Courage and compassion may be cornerstones to police work

■ By Calvin Porter / Contributed

Police shootings are more common than we might realize.
Just in the last three weeks, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department has been involved in two incidents of officers shooting individuals wielding knives that ended in their deaths. Last Dec. 20, the the Riverside Sheriff’s Department, who are contracted to the City of San Jacinto, had an officer confront a man with a knife and a shooting ensued. On Jan. 5, a deputy assigned to the Perris Sheriff’s station made contact with a man armed with a knife who advanced towards the deputy and the deputy shot him. Both knife-wielding assailants were killed. At least one was reportedly mentally ill.
We all understand and sympathize with the men and women serving in police and sheriff’s roles. They may have families and are doing a very dangerous job. They want to return safely to their children, to their wives and husbands.

A matter of choice
We also understand that no coercion was applied to these individuals when selecting a dangerous profession as their life’s work. In the course of a police person’s training, the matter of personal safety is paramount in the battery of subjects being taught. A police officer is trained physically and psychologically to address all sorts of life-threatening situations in actual mockups and only use a firearm as a last resort.
A police officer is provided with all the necessary equipment – bulletproof vest, pepper spray, stun gun, billy club, portable radio, firearm and many other supports to make their work viable and safe. A police officer is trained to rely on a backup and to resort to a supervisor whenever the situation demands, rather than fire his/her handgun upon provocation.

Why shoot them?
The question then, is why does a police officer shoot a person wielding a knife? Certainly a knife is dangerous – if you’re close enough. And in at least one of these Inland Empire instances, the person was threatening someone other than the officer. But why is it that we can immobilize wild animals such as tigers, lions, elephants etc., but we can’t immobilize a person suffering from mental illness who poses a threat? If we killed every wild animal who was dangerous, there would be no such thing as a zoo!

Mental breakdowns happen
Every person who has a mental breakdown doesn’t deserve to be gunned down and die. Yes, we want to protect our officers, but isn’t there a way to neutralize the mentally ill without killing them? Are our training programs incomplete? We argue interminably about abortion being wrong, but isn’t the value of a citizen’s life just as valuable as that of a fetus? Where is the empathy for human life – a truly special and sacred gift? Do we not teach compassion and the value of human life in the police academy?

Courage is key
We believe that courage should be a necessary character trait of all police officers. It takes courage to face down a person with a knife and not pull the trigger. It also takes empathy. Killing someone can‘t be undone. It’s permanent. If you make a mistake, it’s etched in stone – a headstone.
Do we need to rethink our training and recruiting strategies to emphasize a candidate’s ability to defuse a potentially dangerous, life-threatening situation? Do we need to rethink these training programs that should be teaching the human rights of citizens, regardless of gender, who may be homeless, deranged, poor, white, black, brown – or frightened and combative?

Compassion and heart
A modern police department is one with the latest technology, equipment, and training, but also one with the courage, compassion, and heart to neutralize the increasingly common fringe elements of society – without killing them all.

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