Police officers reported using excessive force should have benefit of doubt

Shoot first. Identify the body of the innocent later.

That is how some people perceive the policies of law enforcement officers when it comes to violent instances with civilians.

The thing is, it just is not that simple.

Take the recent shooting in Charlotte. A white cop shot an unarmed black man to death, firing his pistol 12 times. Many of us immediately jump to defending victim Jonathan Ferrell and berating Officer Randall Kerrick for racism.

“It’s dangerous to come to conclusions without having all the data or a large amount of it, especially with an issue that’s occurred multiple times,” said sophomore Avi Dintenfass.

Ron Stowe, director of Public Safety and former High Point police officer of 32 years, agreed.

“We as a society are so quick to jump to conclusions and try to make up our own mind to whether (the officer) was justified or not,” said Stowe.
“Clearly it looks bad, because you’ve got a situation where (Ferrell) was unarmed. But we’re going on just what we’ve seen or heard in the media.”

I  have  also  heard  countless  complaints  about  the  condition of police officer training as a cause of this continuing issue. Many people seem to think that better training programs would significantly lessen these instances of civilian deaths.

But do those people actually know the specifics of police training?

When it comes down to the wire, training can only go so far. In the event of an emergency, a police officer has to be able to make a split-second decision, taking into account both his life and the lives of those around him.
It is not an easy thing to do, and it certainly cannot be perfectly simulated in training.

“It’s reaction more than a thought process,” said Stowe. “You have to rely on the information you have available, your training, your own personal experience … all those things have to play into that reaction.”

Improving training is not a foolproof way to reduce shootings, unless that training can change officers’ instincts and guarantee what the circumstances of every single emergency will be like.

Likewise, solely addressing the issue of possible racism is not guaranteed to lessen shootings, as some people seem to think.

These instances of violence are not a matter of playing the race card in accusation of our officers. That is not the problem here, and we as civilians are in no place to accuse them as such.

The problem is that as soon as the media mentions race while covering a shooting, as with Ferrell’s death, many people automatically assume that the shooter fired the gun because of racist beliefs.

“People think, ‘Oh, if you mention his race, then you think there’s ill intent on the part of the officer,’” said Jeremy Rinker, visiting assistant professor of peace and conflict studies. “That’s not the same argument. It doesn’t imply that this person is racist by saying that race is involved.”

Will Pizio, associate professor of justice and policy studies and former New York state trooper, agreed that race is not what runs through an officer’s mind when faced with the possibility of danger.

“When danger appears, in whatever form, officers will act accordingly and appropriately for the specific danger,” said Pizio.

As sad as it is, there is no completely solid solution to the issue of excessive force used by police officers because the circumstances are different every time. Addressing only racism or training will not solve the problem because they are hasty conclusions oftentimes drawn without solid facts to support them.

We rarely have the whole picture when it comes to episodes like this, and it is vital to have as much information as possible before passing judgment.

These incidents are never as simple as we think they are.