There has been a lot of controversy – and make no mistake, regardless of one’s stance – our Country, and New York City particularly, need to make a move towards unity or the worst will only be to come.
Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson were not indicted by grand juries – and neither should have been. The NYPD Cop who killed the innocent Bronx-bodega worker, Reynaldo Cuevas, should not have been indicted either. The two NYPD officers that shot 9 innocent bystanders in front of the Empire State building while pursuing Jeffrey Johnson, who murdered his former colleague moments earlier, have also not been indicted for any wrong doing.
However, there is a great amount of responsibility that has not been accounted for – and that is what truly bothers me. And that problem is not tangible. It is not something that can be easily scape-goated and protested about. It doesn’t give you one, single person to hold as the guilty party. But, until that problem is resolved – we will only continue to see “killer cops”. Sorry to make it less sensational – but let’s also get one thing out of the way – it’s not about race either. Making it about race is only going to distract from the true problem.
A 23 year old, NJ Police Officer was killed after less than one year on the force. That trooper, Melvin Santiago responded to an armed robbery – and was shot & killed before he could get out of his car. This problem, the problem that killed Melvin Santiago, Reynaldo Cuevas, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, resulted in the shooting of 9 innocent bystanders and left families on both sides mourning and scarred for life is the same problem. Failure in leadership and training.
Every one of these officers, and victims/participants in the associated events, responded to each incident in a way that was reinforced by their training and the expectations that were reinforced upon them – by both the citizens and more importantly, their leadership. For that, I do not hold any individual officer or person guilty for their actions. Police Officers have been given a task that is far more difficult than any person who has not held the position will be able to imagine. At the same time, when given that level of authority, or should I say, nobility – it comes with increased responsibility. I’d like to go through and briefly recap each incident.
On July 13th, 2014 Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santiago was killed by failed training and leadership. He responded to a call of an armed robbery and was the first to arrive on-scene. When he arrived, he pulled his squad car up, with the driver’s side of his cruiser facing the entrance to the Walgreens. Before he could exit his vehicle, the armed gunman had an unobstructed avenue of approach and used it. He shot and killed Santiago on the spot. Proper training would have left Santiago without a doubt that he is most vulnerable when exiting his vehicle. That said, he should have never pulled in the way he did – his driver’s side, his vulnerable and exposed side, should never have been in direct view of the suspected avenue of approach. Failure to have been trained to respond properly killed Melvin Santiago.
On Sep 7th, 2012 NYPD officers responded to an armed robbery in the Bronx. With the suspects held up inside the bodega, officers took positions outside. When they did, the suspects ran to the back of the store, while 2 bodega works made an attempt to flee. After just being ordered to the floor by the armed gunmen – Reynaldo Cuevas bolted out the door for his own safety. A 7 year Veteran-NYPD Officer, was standing outside, gun drawn. He was positioned poorly and unready when Cuevas ran into the officer, and the officer’s gun. The officer, who had never fired his weapon in the line of duty during his 7 year career accidentally shot Cuevas – killing him. As you see the video, you can see it unfold. The bottom line, in 7 years on the force, there is no way that officer should have been standing where he was. He was not trained properly – and that lack of training and the leadership to validate training – is what killed Cuevas.
Having taught Combat Marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat in the Marine Corps, I am confident in identifying improper tactics. Where that officer was standing – he left himself blind, and in a position where he did not have enough time to react appropriately when ANY person came out of that door. Cuevas, nor any suspect should have been able to reach and touch the officer before the officer identified him as a threat or not threat. Members of our most elite forces could have properly made that decisions and saved Cuevas’ life (assuming sub-second decision making time). As a patrol officer, the NYPD officer should have been positioned so that he would have no less than ~3 seconds to properly conduct a threat assessment, from the time of sight of a person to time of action (I might even be a little generous to offers as little as 3 seconds).
On Friday, August 24th, 2012 – Two NYPD Officers, with little warning are responding to shots fired just less than a block away as Jeffrey Johnson just assassinated his colleague. As you see in the video, the police officers approach Johnson (without their weapons drawn) and then begin demonstrating their poor training as soon as Johnson pulls out his .45 caliber handgun. Johnson has his gun out for nearly 2 full seconds, pointed at the police, but doesn’t fire. In those 2 seconds, the police nearly STUMBLE over each other, BACK PEDALLING until their weapons are drawn and they begin firing from an unbalanced position. Not to mention, how close the second officer is to shooting his fellow officer that is nearly directly in his line of fire between himself and Johnson. The police fired 16 shots, killing Johnson, and also injuring 9 innocent bystanders.
What went right?
- The officers reacted as they were trained to. They cannot be blamed for that.
What went wrong?
- Their training.
- Responded to an active shooter situation and their guns were not drawn at the time they had the shooter in closing distance.
- They stumbled over each other, retreating until they could get their guns drawn. As sworn officers, whose DUTY is to protect the population – they do not have the luxury to fall to the natural human reactions to danger. They have to go INTO the danger. If Johnson wanted to pull the trigger – one, if not both of those officers would have been dead.
- They fired 16 shots! Many of which, were taken while off balance and not well-aimed. There is no reason that a target that is only 10-15’ away had anything less than 100% shot accuracy. For someone who is untrained, or not trained properly, this is actually normal when considering the psychology that happens in a situation like this. It is likely in the moment, each officer was not aware of how many rounds they heard, or how many times they pulled the trigger. By no means is that negligent – but with proper training it can be mitigated.
NYPD, and all police forces must hold their leadership accountable for the training and acceptable performance standards. Firing on a paper target at a controlled range does NOT prepare officers for an armed confrontation. The bad guy is not going to wait for you to take a deep breath, exhale, focus, and slowly squeeze. Proper use of stress inoculation in training will be a helpful tool – but still useless if NYPD leadership continues to reinforce these types of performance as meeting the standard. The police officers did exactly as they were taught, and for that, cannot and should not be held at fault.
Darren Wilson, and Daniel Pantaleo… I wanted to go into more on these two – but I think the point is made. Both officers acted in accordance with their training. When adrenaline goes and actions are taken – detailed thought is not what prevails. Training and reinforced decision making is what prevails. If the training is not sufficient, then fear takes over. When fear takes over – things are rarely taken care of at a level that should be expected from those we entrust to be our domestic protectors.
Watch the video of Eric Garner… the hold that Pantaleo uses to take him down, is not a choke hold. It is a head and arm manipulation, also known as a controlling technique. The hold Pantaleo uses on Garner once on the ground IS a choke hold… it is the first, and only point during the choke that Garner tries to speak and can’t. At that point, he truly could not breath – and his blood-flow (and oxygen) to the brain is stifled. This sensation doesn’t end for Garner once released, and you begin to hear his pleas that he can’t breathe (at this point he CAN breath, but his blood flow to the brain is still stifled, likely giving him the sensation he cannot breath). Anytime you even momentarily stop/pause blood flow to the brain during a time of adrenaline and increased blood pressure – you risk the chance of the person going unconscious in a VERY short period of time.
Eric Garner is a big guy – take a look at his shoulders, and his abdomen/torso in particular. Once he is on the ground, Pantaleo has his knee on Garner’s head (as well as his palm on Garner’s lower jaw/side of neck). The knee on the head is a trained controlling technique. However, the windows that Garner is pressed against, has his left shoulder pressed into the far side of his own neck. Looking at the size of Garner’s torso – the distance his head has to go, to get flat to the ground is further than the average person… this additional distance causes additional pressure to his arteries in his neck as does the pressure of his own shoulder shoving into the side of his neck. The cops continue to put even MORE pressure on him at this point. Why? Because Garner’s animalistic, and basic HUMAN response to suffocating, is to fight – as if your life depends on it (because it does) for air. He is pushing up to relieve the pressure on his neck that is obstructing oxygenated blood from getting to his brain. His pushing up, triggers a TRAINED response from the Police Officers to apply more force until he “stops resisting”.
That lethal cycle is a result of poor training – and must be corrected. The response, or lack thereof by both the police and medical units to provide resuscitation immediately is nothing short of negligent. On behalf of the Officers, it is negligence by training. On behalf of the EMTs – just negligence. The EMTs were rightfully stripped of their jobs. (But let’s take a moment, what set of standards was being enforced upon them to have even begin to think that their response was appropriate in the first place?).
A lack of leadership, in the areas we need it most is killing our citizens and ruining the lives of many more. Further it is dividing our people, our neighborhoods, and defies the cohesion any community needs to be productive and positive. Hating individual cops, or slaying innocent cops as they sit in their car is not going to save or rectify anything. Race baiting and claiming racial motivations is only going to distract from the point.
Leadership must be held accountable. Training must be must be enforced to a higher standard. I don’t mean just at the very top – I mean at the most integral levels… the middle managers: The Sergeants, Lieutenants and Captains; the heads of the academies, and those responsible for sustainment training. But also – Parents. Parents, Teachers and Families. Just as Police Instructors are to be held accountable for setting, and Sergeants for maintaining, accountability for the acceptable performance standards – so should Parents, Teachers, and Families hold themselves accountable for the behavior of their children. As those children respond only in a way that reflects what has been reinforced as an acceptable standard.