Last week, the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) announced 15 new use-of-force-guidelines, urging officers to use de-escalation techniques rather than physical force when confronting a suspect.
The announcement came the same day as the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police in Baton Rouge, LA, and Falcon Heights, MN, respectively. Videos of the shootings quickly sparked outrage and protests nationwide, as Sterling and Castile’s names were added to the long list of African-American men who appear to be the victims of police brutality.
Media outlets report that Sterling was shot multiple times in the chest and back as he was pinned down by two police officers. Castile was allegedly shot point blank four times during a traffic stop for a broken taillight. Other incidents relate similar tales of extreme measures in what seem to be not so extreme cases—putting Eric Garner in a choke hold for selling loose cigarettes, shooting Walter Scott for fleeing from police after a traffic stop. Surely, other methods could have been taken to arrest these nonviolent criminals, without putting a life in jeopardy.
The NCPD’s new policy changes—which include limiting the use of a choke hold and stressing the use of intermediate weapons, such as Tasers and mace—are a positive step toward making sure extreme physical force is only used when necessary. While police officers, of course, need to be able to protect themselves and civilians as they subdue subjects, shooting to kill is an irreversible measure that should be used only in life-threatening situations when an officer or civilians’ safety is undoubtedly compromised. There are no take-backs once shots are fired, and officers should be thoroughly trained in trying to de-escalate situations, instead of immediately pulling out their guns. In cases when physical force is called for, the first objective should be to disarm, not kill.
The new regulations put in place by the NCPD will hopefully prevent our community from becoming the next Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, Ferguson or Baltimore. And more importantly, it will hopefully protect both citizens and police from extreme actions that can never be reversed.