‘Kill them if you have to’: A fascinating peek inside a police training seminar

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It’s the viral video that cost a Texas cop his job earlier this summer: a white cop busting up a pool party, throwing a black teenage girl in a bikini to the floor, then pulling his gun on two teenage boys.

But a former suburban cop who is training Illinois officers in the use of deadly force has defended the actions of former McKinney, Texas, Police Corporal Eric Casebolt, according to a fascinating article by Bloomberg reporter Peter Robison.

Robison spent two days in Urbana, attending a “Street Survival” seminar for mid-career cops from across Illinois. Run by former Lombard officer Jim Glennon’s training organization Calibre Press — and similar, Robison writes, to police training courses nationwide — the seminar taught officers to adopt a “warrior” mentality to stay safe.

The article does a good job describing the danger that officers face on their job and the resentment that many feel about their portrayal in the media as the shooting of civilians by police has come under the spotlight in recent months. During the seminar, officers learn by watching graphic videos of police being murdered during traffic stops, the article states:

A rifle-toting man in Texas shoots highway patrolman Randall Wade Vetter after a traffic stop, then says, Oh my goodness, that feels good. A beefy Texas constable pulls over three suspects who confer in Spanish, then disarm and kill him. In South Carolina, a black man is asked to take his hands out of his pockets. The man pulls a gun, killing white officer Scotty Richardson. After that incident in 2011, Glennon says, some online commentators called Richardson a racist terrorist. And people say we aren’t supposed to let this affect us, he says. […] Ninety-nine percent of the people we meet, maybe higher, aren’t trying to kill us, Glennon tells the class. Treat it with dignity and respect. But you have to be prepared to do what? Kill them if you have to.

Critics of the “warrior” approach, including Seth Stoughton, a former patrol officer in Tallahassee turned assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told Robison officers are taught to overestimate the risks they face:

For all the concern about risks, the rate of officers murdered in the line of duty is dropping, according to FBI statistics. In 1984 the 10-year average was 97 a year; as of 2014, it was 51. With some 63 million face-to-face interactions a year between police and the public, a cop’s chances of being murdered are fractions of a percent. It’s not at all that law enforcement isn’t dangerous, Stoughton says. We are still losing almost one officer a week to murder. But it’s far, far safer than officers are being led to believe.

The disconnect between how the public and some police officers can view exactly the same scene is vividly shown in Glennon’s reaction to the Texas viral video. Though the officer in that case, Casebolt, resigned after his chief called his actions “indefensible,” Glennon told his class in Lombard that it was a ”textbook tactical matter,” Robison reported:

There were two guys flanking him, he tells the officers. Casebolt, from his perspective, couldn’t see one boy’s left hand.

The whole article is well worth a read.

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