LAW ENFORCEMENT IS FIFTY YEARS BEHIND AVIATION

F-22 Raptor (U.S. Air Force)

In the wake of grand jury decisions to not indict two police officers, who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, persistent protests erupted across the United States. These led to senseless attacks against police officers, including two New York City cops, killed as they sat in their patrol car. Unfortunately, such reprehensible, inexcusable shootings were predictable—and will continue, unless timely, pragmatic action is taken.

Activists, media analysts and politicians have focused on myriad “causes” for the unrest—race-based unfairness, a perceived pro-police bias within the judiciary, mendacious cops, legal system deficiencies, and other issues—to explain the recent backlash against an epidemic of citizen fatalities at the hands of police officers.

Overshadowed by rightful outrage and angst that followed the insane execution of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in New York is an equally alarming fact: In 2014, police officers killed 1,100 people, an average of three every day of the year. (KilledByPolice.net) That figure contrasts with 126 law enforcement officers killed in 2014, according to an annual report released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Fifty officers were killed with guns, and 15 of those were via “ambush assaults,” matching a 2012 total. Attacks on cops have been increasing over the past few years, although police work is much safer today than it was in the 1970s.

These statistics should be a loud-and-clear wakeup call for every American. Unless leaders at the federal, state and local levels openly acknowledge that there’s a dark, disturbing correlation between the deaths of 1,100 citizens and a rash of intentional, random attacks on police officers, this nation will be condemned to thousands more heartbreaking funerals in 2015.

Indignant police union leaders’ demands that Congress label attacks on uniformed officers as “hate crimes” have yielded chilly, skeptical receptions. Equally irate American citizens are demanding practical, substantive changes in police policies, practices and training—realistic solutions that hold quick-to-shoot cops accountable, yet protect good, honorable officers, who daily live their oaths to protect and serve.

Worried public officials from the White House to local mayors’ offices and city councils are scrambling to appease angry, fed up, disaffected citizens and embattled police officers, before outright armed rebellion explodes into nationwide chaos. Most public officials fully understand that citizens are fed up with post-shooting patronization: “We’re conducting a thorough investigation to determine exactly what occurred.” “We’ll change policies, procedures and practices to make sure this never happens again.” And the tired granddaddy of all, “We’ll improve officer training.”

On the other side, upstanding, professional police officers are frustrated by protests and repercussions attributed to the misdeeds, questionable shootings, chokings and general abuse committed by their uniformed compatriots. Consequently, the chasm between disheartened cops and exasperated, infuriated citizens continues to widen.

Police officers and taxpayers of all races and creeds, from Los Angeles to New York, must face several inescapable truths: Unless drastic improvements are made, the only elements guaranteed to change will be cops’ annual body count and the number of attacks on police officers. And race isn’t the primary factor driving either police brutality or ambushes on cops. Despite what we’re told by the media, high-profile activists and police unions, many of today’s sworn officers are equal-opportunity abusers and killers. They shoot to kill, without regard for ethnicity or creed.

What can be done to drastically curb police brutality and killing, as well as egregious attacks on police officers, then rebuild trust between citizens and the U.S. law enforcement community, before outrage ignites a shooting war?

Look to the high-integrity field of aviation/aerospace. Long ago, these professionals developed an effective system that has greatly improved air operations safety, based on several key principles:

  • Independent investigations of aircraft incidents and fatal accidents.
  • Clear identification of root causes, based on full-spectrum investigations, forensic data and analyses conducted by well-trained professionals.
  • Follow-up actions by federal regulatory agencies, which capitalize on findings and recommendations made by independent, third-party investigators.
  • A rigorous protocol of accountability, ensuring trust is maintained with the flying public and senior military leaders.
  • A non-punitive companion system to identify unsafe activities via anonymous reporting, enabling corrections, before accidents occur.

The establishment in 1926 of a congressionally chartered National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate every aircraft accident was a major step toward improving aviation safety. In 1974, the NTSB was designated an independent entity, because “…No federal agency can properly perform such (investigatory) functions, unless it is totally separate and independent from any other…agency of the United States..,” according to the NTSB website.

Currently, there is no law enforcement equivalent to the NTSB. Police departments routinely conduct internal investigations of officer-involved shootings, and just as routinely conclude that their fellow officers were totally justified in shooting a civilian to death. 

In the aviation sector, if an airline’s pilots investigated each other’s accidents, and always concluded that their fellow pilots were never at fault, who would willingly climb aboard a commercial air transport? Passengers would have very little faith in a system that ignored mistakes, actively covered up failures to protect its own, and habitually lied about the causes of aircraft disasters. But that is precisely how many law enforcement and judicial organizations operate—and why citizens no longer trust cops and district attorneys to honestly investigate officer-involved fatalities.

Because it’s a dedicated proponent of continuous improvement, the military and civil aviation community recognized the wisdom of preemptively identifying and eliminating unsafe practices, rather than merely fixing problems, after a deadly accident. The non-punitive Aviation Safety and Reporting System (ASRS) was set up to identify threats to safety, by collecting voluntary reports from pilots, air traffic controllers, maintenance technicians and other industry personnel. To ensure anonymity and minimize risks to jobs and careers, ASRS is operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). When NASA validates a safety issue, based on anonymous reports, it “identifies system deficiencies, and issues alerting messages to persons in a position to correct them,” according to the ASRS charter.

Over the years, the NTSB, backed by ASRS and other proven industry tools, have created the safest air transportation system in the world. Yes, cost-sensitive airlines and pilot, controller and other unions often object and push back, when new regulations or processes are imposed. Still, every airman, manager, controller and mechanic ultimately has faith in the findings and judgment of NTSB investigators.

Law enforcement policies, practices, procedures and training are at least 50 years behind those of the aviation industry. If aviators were killing three people every day of the year, the White House, Congress and American taxpayers would be furious. Why isn’t there similar outrage and intolerance for cops killing more than 1,000 Americans per year?

After a police officer panicked and shot my son to death in 2010, the cop and a multiagency Las Vegas “Cartel of Corruption” followed a well-worn cover-up playbook that calls for disparaging the dead victim and corrupting or manufacturing evidence to ensure badged killers are always exonerated. The U.S. Department of Justice simply reviewed the police department’s self-investigation findings and “decided to not get involved.”

Four and a half years later, though, the national environment is much different. Americans are finally up in arms, demanding that law enforcement stop killing citizens. It’s time for Congress and the White House to listen and act aggressively to implement concrete, meaningful changes. Its time to establish a federal agency charged with independently investigating every officer-involved fatality, then reporting its findings to those who will hold cops accountable.

It’s also time to set up a process emulating the Aviation Safety and Reporting system to give honorable, professional police officers a vehicle for anonymously reporting fellow cops’ crimes, malfeasance and cover-ups, which have destroyed the credibility of all law enforcement agencies and personnel.

Yes, street cops, state patrol officers, and federal agents in dozens of agencies—all backed by politically powerful, single-minded unions—may scream, threaten to strike and fight back aggressively. But it’s time government officials ignore the self-serving cries of unions, race-baiters and those with an agenda, then do the right thing for all their constituents—black, white, brown, yellow and blue-uniformed.

Americans’ patience is exhausted, and both citizens’ and cops’ lives are in danger.

William B. Scott is a former bureau chief for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine, a Flight Test Engineer graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School and author of The Permit, a thriller based on his eldest son’s death.

 

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  • mikeb95

    Excellent analysis Bill, the people are waking up!

  • Michael Stewart

    Bill: Again you have made many very good points and observations. I agree it is not just a racial thing. It is about our government officials who use fear to control the rest of us. They want to impose their religious and moral beliefs, their judgments about what they think is best for us and then they make illegal statutes, ordinances and laws to fund their criminal activities. They have made all of us citizens and subject to their whims. Slaves to their system. They then use, their enforcers, some of them bullied themselves or just outright sociopaths that use tactics that are also unconstitutional, criminally sanctioned by our leaders. They all need to be held accountable. We need to have the “Qualified Immunity Laws” repealed for all officials. What would happen to a “civilian” if they did kill a cop, thinking he was trying to protect himself from death, because he was “in fear for his life”. He would have no chance at all There is no justice. There will be no justice for either of our sons. They are both just another statistic in this evil world. Hopefully those that have been responsible for the unjust killing of our children will be held accountable by a higher power.

  • http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com/ David C. Couper

    This is the argument Michael bell made in his successful attempt to change the law regarding police shootings in Wisconsin after his son was killed by Kenosha police. If you are not aware of him please check him out. You and I are on the same page here — you for your tragic loss and me from the perspective of being a cop for three decades. Check out my book and blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress. Keep up this important work!

  • Bill Scott

    Thanks, David. Your comment is very much appreciated. I’m in touch with Mike Bell, and we’re working together on a number of initiatives now. I’ll check your book and blog.

  • Robert Bissett

    POLICE REFORM

    We have a serious problem in this country. We are in far more danger from the police than we are from terrorist. And it is not just persons of color. Three times as many whites are killed by police as blacks. The public in general believe that the police have a de facto license to kill. They are on a hair trigger. Reach for your wallet to identify yourself and you get shot. Go back to your car to get your papers you get shot. Fail to comply fast enough to orders you get shot, choked, clubbed and/or punched. Maybe you survive, maybe you don’t. They don’t really care. All of this without regard to the seriousness of any crime you may have committed.

    Why is this brutality happening? It’s simple…when arresting someone police are authorized to use “all necessary force, including deadly force.” That is their license to kill. Even worse after murdering someone the officer is often given a vacation, paid leave, while the incident is investigated. The result of such investigations almost always clears the officer. He followed procedure and exercised his judgement in a difficult situation. Case closed; don’t second guess the officer; you were not there. They couldn’t care less what happens to the victims of law enforcement. It is not about good cops and bad cops. Every cop you encounter officially is mentally and emotionally trained to dominate and subdue you if you make trouble or kill you trying.

    This is what Americans are protesting. Police officers are not recruited at random, they volunteer for the job. As it stands now the job attracts mostly those who either don’t mind being violent and brutal or those who actually look forward to the opportunity to legally beat or kill a bad guy on the slightest provocation. Those without the stomach for it soon move on. Their motto is no longer “Protect and Serve”; it is “Enforce and subdue”.

    So what can be done? We have to motivate the officer to use brutality and deadly force only as a last resort. All too often it seems filling the bad guy with holes is the first resort. Their motivation is to error on the side of caution at all times and to hell with the other guy, because the worse that could happen is a paid vacation followed by a fat retirement. That has to change and there is a way.

    Michael Brown should be alive today. No way did he have to be shot down as he was. Here’s how it works. The officer still has recourse to deadly force, but if he kills someone, justifiably in self-defense or not, accidentally or not, he looses his job and retirement. Period. Sorry, that’s the rule. No review board. Find another way to apprehend suspects. Use your creativity. Wait for backup, whatever. Know that if you kill another human you loose, you are out. You are not a hero. You are not brave. You have failed miserably in your duty to the public. If you injure someone in the performance of your duty you no longer get a pass. You get unpaid leave on a sliding scale according to the seriousness of the injury. The fact that you did not know about the suspect’s heart condition is no excuse. It is your fault. Period. From now on you would be well advised to value the other guys life and well being as much as your own. He is not your punching bag.

    Let’s apply this new rule to the Michael Brown case. He robs a convenience store. He walks down the middle of the street. From his car Officer Wilson tells him to get on the sidewalk. Brown talks back. Wilson starts to exit his vehicle. Brown slams against the door, calls him a “pussy” afraid to shoot him. Brown punches Wilson in the face and they struggle for the gun. Brown is shot in the hand and runs away far down the street.

    Stop right there. As it happened Wilson left his car in anger, not fear. He chased Brown down like an animal, goading him into attacking and putting himself in danger needlessly. That was with the old rules.

    With the new rule Wilson has to decide what to do next. He is very angry and humiliated at this point, but he is not in danger. Brown is way down the street. He wants to arrest this idiot and kill him in the process if it comes to that. But wait; if he does that he looses his job and retirement. He decides this punk isn’t worth it. They have him on video. Backup is minutes away. Wilson wisely swallows his pride, stays in the car, locks the doors and rolls up the windows. He follows Brown at a distance. Backup arrives from several directions. Faced with overwhelming numbers Brown is arrested without a struggle. Everybody goes home.

    This new rule will attract a different type of applicant. Many current officers will resign. Without the license to kill they are not interested. They can’t live with not being exonerated, praised and respected for blowing away some creep with little provocation or as the result of a tragic misunderstanding. I say good riddance.

  • cedarsagecatrina

    Police departments turning into paramilitary death squads is part of the process of turning America into a totalitarian country . They are the enforcers of a corrupt (and kleptocratic) power structure ; we are an enemy populace under occupation . It really has gone that far . Naomi Wolf , in her excellent essay ‘Fascist America, in 10 easy steps’ , says that there are recognisable and historically documented steps leaders take when they institute a fascist shift to close down an open society . Step # 3 is : “They send out paramilitary groups of scary young men to terrorise citizens .This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy .You need citizens to fear thug violence and you need thugs who are free from prosecution .” Our blueshirts qualify .