Video footage recorded with police-issued body cameras and a video camera filmed on the evening of January 7 in Memphis shows Tyre Nichols being beaten by officers. He died three days later. Screenshot courtesy of the City of Memphis | licensed photo
Feb. 8 (UPI) — The inexplicable murder of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers has again raised the question of why police brutality continues to occur in America.
In April 2021, I wrote about “Lessons for the Police from the Military: A Focus on Training and Fighting Rules”. Despite all the calls for reform and the need for corrective action, little seems to have been done since then, and Congress has not passed any law on the police.
Since the killing of George Floyd in 2020, 30 states and the District of Columbia have implemented police reforms. The United States has approximately 18,000 police officers throughout the country and approximately 700,000 full-time employees. Making improvements to this collective body, divided into states and cities, often with competing jurisdictions, is a massive undertaking, especially if these incidents reflect systemic and institutional weaknesses and failures in many of these departments and, in fact, society at large.
If society is largely to blame, then reforming individual police departments, however necessary, will not be enough to correct misconduct and excessive use of force.
Crime now ranks much higher in the public’s awareness of national issues, although statistically 2022 did not set new records and crime has declined in some areas. The ubiquity of guns — and the fact that society appears more violent, if the indicators are a lack of civility and a more common presence of anger even in rudimentary human interactions — the police are understandably more sensitive to the prospect of more violence. personal danger and vulnerability. And in the same way, the public is more afraid of the police, especially people of color.
This brings up the issue of race. Research shows that proportionately white officers are more likely to use force than colored officers. Is this a matter of statistics or fact? If the latter, can training and education and the diversification of the police force be corrective measures?
While training and education are part of any solution, is it enough? American police officers receive an average of 20 to 27 months of training followed by a few months of probation. By comparison, German police training takes 2.5 to 4 years; in the United Kingdom, two to three years. Clearly, more research is needed here.
After the Korean War, when a surprisingly large number of American prisoners of war were subjected to so-called brainwashing, the US military developed a Code of Conduct defining acceptable levels of behavior in war and peacetime.
During the Vietnam War, when the North Vietnamese were losing to American pilots, the US Navy invented the “Top Gun” school of fighter weapons, made famous by two films of the same name. The kill ratio changed to 15:1 in favor of American pilots.
Would a national code of conduct properly drafted for the police matter? Likewise, could a national police academy similar to Top Gun provide an additional level of education and training for local and state police forces? It would seem that both military inventions will help to increase the level of professionalism of the police, especially in crisis or life-threatening situations, for example, in aerial combat.
Another factor may matter.
Over 75% of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction. And just as dissatisfied with their lives. If the national mood is sour, it will affect society as a whole.
The skyrocketing number of drug overdose deaths and fentanyl-related deaths are also placing an additional burden on law enforcement.
The military mission over many decades has expanded from fighting armies of enemies. Today, some enemies lack armies. Others who have armies also rely on terrorism and non-kinetic weapons such as cybernetic ones. Similarly, police forces have broader tasks and responsibilities as well as obligations.
America faces a huge list of challenges and problems, from Chinese balloons and the war in Ukraine to a society deeply divided on most issues – huge debts, drugs, immigration, equality and justice. Against this backdrop, policing should have a higher priority.
Since the US government does not appear to be in a position to satisfactorily address police policy, perhaps the Governors’ and Mayors’ Associations would be the appropriate forum. And using examples of code of conduct and police “Top Gun” could be a great starting point for this effort.
Harlan Ullman is a senior advisor to the Washington Atlantic Council, principal author of Shock and Awe, and author of The Fifth Horseman and the New Madness: How Massive Destructive Attacks Become a Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large. .” Follow him @harlankullman.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.