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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 10-18

Law enforcement education and training: A review of literature and critical analysis

College of Health Professions, Chamberlain University, Downers Grove, IL, USA

Date of Web Publication30-May-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Gilbert Singletary
College of Health Professions, Chamberlain University, 3005 Highland Parkway, Downers, IL 60515
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/EHP.EHP_10_19

Rights and Permissions

Background: Recent killings of unarmed Black males murdered on national television has given rise to the successful prosecution of law enforcement officers, as well as new inquiries into officer discretion when applying deadly force. However, few scholars have called into question the methods used to train law enforcement officers, and how academy training prepares law enforcement officers to engage Black males. This research sought to provide a conceptual and cognitive framework for understanding deadly encounters between law enforcement and Black males and provide evidence-based content and recommendations to law enforcement to improve curricula and officer training. Methodology: Using case study methodology, a conflict between a Black male and a law enforcement officer is examined. Results: The results of the study reveal that current law enforcement training and education do not adequately prepare officers with the psychological tools needed to navigate the adversarial relationship between Black males and members of law enforcement. A combination of past experiences and behavior cues elicit responses from both Black males and law enforcement officers that often result in deadly encounters. Conclusions: There is no standardized curriculum for police officers across the United States. The majority of law enforcement training programs focus on physical and tactical elements with strength and firearms training at the core. A robust training that prepares officers for what they will experience in the field is warranted.

Keywords: Bias, criminal justice, epidemiology, ethnic groups, judgment, law enforcement, minority health, police officers, public health, racism

How to cite this article:
Singletary G. Law enforcement education and training: A review of literature and critical analysis. Educ Health Prof 2019;2:10-8

How to cite this URL:
Singletary G. Law enforcement education and training: A review of literature and critical analysis. Educ Health Prof [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Mar 27];2:10-8. Available from: https://www.ehpjournal.com/text.asp?2019/2/1/10/259382

  Introduction Top

The evolution of policing in America is a testament to America's yearning for civility and peace. However, throughout this time, history has proven that all citizens are not treated equally under the law. The extant literature underscores how racism and exploitation have greatly contributed to the development of modern-day policing. The current tension between members of law enforcement and Black males parallels that which existed during America's darkest moments. Recent killings of unarmed Black males murdered on national television has given rise to the successful prosecution of law enforcement officers, as well as new inquiries into officer discretion when applying deadly force.[1] However, very few articles have called into question the methods which are used to train law enforcement officers.[1],[2] In particular, despite the large disparities in deaths of Black males when compared to deaths of the general population, few have questioned academy trainings and how it prepares law enforcement officers to engage Black males.[2],[3]

The goal of this research is two-fold: (1) to provide a conceptual and cognitive framework for understanding the deadly encounters between law enforcement and Black males; (2) to provide evidence-based content and recommendations to law enforcement to improve curricula and officer trainings. To facilitate these goals, this paper utilizes case-study analysis in conjunction with psychological models of emotion and cognition. The theories grounding these models include Schachter and Singer [4] theory of emotion and Walter's [5] fight-or-flight response adaptation theory.

Historical overview of law enforcement in America

The history of policing in America is characterized both by honor and disdain. The earliest forms of law enforcement consisted of “night watch” patrol units, early colonists who volunteered to protect American streets to discourage gambling, prostitution, and petty crime. The first organized police force was created in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in 1838.[6] The purpose of this makeshift force was to protect the ships of local businessmen, which were used to transport goods to other ports worldwide. However, despite these noble efforts, many of the officers were also engaged in criminal activities, protected by the shield of law enforcement.

While law-and-order was taking form in the North, the South had its own agenda in starting its police force. Rather than safeguarding the commercial assets of the community, officers in the south were driven by the need to preserve the institution of slavery.[7] The nexus between law enforcement, the political system, and slavery is deeply embedded in America's history and economic structure. In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation's first slave patrol.[7] Slave patrols were vital to the southern economy, as they protected the interests of wealthy slave owners by recovering and punishing slaves who attempted to escape.[7] Because of the mutual financial interest in preventing slaves from escaping, Congress passed fugitive slave laws in 1793 and 1850, allowing for the detention and return of escaped slaves.

After the Civil War, slave patrols became obsolete, and new laws were enacted to control the freedoms of former slaves.[7] Immediately following the loss of the war, Southern states passed a series of laws known as “Black Codes” that were designed to suppress the newly gained freedoms of African-Americans.[8] Black Codes replaced Slave Codes, thus providing law enforcement and slave owners the same rights they had prior to the war. For example, the Vagrancy Act of 1866, passed by the General Assembly, forced into employment, for a term of up to 3 months, any person who appeared to be unemployed or homeless. Moreover, the law stipulated that, if a vagrant ran away and was captured, he or she would be forced to work for no compensation while wearing balls and chains.[9] The enactment of the Black Codes is an illustrative example of the connection that existed between the federal government and local southern economies. The Vagrancy Act facilitated the Convict Lease System by allowing southern states to lease its prisoners to private citizens, plantations, small business, and corporations.[9] This system allowed prisoners to work for free, subjecting them to slave-like conditions without compensation.

Prohibition, in conjunction with inequalities in the enforcement of the law, led President Hoover to appoint the Wickersham Commission in 1929 to investigate law enforcement nationwide. The purpose of the commission was to make law enforcement independent of political affiliation and to standardize the process throughout the country.[2] In 1935, J. Edgar Hoover continued the mission of standardized policing by creating the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy to offer additional training for local and federal law enforcement officers.[10] The program emphasized integrating professionalism into law enforcement through continued education and officer training.[11] However, since the federal government decided that law enforcement was the responsibility of local and state agencies, uniform criteria for nation-wide standards were never adopted.[10]

The passage of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, along with later decisions by the Supreme Court, forced police departments to reevaluate the training and education of law enforcement officers.[1] In Canton v. Harris 1989, the Court held that police departments may be liable when the conduct of an officer leads to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those with whom the police officer comes into contact.[1] The Supreme Court's decision was tested on March 3, 1991, when onlookers videotaped the brutal beating of Rodney King, a Black male construction worker who fled and evaded arrest on California's State Route 210, by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers. King's beating at the hands of trained law enforcement officers sent shockwaves through both White and Black communities, causing many to call for police reform and additional training to address racial disparities in law enforcement.

Contemporary issues in law enforcement

Since the 1990s, the violent crime rate in America has decreased significantly.[12] However, the rate of legal deaths has reached an all-time high.[12] Death by legal intervention is defined as the killing of a suspect by a law enforcement officer with legal authority to use deadly force.[13] Almost three decades after the brutal beating of Rodney King, little has changed with respect to law enforcement statistics concerning Black males. In 2015, 1138 Americans were killed by the police.[12] Of 1138 killed, 302 were African-American and 194 were Hispanic or Latino. On average, 3.1 Americans die per day in officer-related encounters. While White Americans accounted for half of the deaths caused by police officers, the disparity among African-Americans and White Americans per capita is striking.

African-Americans constitute 12% of the total US population. However, African-Americans were killed in more than a quarter of police shootings.[12] For every one million African-American residents, five were killed by police, compared to two per million for both Whites and Hispanics.[12] The majority of police killings of African-Americans involved young African-American males between the age group of 17 and 40.[12] Moreover, research suggests that African-American males aged 15–19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than White males in that same age group.[12]

Of the 1138 Americans killed by police in 2015, almost 200 of them were completely unarmed, and two-thirds were African-American or Hispanic.[12] African-American males make up only 6% of the US population; however, they account for nearly 40% of the unarmed men shot and killed by the police each year.[12] In the majority of cases in which the police shot and killed a person who had attacked someone with a weapon or was brandishing a gun, the person who was shot was White.[14] On the other hand, 60% of those killed while exhibiting less threatening behaviors were of African-American or Hispanic descent.[15] Through the process of adjudication, the overwhelming majority of officers were found not guilty, as the officers asserted that they had reason to believe that the Black male suspects presented a physical threat to the officer and/or the public.[13]

These highly charged encounters, coupled with split-second decisions, have led to officers performing poor threat assessments and exceeding the standard of care, as outlined in the Use of Force Continuum.[15] Although the majority of police killings are deemed legally justified, the overwhelming racial disparity seems to warrant further inquiry. Specifically, does racial bias impact a police officer's behavior when confronting people of color?

In a recent study conducted by Hester and Gray,[14] the researchers discovered that the height of Black males showed a strong positive correlation with officers' perception of criminal activity and perceived threat. Specifically, the authors discovered that taller Black suspects were stopped more often, were considered more of a threat, and were perceived as being more aggressive, when compared to White males of similar stature. The disparities in the number of deaths and the perception of Black males raise several important questions. Does the implicit fear of Black male suspects contribute to deadly encounters between Black males and members of law enforcement? Are law enforcement officers adequately trained to engage Black male suspects?

Law enforcement curricula and training

Law enforcement education remains in large part identical to the training and education established by J. Edgar Hoover in 1935.[2] Today, there is no standardized academy curriculum across the United States.[3] Each state's Commission on Peace Officers' Standards and Training determines the education and training required to be an officer. According to the Bureau of Justice and Statistics, the length of training for most academies varies from 21 to 35 weeks or 400 to 1500 h.[3] Although there is some continuity across states and departments, the content and preparation are driven by state preference.

The San Francisco Police Department spends a total of 1080 h on training over a 24-week period.[16] One hundred and twenty hours were designated for scenario-based policing, while 960 h were spent on theoretical concepts.[16] In comparison, the LAPD has an 828-h training regimen, which devotes 230 h to academics, 113 h to firearms, and 140 h to physical training.[16] However, important field-related issues such as race and domestic violence constitute only a few total hours of training in the majority of curricula.[17]

Although many academies require officers to have some postsecondary education, the majority of academy curricula focus on traditional areas such as physical fitness, officer safety techniques, weapons and firearms training, criminal law, report writing, courtroom testimony, patrol theory and operations, first aid, accident investigations, use of force, and safe driving.[18] Despite a series of riots and civil disturbances spanning the 1950s through 2000s, changes to make officer trainings and education more inclusive and responsive to race-related issues remain inadequate.[2] Through personal observations of academy curricula as well as interviews with hundreds of law enforcement officers, I discovered that topics such as implicit bias, microaggression, and even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remain conspicuously absent from police curricula and are even considered taboo in many departments. Caro argues that the greatest contributor to officers' inability to perform in the field is the incongruence between academy training and practical experience.[3]

Based on years collaborating with law enforcement and recent video evidence of Black males killed by law enforcement officers, it is clear that one of the most significant existential issues currently facing law enforcement is the relationship between law enforcement and Black males. By the year 2020, children of color will make up the majority of those 18 years of age and under in the United States.[19] Therefore, improving the relationship between law enforcement and Black males is imperative to the safety and health of America's most vulnerable community.

Fight-or-flight: The body's response to stress

Understanding how the body responds to stress is essential to interpreting the deadly encounters between African Americans and law enforcement. Therefore, understanding the impact of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors is critical. The fight-or-flight response was first recognized in the early 1900s by Walter Cannon.[5],[20] Walter [5] suggested that when the body encounters stressful events, it instinctively responds by mobilizing its resources to either engage the threat or avoid it (i.e., “fight or flight”). Since its introduction, many scholars have expanded on Walter's theory to embrace a more holistic adaptation. Today, the fight-or-flight response is recognized as part of the first stage (the alarm reaction stage) of Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)[21], a theory describing stress response.

The alarm reaction stage accounts for the physiological symptoms that occur when the body is initially exposed to stress.[21] Similar to Walter's [5] conceptualization of fight-or-flight, GAS suggests that during this time the body prepares to either flee or protect itself when faced with a particular threat.[21] Accordingly, proponents of GAS assert that, during this time, the heart rate increases and cortisol are released from the adrenal gland so that the body can receive a boost of adrenaline to navigate the perceived threat.[21]

One of the most prominent variations of Walter's [5] fight-or-flight response theory is Schachter and Singer's [4] two-factor theory of emotions [Figure 1], derived from the basic tenets of emotional theory. Emotional theory suggests that human emotional states consist of combinations of physiological arousal, psychological appraisal, and subjective experiences. Schachter and Singer suggested that emotional appraisals are predicated on our cultures, backgrounds, and most importantly, our past experiences.[4] Emotion theory assumes that because of the appraisal value placed on the event, individual responses may vary based upon individual perceptions and the way with which one interprets the encounter.[4]
Figure 1: Emotional experience process

Click here to view

Although Schachter and Singer's theory received considerable criticism,[22],[23] the basic tenets associated with emotion theory remain relevant.[24] At the core of Schachter and Singer theory [4] is the belief that arousal is consistent across various types of emotions that we experience and therefore, the value/appraisal that we apply to the event in question is critical to the actual emotion that we experience. According to the theory, emotions consist of two traits: physiological and cognitive. Hence, physiological arousal (e.g., intense heart-pounding and sweating when approached by a masked gunman) is interpreted in context to produce the emotional experience (e.g., fear) which is a result of the instantaneous appraisal of the experience.

It is important to understand the myriad of emotions experienced by Black males and police officers during these deadly encounters. If both parties perceive the other as a significant threat, it is easy to predict that the emotion that follows would be fear.

Trauma and the behavior response to fight-or-flight

Although emotion theory adds to our cognitive understanding of the tension underlying the relationship between Black males and law enforcement, it does not provide an in-depth understanding of the behavioral responses of each group. When faced with a stressful event, the behavioral responses for all living organisms fall within predictable categories.[25] During traumatic events, individuals respond by employing one of four behaviors to alleviate cognitive dissonance: seek physical separation from the threat (e.g., run, hide); withdraw emotionally (e.g., shut down, blunt affect, remove self emotionally from the event); freeze (e.g., catatonic-like state, inability to talk, move, think); or seek to remove the threat with acts of aggression (e.g., using violence, threats, weapons, or anything available to neutralize the threat).[25] Although these are the common groups of responses to imminent threats, there is no uniform way of responding.[26] The greatest predictor of a person's specific response to a traumatic event is his or her experience.[26],[27]

Research suggests there are two phases of trauma seen in both human beings and animals when confronted with intense stress or fear.[28] During phase one (the arousal phase), the nervous system is activated, increasing blood flow to vital regions of the body and preparing it for an all-out war to manage the immediate threat. During this process, the body's sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones.[28] The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline, resulting in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.[28] As the body shifts into fight-or-flight mode, blood is redirected from critical regions of the brain like the frontal lobe to more responsive areas such as the autonomic nervous system,[28] giving the body the burst of energy it needs to either escape or to eliminate the perceived threat.[26],[28]

The consequence of redirecting blood flow to more critical regions of the body is that areas like the frontal lobe (responsible for critical thinking, judgment, problem-solving, initiation, and impulse control) will be less engaged during times of intense stress. Restricting the body's most valuable asset during these critical moments exacerbates the problem, as the ability to think clearly and control impulses is vital during moments of intense stress. When the body enters fight-or-flight mode, primitive instincts are heightened, and basic survival instinct takes over. Fanselow argued that, during these times, human beings become less empathetic and gravitate toward familiar people and surroundings.[28]

The second phase of trauma, the recovery phase, is very complex and in many cases, is the most critical. The recovery phase of trauma occurs once a threat has been removed.[25] For an average person, the body returns to homeostasis. The process of decompressing and returning to the prearousal state takes between 20 and 60 min. Although this appears mundane, it is a critical component that separates Black males and members of law enforcement from the rest of society. Unlike most individuals, who are able to return to normal levels of arousal after disengaging from threatening situations, Black males and members of law enforcement remain hypervigilant, with their bodies locked in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight.[25]

After experiencing trauma, the average person develops adaptive coping skills and an increased ability to function and manage future stressful conflicts.[25] However, individuals who remain stimulated after a threat experience poor recovery and develop maladaptive coping mechanisms that impede their ability to manage future stressors. Those who experience poor recovery remain hypersensitive, are at increased risk for anxiety and depression, exaggerate smaller threats, avoid situations or people, and often continue to be numb and unaware of their surroundings.[25] Without mental health treatment or complete removal of the environmental stressor, these symptoms of trauma will likely persist.

The impact of trauma and behavior

Black males and police officers are at the greatest risk for experiencing recurring trauma.[29],[30] Daily exposure to violence and other traumatic events makes it difficult for these populations to recover. The underlying effects of trauma, in addition to the misrepresentation of both groups in the media, fuel these deadly outcomes. Research suggests that the negative stereotypes of Black males as aggressive and always engaging in criminal mischief stoke the fears of police officers.[31] Aymer continued by arguing that officers justify their use of deadly force based on these beliefs perpetuated by the media.

The deciding factor between justified and unjustified killings is rooted in whether an officer's belief that their lives or the lives of others were in danger was reasonable. In Tennessee v. Garner 1985, the Supreme Court held that an officer may legally use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what s/he reasonably believes to be a threat of death or serious bodily harm or to prevent the escape of a violent felon who the officer has probable cause to believe will pose a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Despite the Supreme Court's ruling providing precedence for officers' use of deadly force, many African Americans view the killings of unarmed Black men as extrajudicial and as a function of the discourse of racial oppression deeply rooted in the American ethos.[32],[33] At the core of the issue of justified versus unjustified killings is the officer's belief that his or her life or someone else's life is in danger. It is impossible to truly understand the motives underlying a person's behavior; however, there are tools available that, if applied, can help explain behavior patterns and what is driving our actions.

  Methodology Top

Case study research is a methodology based on empirical inquiry [34],[35] that uses qualitative techniques to investigate real-world problems. Case studies examine people, places, events, and phenomena to extrapolate key themes that help predict future trends, illuminate previously hidden possibilities that can be applied to practice, and/or provide a means of clarifying important research questions.[36] Moreover, case study research relies on multiple sources of evidence to make inductive, and partially deductive, conclusions regarding scientific arguments.[35] The lack of clarity surrounding these deadly encounters and the high number of killings of Black males by members of law enforcement is a contemporary phenomenon that lends itself to case study methodology. Like other scientific methods used to test hypotheses and examine theories, case studies are valuable tools used to explain complex phenomena, while answering probing questions.[35],[36]

Seemingly, the goal of case study methodology is to provide an in-depth review, interpretation, and discussion of the case, aimed at offering specific recommendations of action or improvements to existing conditions.[36] The current state of affairs between law enforcement and Black males warrant further inquiry to move the literature and the practice of law enforcement toward an evidenced base foundation. The “Cognitive Behavior Threat Response Model” (CBTRM) (see [Figure 2]) utilizes the basic tenets of emotion theory and Walter's fight-or-flight model proposed in 1915 to provide a psychological and behavioral analysis of deadly encounters such as the one between Tyrone and Officer Tipton from both points of view (POVs).
Figure 2: Cognitive behavior threat response model

Click here to view

The application of Schachter and Singer's 1962 theory of emotion and Walter's fight-or-flight response adaptation theory proposed in 1915 provides great insight when performing inductive and deductive analysis into the deadly encounters between Black males and members of law enforcement.

Sample case study

Tyrone is a 6'4”, 230 pound, 22-year-old African-American male from the Fremd Village Projects. Tyrone's criminal history consists of possession of a controlled substance, possession of a firearm, and failure to appear for an unrelated charge. One evening, while driving through the neighborhood in his 1986 Chevrolet Caprice, Tyrone was pulled over by 35-year-old Scott Tipton, a 3-year patrol officer of the Saint Clair Police Department, husband and father of three, for driving with a broken taillight. As Officer Tipton approached the car, both he and Tyrone made eye contact in the driver's rearview mirror. After arriving at Tyrone's door and instructing him to “wind down the window,” the officer stated he “thought” he smelled marijuana and asked Tyrone to step out of the car.

Not realizing that his taillight was broken, Tyrone asked the officer why he was being pulled over. The officer again asked Tyrone to “step out of the car and keep your hands visible where I can see them.” Again, Tyrone refused to step out of the car and asked the officer, “Why did you pull me over?”

The officer replied, “You have a broken taillight and your car smells like marijuana. you also have a failure to appear.” Tyrone then said, “I don't smoke marijuana, man, this is bull,” and exited the car as requested.

Officer Tipton told Tyrone to put his hands behind his back. Tyrone leaned forward and put one hand behind his back, but then suddenly pushed Officer Tipton with his other hand and attempted to run. When Tyrone was just 15 yards away from the cruiser, Officer Tipton began pursuit. Seconds later, the cruiser's dash-cam recorded the sound of eight gunshots.

Moments later, Officer Tipton's voice is heard saying, “Suspect down,” as he walks back into frame, requesting backup and an ambulance for the suspect. Immediately following the fatal encounter, Officer Tipton was placed on paid administrative leave, and an investigation into the events surrounding the fatal encounter ensued. There was speculation that a bystander recorded the events from his car, although the bystander has not turned any recordings over to police.

Facts: Officer Tipton

During the investigation, it was determined that Officer Tipton's body camera was not working during the time of the physical altercation. Officer Tipton reported that the physical altercation with Tyrone disabled the camera. In addition, the events of the pursuit were not captured on camera as they happened outside of the frame of the dash-cam. In his report, Officer Tipton stated that he shot Tyrone because Tyrone had put his hand into his right pocket as he was running away, and Officer Tipton saw an object moving around in his pocket. Officer Tipton maintained that he feared that Tyrone had a gun in his pocket, so he shot Tyrone to neutralize the threat. Before the encounter with Tyrone, Officer Tipton reported working long stressful hours, having nightmares, inability to focus, problems sleeping, and hypervigilance.

Facts: Tyrone

An autopsy of Tyrone's body later revealed that he did not have any drugs in his system at the time of his death. It was also determined that Tyrone did not have a weapon on his person or in his car. The only item found on Tyrone's person was a cellphone, which was in his pocket. The charges for failure to appear were from a child support order 3 years prior wherein Tyrone had refused to submit his DNA for testing. It is unknown why Tyrone decided to run after being pulled over.

  Results Top

Results of the model (See [Figure 2]) suggest that the driving factor that contributes to the outcome between law enforcement and Black males is deeply rooted in the past experiences and behavior cues elicited by both groups. Moreover, the results of the model are driven by individual points-of-view maintained by the officer and the Black male suspect. To better understand the trajectory of the outcome, the results of the model are factored into physiological and behavior responses.

Point-of-view: Tyrone

After being pulled over and confronted by Officer Tipton, Tyrone was immediately confronted with the issue of his personal safety. From here, a series of physiological and behavioral changes ensues as Tyrone began to assess the potential threat posed by Officer Tipton (e.g., “Am I in danger?”).

Physiological response

While engaging with Officer Tipton, Tyrone was subconsciously processing whether the officer posed an imminent risk of danger to his life. This question processed through Tyrone's threat assessment filter, which consisted of his past trauma(s), experiences with law enforcement, and exposure to media portrayals of Black males engaged with law enforcement.[32],[37] The threat assessment is similar to the cognitive appraisal model proposed in Schachter and Singer two-factor theory.[4] However, the threat assessment filter differs from appraisal as it functions as a precursor to the event, rather than rendering a post appraisal of the experience. If Tyrone believed his life was in danger, his sympathetic nervous system would have become activated, stimulating the adrenal glands and triggering the release of chemical messages designed to give the body a boost of energy.[28] This would result in increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, all leading him to interpret the event as “fear” and subsequently would transition into the fight-or-flight stage where his behavioral responses would begin.

Behavioral response

To alleviate and reconcile the sense of fear and anxiety, Tyrone had one of four behavioral “fight-or-flight” responses from which to choose: (1) freeze, (2) emotionally withdraw, (3) act aggressive, or (4) seek physical distance from the threat.[38] Tyrone's behavioral response was indicative of the feedback that he received as illustrated in Schachter and Singer's 1962 two-factor theory [Figure 1]. It is important to note that Tyrone's immediate need to reconcile the fear and perceived threat of the officer inadvertently elicited a similar physiological and behavioral response from Officer Tipton. Hence, the officer then undertook a similar threat analysis based on his perception and observations of Tyrone's behavior. For example, if Tyrone physically froze, he risked being perceived by Officer Tipton as suspicious or considering escape. If Tyrone withdrew emotionally, he risked being perceived by Officer Tipton as being guilty or hiding something. If Tyrone acted aggressively, Officer Tipton may have believed that he was violent and a risk to his safety (which would likely have resulted in the use of force). If Tyrone attempted to run away from the threat, he would undoubtedly be perceived by Officer Tipton as guilty and dangerous (which could lead to the officer using deadly force).

As previously described, when faced with a traumatic event, behavioral responses are predictable.[38] In this case, Tyrone's response was to seek physical distance from what he perceived as an imminent threat to his safety and life. As a result of the aforementioned traumas, media influence, and negative past experiences with law enforcement (direct and indirect), Tyrone concluded that his best alternative for alleviating the threat was to run. This decision, coupled with the officer's threat assessment, contributed to the deadly outcome.

Point-of-view: Officer Tipton

Physiological response

Like Tyrone, Officer Tipton faced the same questions regarding his safety and processed his answer based on his personal experiences and implicit beliefs of Black males. If Officer Tipton answered “yes” to the question of whether his life was in danger, he would also move into fight-or-flight mode, then transition into one of the four behavioral responses previously discussed. However, unlike Tyrone, Officer Tipton only had one of the four behavior responses available (i.e., aggression) potentially affecting his ability to think, assess, reason, and react appropriately to the level of threat presented by Tyrone during the encounter.

Behavioral response

While actively engaged in the fight-or-flight sequence, compare Officer Tipton's only behavioral response (taking aggressive action) with his perception of Tyrone's response (seeking distance by fleeing), and Officer Tipton's behavior becomes very predictable. Tyrone's act of running from the scene made an already tense encounter extremely volatile. Officer Tipton's perception of Tyrone as a threat, his history of PTSD, his years of experience, media bias, and drastic decline of frontal lobe cognitive abilities while engaging in a highly stressful encounter all contributed to the fatal result.

  Discussion Top

The case study involving Officer Tipton and Tyrone depicts a real-world scenario addressing a major issue affecting an entire cohort of American citizens. Research suggests that Black males aged 15–19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than White males in the same age group.[12],[39] Moreover, the majority of killings involving Black males by police have been deemed justified.[39] A close examination of the model suggests that officers' general perception of Black males significantly impacts the underlying tenets of the threat assessment.

The threat assessment is a cognitive filtration system that processes events based on past experiences and implicit beliefs. The threat assessment is multidimensional and elicits contemporaneous behavior cues observed by both law enforcement officers and potential suspects. An invalid assessment of a behavior cue on either side can be the difference between action/no action or life/death. As a result of the history between law enforcement and Black males, the threat assessment for Black males and White members of law enforcement is particularly significant.

Research suggests that White Americans attribute extraordinary strength and super natural force to African Americans.[40] Moreover, the authors posit that White Americans perceive Black men as violent, aggressive, unintelligent, and less empathic. Seemingly, results of the study also suggests that many White officers believe that African Americans have higher pain tolerance than White Americans and therefore, should be subjected to higher levels of force.[40] In a similar study, Feagin [41] suggests that White Americans experience difficulties distinguishing between various classes of Black males (e.g., doctor, lawyer, criminal, street-level drug dealer) leading them to treat all Black males as criminals. This is important as Krieger et al.[42] argued that high-income Black males are equally likely to be killed by police as low-income Black males.

For Black male suspects, the foundation of their threat assessment is characterized by the adversarial history of Black males and law enforcement and the images of Black males murdered by members of law enforcement. The common denominator between Black males and members of law enforcement is the connection to stress and trauma.[29],[43] Trauma occurs when an external threat overwhelms a person's ability to manage his or her own emotions, feelings, thoughts, and actions.[26] These threats affect physiological and psychological systems that regulate a wide range of functions, including the way in which the body processes information and how it responds to real and/or perceived threats. Changes to an officer's physiological and psychological state present a significant threat to his or her ability to make accurate assessments during intense moments. Therefore, a rich understanding of the history between law enforcement and Black males and of the CBTRM should be included in all future training and curricula.

  Conclusions Top

The negative history between law enforcement and the Black community is well documented throughout this research. Changing the dynamics of this relationship will require time and concerted efforts to engage the Black community proactively. Community policing is a philosophy of full-service, personalized policing in which the same officer patrols and works in the same area on a permanent basis.[44] Officers in these communities work from a decentralized location in a proactive partnership with citizens to identify and solve problems before they become major issues.[44] Recent research has noted that community policing increases residents' satisfaction with police and builds long-lasting relationships.[44] In addition, further research has shown that community policing also reduces residents' fear of crime while increasing feelings of safety and perceptions of police legitimacy.[44]

Gentrification is a major contributor to the destabilization of Black communities.[45] As a result, many Black families are forced to move from their traditional neighborhoods into highly dense areas which are usually saturated with drugs and violence.[45] These shifts in population create “turf wars” as members of the neighborhood compete for scarce resources and opportunities.[45] This further divides Black communities, creating an “us against them” mentality. The divides within Black communities create additional barriers for law enforcement officers to build positive relationships with residents. Therefore, it is important that law enforcement officers be aware of these barriers and create positive opportunities to engage with the community whenever possible. However, rather than adopting a community policing model, many departments have adopted a more militarized approach where police officers enter the community only to enforce the law instead of building relationships with citizens.[46]

Through the Department of Defense 1033 program, local police departments now have access to military-grade weapons such as tanks, armored vehicles, and tear gas that are used by soldiers during combat missions.[46] The optics of military weapons is antithetical to building positive relationships with community members. The use of military-style weaponry transforms civilian streets into urban battlegrounds. The juxtaposition of military-like force engaging citizens was infamously on full display in Ferguson, Missouri after an 18-year-old African-American male was shot and killed by a White police officer. As protestors took to the streets, many were greeted with tanks and tear gas as if in a military takeover.

Chappell and Lanza-Kaduce [46] argue that the militarization of law enforcement is not limited to these events: rather, it is infused throughout the training. The authors posit that while engaged in officer training, cadets are stripped of individual traits and are taught to embrace group ideology consistent with military culture. Research suggests that negative police culture lends itself to pervasive misconduct within departments.[17] Such misconduct can manifest as police brutality and other types of officer malfeasance. Excessive force is one of the most common forms of officer misconduct.[17] According to the report, 57% of excessive force cases involve an officer using a baton, and 23% involve the use of a firearm. Bryant-Davis et al.[47] suggest that police brutality is a systemic form of violence enacted by a group or individual who represents a government-sanctioned law enforcement agency rather than a rogue individual. Westmarland [48] argues that acts of police brutality are possible as a result of the “blue wall of silence,” whereby officers refrain from reporting fellow officers because of fear of departmental retaliation.

Naturally, law enforcement officers should be subjected to rigorous, thorough training. In this vein, training for law enforcement officers should include an equal balance of physical, psychological, emotional, theoretical, and practical perspectives. Being a police officer requires extraordinary physical and mental stamina. Law enforcement is the only profession that requires someone to render aid to another person after that individual might have attempted to take his or her life (i.e., the officer's life). Teaching officers how to properly manage the physical and psychological impact of the job should be an integral part of any training or curriculum.

To understand the significance of the history between Black males and law enforcement, it is essential that content relating to implicit bias and trauma be integrated into training. Black males exposed to police brutality directly or indirectly are more likely to avoid contact with law enforcement and will remain in a fight-or-flight state out of fear of being physically assaulted.[31] Therefore, knowledge of the psychological background of Black males and law enforcement is paramount to officer education and training. Black males and members of law enforcement are two of the most traumatized groups coexisting in American communities.[29],[42] Therefore, intense focus and training explaining the impact of the assessment filter should be central to any police curriculum.

There is no standardized curriculum for police officers across the United States.[3] Although many programs incorporate theoretical concepts, the majority focuses on physical and tactical elements with strength and firearms trainings at the core.[3] A robust training that prepares officers for what they will experience in the field is a progressive step toward improving the relationship between law enforcement and Black males. Bykov [49] argues that there is a direct relationship between the training cadets receive in police academies and the behavior they express to the public. To effectively change the outcomes of encounters between Black males and members of law enforcement, a reform of training, and how police are prepared to engage the public, is crucial.

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Conflicts of interest

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