Sekerci: Updating police education system is an important next step


Burak Sekerci, Columnist

In the past year, police forces in the United States have been heavily scrutinized for their use of deadly force. This is mainly because of major recent incidents, including the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina. These events have created turmoil in the country and led us to question the use of police force. There are many aspects of the police that need to be addressed — most notably the education system, which needs to be updated.

Public unrest became more notable with the fatal shooting of Brown in August 2014. Protests took over Ferguson, thousands went onto the streets and violent clashes took place. This also led American society to revisit widespread discussion on racism, an issue that has disturbed our country for centuries.

While it is unclear what exactly happened in Brown’s death, the South Carolina shooting and the case against police officer Michael Slager is much more evident. Video of the incident shows Slager shoot Walter Scott as he runs away from Slager — another instance of a white policeman killing a black man. Slager was charged with murder and is now in jail.

Neither man had to be killed. If these policemen took the proper steps and had more patience, these tragic deaths could have been avoided. But why weren’t these steps taken? Why did both police officers act without patience? Unfortunately, this is because the police education systems teach tactics that are outdated and emphasize shooting skills over crisis prevention.

A New York Times article on Monday exposed the kind of education police officers receive. In the current education program, 58 hours are devoted to firearms training, 49 hours to defensive tactics, eight hours to de-escalation and eight hours to crisis intervention.

Looking at this, it is no surprise that the first thing police officers go to when under pressure or threat is their guns because so much of their training centers on gun work rather than de-escalation or crisis intervention, which could have been vital in preventing these controversial deaths.

Also mentioned in the NYT article is the infamous 21-foot rule, which is basically the distance at which a police officer can justify shooting at someone in a moment of threat. Most of the old education guidelines, including the 21-foot rule, were incorporated when officers faced violent street gangs that forced police to adopt aggressive defensive techniques to decrease the police mortality rate.

However, we don’t have the same circumstances today. Our neighborhoods are much more secure and crime rates are at historic lows. Often, there is no need for a police officer to draw his gun. Most crises can be averted by simple de-escalation tactics and by patiently communicating with suspects. Acting anxiously and pulling out a gun serves only to scare the suspect and escalate the situation into potentially deadly territory.

The best way to eliminate unnecessary police force in the United States is education. The U.S. government must transform the education program of the police to fit today’s circumstances so incidents like those in Missouri  and South Carolina can be prevented in the future.

Burak Sekerci is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].