Responding to national events that have often left police at odds with the communities they serve, the Denver Police Department is implementing a new policy aimed at de-escalating confrontations and using common sense as a guideline for using force.
Dozens of videos showing officers shooting and killing civilians have surfaced over the last year, and one recurring theme is that officers often don't try to diffuse confrontations. Some recordings even show police actively escalating the situations they find themselves in.
Likewise, police officers use laws governing maximum use of force as barometers when dealing with people.
But Chief Robert White says that won't work for his department, and he's instituting a new policy that instructs officers to use the minimum force necessary to protect themselves, the people they're dealing with and bystanders.
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“I’m of the opinion it’s just not good enough for officers to take legal actions, but they also need to make sure those actions are absolutely necessary,” White told the Denver Post. “That’s where we are going.”
A key to implementing the new policy, White said, is training. Denver cops will run through training scenarios so they can practice implementing the new guidelines, and they'll be provided with decision-making models to guide them on how they should respond to particular situations.
But before that happens, drafts of the new policy will be distributed to beat cops and community members, who are invited to offer input. Police brass will consider that input before completing a final draft, the Post reported.
The changes aren't arbitrary -- the department says they're based on the recommendations of policing experts who have been consulted during a period of heightened tension between cops and civilians.
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“It was not something where I woke up in the morning and said, ‘OK, today we need to do this,’ without having a basis for where it needs to go and what it needs to be,” White said. “This is based on a lot of work and a lot of research.”
The changes come after Terrence M. Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, issued a historic apology to minority groups, acknowledging that they haven't always been treated fairly by law enforcement, a situation that has "tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments."
While acknowledging "darker periods" of policing in the U.S. and "a multigenerational – almost inherited – mistrust" of police among communities of color, Cunningham said police leaders should look the future and try to heal those wounds.
"For our part, the first step is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past," Cunningham said, according to the Washington Post "and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”