's running away, once he fires that Taser, he's for all practical purposes, unarmed because the Taser has already fired its its cartridge.
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It's yeah, it's really tough because I often find myself in the position of defending police officers in these scenarios because not not because they don't make deadly mistakes, but because it seems like sometimes you're in a position where you're going to work every day, like all of us expecting to come home in one piece.
But the nature of your work is such that. There could be a scenario where either you do it one hundred percent correctly or you're a murderer or, you know, you're considered a murderer by the general public and there's no gray area where you violated department policy, did something you shouldn't have and get get punished in a way that is but that doesn't rise to murder or even criminal punishment. And it seems people have a very difficult time admitting that a cop could be a bad cop, he could be a racist cop even, but not a murderer that should rot in prison for murder.
That that's, I think, the where a lot of these things fall.
I think the problem we have with the current dialogue on this subject is that you basically have to polls everything the cops do is right. Every everyone the cops shoot, the cop needs to go to prison, neither one of those are true. I can tell you from my own career, when I teach deadly force to cops, one of the things I tell them is what makes the job challenging is that you have the power to decide whether or not to take a human life in your margin of error is zero.
You can't be wrong. Take the incident I told you about. I had literally one fourth of the second to split a thousand hair to make a decision that can be picked apart by experts and judges and lawyers for the next six months. That's incredibly challenging. But I this is what I expected and this is what I signed up for. And that has to be understood as well. Yeah.
Let's talk a little bit about accountability. I think another thing that makes many people angry is the sense that police officers routinely go unpunished when they do things that are unambiguously overstepping bounds. And I think this is a point that I tend to agree with. Even if you don't pay attention to the cases that make headlines, if you just chase down local news stories about cops that shot somebody in the back.
It's very rare, it does happen, but it's very rare to see that this shooting was ruled unjustified. The cop was immediately fired or fired after review. The more common story is the shooting was ruled justified and no charges were brought. What's your sense of how effective our accountability.
System is right now. I honestly don't think that you can get objectivity from a department that investigates itself. And that's not a knock on internal affairs investigators, because you can be the most ethical. Call it like I see it, investigator, but once your reporter starts going up the chain of command, at some level they start thinking about how is this going to look to the public? What's this going to cost us in a lawsuit if the police come out and say, yeah, that shooting was absolutely wrong.
They're looking at all capitulating before it ever happens to a major lawsuit. So how can a department. Be completely objective when it makes that kind of decision. And so I think. Maybe the state police should have a special unit that investigates that sort of thing. So at least there's some separation. And there's more objectivity, you can't really have the FBI investigate it because. At the local level, it has to do with whether you're following your department's policies and your state laws and the feds aren't really tied into that.
So I think I would suggest the state police investigate. There's this idea of giving the officer the benefit of the doubt and what you were talking about. I've seen a lot of people talk about we need to improve selection for police officers, and that's actually. Looking at it the wrong way, policing has an incredible amount of power. And although it's attributed to Lincoln, I actually think it was said about Lincoln, one of my favorite quotes is any man can withstand adversity.
If you want to test the man's character, give him power.
When I have you on the side of the road and you're at my mercy, I can search your car. I can arrest you. You know, that's a lot of power. And people respond to power differently, just like they respond to fear. I have a twenty two year old applicant who worked at McDonald's and got a bachelor's degree in college. He's never experienced real power. So there's no way to predict how he's going to respond to the power and authority of being a police officer.
So you can only do so much in the recruitment process. Where the process fails is in the year or two after they get hired. It's not robust enough to weed out people, and this is where police unions probably cause a lot of trouble because they support they will fight tooth and nail against any termination, whether it's correct or not. Take their child. He had, what, 17 complaints against him throughout his career, if he had been next at year to year three when the first complaint came, then it doesn't build into a George.
Some people panic and don't have the presence of mind to keep thinking they have to be weeded out. Some people abuse their authority. They have to be weeded out. There is no training that is going to train out a character trait like abusing authority. I can give you tools to apply your authority, but if you choose to abuse it, I can't train that out of. So I think the problem is that they need to be weeded out the first time that they show those proclivities and this actually has an exponential effect in policing at that point, seeing children was, I think, a 17 year veteran and rookie cops look to the veterans for guidance and for example, then I want to be like him.
And so what they do is through their example, they hijacked the police culture and they make the rookies think that these excesses are the right way to do things because they've never gotten in trouble for it.
Yeah, I think that's a that's an interesting point that I had never heard before. I remember reading something in The Wall Street Journal about. I think a former chief of police in New York who was stressing how important it was not to hire your problems, but it occurs to me your point, you know, makes a lot of sense. It actually is difficult to predict who becomes the type of person you become when you have power. Let's talk a little bit about the George Floyd case.
There might be a bit of distance between how you're describing it and how I've been thinking about it lately, at least.
There's one crucial fact that changed how I looked at it, and I want to be careful about this because I don't know if it's a fact yet, I think it has to be corroborated by by multiple journalistic outlets for me to.
Totally say that this is a fact. But, you know, I've seen pictures of a handbook alleged to be the training manual given to cops in that department, which shows a recommended hold of the knee on the neck for cases of excited, quote unquote, excited delirium.
And that combined with the full George Floyd video, which didn't come out until several months after. Which shows, you know, a man that is, you know, highly claustrophobic, probably as a result of, you know, drug and fentanyl and combined with shock at being arrested.
Who who actually asked the cop to take him out of the back of the cop car and said, please put me on the ground, so that much is definitely fact. And I think I should just be cautious in saying it may may turn out in the final analysis to be a fact that those cops were trained to put the knee on the neck in such scenarios. And conditional on that being true, it would seem to change my view of what Shervin did there.
What do you make of that?
OK, first of all, you remember the Rodney King beating, I wasn't alive, actually, but I do. I do know. Yes, yes.
And the reason that none of the police officers wound up going to jail was because of the way the policy was written. And I think the policy said something like, the officer will continue to use force until the suspect complies. So as long as he's not doing what they tell him, they can beat him. If the if everything you said is true, I'm going to tell you what I tell a lot of rookie officers. Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
Just because I can be like George Boyd's neck when it's obvious he's not struggling, he's not kicking, he's not flailing. Doesn't mean I should you know, it was difficult in in the video. But he wasn't angry, he wasn't aggressive, he wasn't threatening, he was scared. And you should find better ways to deal with somebody who's acting out of fear than what they did. And I know that situation from the inside. And I know what was happening was he was teaching your child a lesson.
I like I said, even if he was kicking and flailing, then securities to be hog tied. If you have to. But in the use of force, when you're beaten, you're taught not to swing at the neck because the neck is a red zone, if you swing at somebody's neck with a baton, that constitutes deadly force but kneeling on a neck. Is OK. And it brings up a good point, and I hear this a lot, and that's the same people say, well, if George Ford was saying I can't breathe, it means he can breathe.
Because he's saying and if you are being choked with the carotid choke, meaning the blood is being restricted to your brain, you feel like you can't breathe because your brain is not getting oxygen and your brain is saying, hey, breathe, get us some oxygen. So you can have restricted blood flow to the brain in your moving air, in your lungs, but blood oxygen isn't getting to your brain, so it feels like you can't breathe. And that's why people in that type of hold we're going to call choke a say.
I can't breathe. Right.
So do you have an opinion on qualified immunity? Have you thought about this at all? Oh, a lot. I actually I'll give him his props. I have a colleague named Dr. Otu who came up with an idea a long time ago that I think actually its time has come and what he proposed was getting rid of a qualified immunity.
Can you just sorry. Can you briefly explain for your listeners what it is? Sure. Qualified immunity means if I am on duty, acting, acting under color of authority, following the law and following department policy, I can't be sued individually. So it protects police officers from losing their house in a lawsuit because they said the wrong thing to somebody. What this professor proposed was doing away with qualified immunity and requiring police officers to keep a certain amount of personal liability insurance like a doctor's malpractice insurance.
Now, if you if you modernize that idea. Let's say every police officer has to have five million dollars of personal liability insurance, whatever the main cost of that is, is paid for by the city. If you get a couple of lawsuits and you get a couple of excessive force, then your rates go up. Everything above the mean comes out of your pocket. If you do a lot of years with no trouble, no no cases, no lawsuits and your rate goes down, that differential goes to you, this puts it in the officer's control.
And this solves another problem that police officers hate. I know, because when I was a cop, I hated to see this happen. Somebody accuses you of false arrest or excessive force. And the city, rather than pay one hundred thousand dollars to defend, you, will give the person fifty thousand dollars to go away. But it makes it look to the public like you were guilty. So if you had your own insurance, then it would be in your insurance company's best interest to defend you or all the officers are going to pick another insurance company.
Yes, so I've thought about this idea as well. But my friend Noam Dauman pointed out to me. That what this could amount to is a pay cut for cops who live in the highest crime, roughest neighborhoods where, you know, the same quality of cop is likely to incur more violations. You know, the places where policing is ironically most important would become less attractive. And the nice, easy suburbs, you know, where it's easy not to violate.
What do you make of that objection?
Well, that's why I say that the rate should be the mean of the cost. And that should be covered by the city. So if you were for sure, you know, small town Texas has a different rate of complaints and lawsuits than Detroit. But each of those would have a different meaning as far as what the average price of the insurance would be. So if you're working in a high crime place and the average price because of all the cases of the insurance is higher, the city covers whatever that means, whatever that average.
What about within a large city like New York, where different neighborhoods are very different characters?
Maybe calculate the mean by precinct assignment? Yeah. It's especially in interesting ways, I think there's ways around to deal with that, but qualified immunity isn't working.
And I don't think it's being applied the way it could or should be. If you do something that patently violates your policy, then you should be on your own now, not splitting hairs, maybe he could have, maybe he didn't. If you just flatly like the police officer shooting at the man who is running away, there's no policy in the country that was going to justify that. Then you should be on the hook yourself. Because with with the way qualified immunity is calculated now, there's no personal liability.
So if you could drive anywhere you wanted and somebody else would foot the bill, would people drive better or worse? Yeah. So I want to talk about before I let you go, I want to talk about what makes policing in America different than policing in other nations because.
I think a lot of people have noticed that, you know, America is the country erupting over these issues, you know, uniquely it's not a problem that we're seeing in Canada so much or Britain or other peer nations in in Europe and the rest of the world looks on and says, what the hell is going on? Why can't you manage to stop shooting unarmed people and unarmed black people in particular? And I'll say my piece in a moment, but what do you what do you make of the international comparison here?
Is is there something to be learned from other nations? Is there something some some unique conditions in America that are making this a more difficult problem?
I think the biggest problem. When I worked in the UN, almost everybody I worked with in their whole country had one police force. The police in America, we have, I think, eighteen thousand different police agents, and I never realized how complex our policing system is until I tried to explain it to somebody who only ever knew one police force. And that decentralization has its benefits, it would almost be almost impossible to execute a coup in this country because no one person controls the police.
But then no one person establishes guidelines and policy and use of force and use of force, continuums and training and every department that does it differently. And this is a problem because there's no centralization. You can't standardize any. I think that's also been pushed by everybody trying politically to be the tough on crime law and order candidate means they they're not willing to go against the police and call the police wrong or restrict what the police can do because that's a substantial voting block.
So other countries. Can say this is what we want for use of force and it applies to the whole country. I, I know officers from countries that said, look, in my country, you practically have to take a bullet before you can shoot somebody. That's their standard, and that's why they should be. But do cops in practice actually follow that, I mean, can they really tamp down the self-preservation instinct? You know, it's it's not self-preservation.
Per say, all right, this is one of my one of my hypotheses about all of this. When I teach use of force, one of the most important things I tell people is, well, let me ask you, how many recent shootings has the justification been? The police thought he had a gun. They thought he was reaching for a weapon. They thought he was reaching for a knife. And what I tell police officers is if your explanation of why you did what you did includes the words, I thought, then you're wrong.
Because I am not supposed to apply deadly force, because I think I'm supposed to apply it because I know. Now, when you get to that, then the answer I get back is, but that means they might hurt me. Yeah, it does, but that's what you signed up for. I've been hurt many times on the job, and that's what I signed up for. So if, you know, if a suspect is reaching in his car for his wallet in, the police officer shoots him because he thinks he's reaching for a gun, what he's really saying is, because I have a dangerous job, you have to be more afraid of your interactions with me, because if I think you're a danger to me, then I can take your life.
And what's happening over time is that police are acting more and more out of fear and they're actually shifting the danger of policing to the public rather than to themselves. There are several times in my career that I had to decide whether or not to shoot somebody. And in each time I decided not to and the best decisions I ever made in my career were the things I didn't do. We tend to think of good decisions as things we did rather than things we refrained from doing.
So it doesn't mean that they can't defend their life, but you don't shoot someone because you think he's reaching for a knife. Maybe you draw your weapon, you give him commands, you give a reactionary gaffe, and if he has a knife, OK, that's one thing. You don't just shoot him because he has a knife in this. You shoot him when an attack imminent. And you had no other alternative. I worry there's a survivorship bias problem.
I mean, there's this problem in a lot of areas in life, but something like. Three hundred police get shot every year, according to the gun violence dog, and some number of those are killed. And I wonder if. If their voices were included in the conversation, whether they would come to the same conclusion. Right. Yeah, I yeah, but that's kind of throwing a bit of emotionalism into it. You know, look, I was asked when I taught the police academy, aren't you afraid of getting killed?
Yeah. Like everybody, I want to live to be one hundred. But if if my time comes, my time comes. Would it be better for and I think the average is between 30 and 50 cops get killed every year. So let's say 50 police officers get killed every year. About 40 unarmed civilians get killed every year. If 10 more cops got killed every year, but 20 less civilians got killed every year who were unarmed. Is that equitable?
The tough question it hits you right now, you know, but the officer accepts the risk of the job. The person I pulled over and I can't imagine what it is for black youth today, the fear of just getting pulled over, if he thinks you're doing something wrong, he can shoot you. That's to me that's that's approaching policing the wrong way. So I don't agree when they say we thought, you have to know and if that puts you at a little more risk, it puts you in a little more risk.
That's what you signed up for. And you see cases, you never see them on TV. But I see cases of police officers, a Toronto police officer and can land. Did you see that video? No, I didn't. He stopped the guy in the van and the guy was a terrorist. He just killed a couple of people. And the video shows the officer or Amy is going across the vehicle and the suspect outside the van like this with something in his hand, but you can't see what it is.
And the officer is giving him commands. But to the officer, just something about the totality doesn't seem right. So he refrains from shooting and he's still giving the guy commands. And then the guy does this a couple of times fast, like he's trying to get the officer to shoot. Now the officer realizes he's trying to commit suicide by cop. So the officer keeps his weapon on him, but he circles him until he sees what he had in his hand with the cell phone.
And he holsters his weapon, takes out his baton and takes him into custody. That is a disciplined application of the use of deadly force, it all didn't seem right. And like I said earlier, just because you can doesn't mean you have. Yes, when I hear that story, I draw a different lesson from it, I mean that. I wouldn't want to create a system that expects cops to have that level of restraint. I think that's what the public deserves.
It's, you know, for I think I just have a different intuition about it, because I certainly understand you're signing up for something when you sign up to be a cop.
But the conversation is what level of risk is reasonable to ask someone to sign up for a given that we need we need this job. We need people to want to be cops. We need lots of people to want to be cops so that we can have we can pick the very best. And so the more you dial up the knob on how much risk you expect cops to take on, the less attractive, it seems to me you make the job of being a cop, which is not only bad for cops, but ultimately bad for society.
And so it's maybe we're setting that knob in different places, but. You know, it seems to me in suicide by cop scenarios, if someone's drawing something that looks pretty close to a gun and pointing it at you, you're right to shoot.
You know, more than that seems unreasonable to me for fifty thousand a year or whatever the typical cop's salary is.
But my point is that officer had to have seen something if he knew the guy had a gun. OK, yeah, I would shoot. And I think you're misinterpreting what I'm saying. All right, I'll give you a classic kind of Academy example, a guy is slow marching towards an officer with a nice. When he gets to a certain distance, the officer shoots the officer is not wrong. Could the officer have backpedaled away, given more commands, given a reactionary gap, giving him more chances to stop what he's doing?
And there's actually a video of an officer that does this guy's coming at it with a knife saying, shoot me, shoot and shoot me. And the officer keeps backing up, backing up, backing up, backing up, and finally the guy gives up. So there's a point where the officer can shoot him, but he doesn't have to. And what I'm saying is take the land of Castile. He told the officer, I have a concealed carry permit, I have a weapon.
The officer's answer, I thought he was reaching for his gun. Why would I tell you I have a concealed carry permit and then reach for my gun?
Yeah, no, that's OK. That's a very clear case. I think if the gun is in the holster, if the gun is in his hand, then that's the time to shoot. But because you think. Isn't it this is what I'm talking about. I'm not saying take incredibly crazy risks. When the elements are there, the elements are there, but what I'm saying is when you think something, you have to show restraint until, you know.
If you are reaching inside your car and I think you're reaching for a gun, should I shoot you or should I wait to see what you come out with?
That's the kind of restraint I'm saying, not let you fire at me three or four times, Miss, and then I can shoot you. Yeah, there have been a lot of people commenting about how little police get trained and how in certain cases there are professions, there are licenses for a totally mundane jobs that require more training than becoming a cop. So what was the training like for you, for you to become a cop and in your context and.
How do you think training can be improved, both in terms of the quantity of it and the type and quality of it, the whole academy that you go through and it varies from state to state. Something like six months they go to the police academy. And I used to tell police academy cadets, when you graduate this academy, don't think you're a cop. When you graduate this academy, you have the foundation of knowledge to start learning how to be a cop.
The actual learning happens on the street, you learn by doing you learn through field training, and if you're a good officer, you never stop learning. So when you talk about police training, there is initial training and then there's in-service training. And in-service training is expensive because you're taking cops off the street, you have to put cops on the street to compensate for them being off the street. And whenever anybody gets a a budget crunch, the first place they go for is police training.
Most departments, actually, every department I've ever been in, you qualify once or twice a year, and that's it. So there's not enough in-service training to keep people sharp to to keep those things in their mind. And let me explain something about use of force. And this is what I think a lot of people don't understand. There is no mathematical formula for use of force. I can't teach you if A and B happened to see. Because every contact I ever had in my entire career was different.
So what you do in use of force is you teach the concepts. Of course, and then they apply the concepts based on the totality of the circumstances. I couldn't train you. Hey, look in his eye changes don't shoot. That's just what happened to me that one time. If the look in his eye hadn't changed, I would have gone. How do you. You can't teach that. I had an incident where a guy was trying to run me down with a pickup truck and in half a second I decided whether or not to draw my gun and shoot him, a thousand things went through my head.
I can't teach you how to make that decision. I can teach you all the concepts and then you have to apply them in the moment. So teaching use of force is not as quantitative as people think it is. A lot of people think it's a plus. We will see. And it's not. I can't be.
Yeah, so. It's going to let you go earlier, but there's so many interesting things to talk about, this will be my last question, though. There's a lot of talk right now about substituting calls to the police for calls to mental health professionals in cases of. Where you have someone who's suffering some kind of mental health issue, having an episode and. Have you dealt with any of these kind of scenarios on on nine one one calls in the past where it's immediately clear to you that this is not, you know, an otherwise normal but violent person doing something but someone who has a condition?
Every police officer has dealt with this, and I don't agree with that concept, because what you wind up with is dead mental health workers, OK, because the person is no less dangerous because they have a mental health issue. Right. And this is where I have issues with the fund to police. The idea of defund the police, although I think it was horrifically named, is to take some resources for the police and start beefing up like mental health responses in the field.
The problem is for decades, police officers have been expected to be a marriage counselor, a mental health professional. You know, child care, I can't tell you how many people wanted me to discipline their kids and scare the crap out of them rather than be a parent and discipline their own children. So how about taking those responsibilities off the officer and augmenting them with that mental health presence? So let's say you have X number of mental health professionals who work every day on the street.
And when the police encounter that type of situation, they call in that person and the officer responds. Now, the officer can ensure that the mental health person is safe and, you know, they don't get hurt, and if the person goes off the rails and starts killing people, the officers there to take action, but the mental health person can apply their specialty and their skills and handle it in a different way. So I don't think it's an either or.
I think it needs to be both. Well, on that note.
This has been the best conversation about policing I've ever had in my life. And I'm very grateful to you for coming on my podcast. I think people will find this to be more valuable than than you can even understand, probably. So thank you so much for this and hope to speak again. It was my pleasure and I admire the way you think and the way you operate. I say it tongue in cheek, but it's true politically. I'm a hard line moderate.
The answer's never at the polls. The answers in the middle. And when I was younger, I used to hate extremists until I realized that we needed extremists because they defined the parameters of the debate. But I believe the answer should never be ideological, the answer should be based on facts, data and common sense. And that's where that's why actually I reached out to you, because I like that approach that you're taking and we need more of them. So it was my pleasure to be on here and feel free to contact me any time if I can help.
Thanks so much.