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Officers are Quitting. Can Policing Recover?

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Podcast featuring Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D, J.D.Faculty Director, School of Business and
Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director, Criminal Justice

Across the country, law enforcement agencies are seeing an exodus of officers leaving the profession. Agencies are also receiving fewer, high-quality candidates applying to fill those positions. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Gary Deel talks to Criminal Justice program director Dr. Chuck Russo about the current state of law enforcement. Learn how agencies need to do a better job accurately representing the work of police officers to attract new and diverse recruits who have the right skillsets for the profession. Also hear discussion about topics like qualified immunity, body camera policies, training improvements, and more. 

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Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast, Intellectible. I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today, we’re talking about modern issues in law enforcement and criminal justice. My guest today is Dr. Chuck Russo. Chuck is the Program Director of Criminal Justice. He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida, and was involved in all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013.

He continues to design and instruct courses as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the world. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology in law enforcement applications, post-traumatic stress, human trafficking, non-government intelligence actors, and online learning. Chuck, welcome to Intellectible. And thank you for being our guest today.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Thank you for the invite.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. So there’s been a lot of discussion in the public sphere around evolutions and changes in law enforcement, some radical proposals, such as defunding the police and obviously, an equivalent force pushing back against those kinds of calls to action.

And to some extent, I think everyone can understand the frustration that people experience when they see videos published on YouTube and social media that show a law enforcement officer quite clearly abusing their authority or taking it too far. But obviously, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback a situation if you’re not there and in the moment.

So generally, to start our conversation, I’m just curious to know from your point of view and your experience, what issues are you seeing in the law enforcement world today that are pressing or most prevalent? And what kind of changes should we expect to see over the long term or should we hope to see?

Dr. Chuck Russo: As you stated, I retired in 2013 from a law enforcement agency here in central Florida. Over this last year, I’ve received many phone calls, emails, visits to my house from folks who are still at that agency and have asked, how do I get out? There’s a huge morale issue, lack of perceived support for officers from agency administrators, local government, federal government, to where they are looking to shift gears, change professions. My old agency, they just had two that put papers in two weeks ago, one to become a flight attendant and one to work for the family business. They’re just, “I’m done. I’m out.”

And it’s very unfortunate because what we’re going to see, we being all of us, is that it’s depleting the ranks of these agencies to where it’s having a negative impact on responses for citizen inquiries and citizen requests for help.

Dr. Gary Deel: So I’m just curious, because that’s interesting. I was not aware that there was sort of this exodus from the law enforcement profession at present. It’s not necessarily surprising given the public sphere and the conversations that are taking place, but is this a product of the individuals that you speak with feeling like what they’re seeing on the news is untenable? Or is it in their actual patrols and beats on the daily grind that they’re seeing people actively disrespect and rebel against them to the point where they feel like they have lost integrity or fear for their own safety or both? I’m just throwing out possibilities here. I’m wondering if you have any idea.

Dr. Chuck Russo: It seems to be a combination of many factors. Like I said, lack of support, everything they see and hear, anywhere basically other than with their peers or outside the agency is generally negative. The public, the media, seems to be taking a rather broad brush with taking isolated incidents and applying it to essentially anyone that happens to be in a uniform. And it’s having an impact on sometimes the physical and definitely the psychological aspects of all these individuals who are out there.

I was reading about Asheville PD in North Carolina. I think they’re down two thirds of their staffing. Essentially, “we’ll get to you if we can get to you.” And that’s where we’re seeing more and more, we’re seeing larger exoduses from major metropolitan police departments, folks who can retire are.

What we used to see in the past is someone approaching the retirement mark, they may stick around a little after until they have something lined up and to make just a smoother transition you could say. But now we’re getting people that they’re not even waiting for the mark, they’re jumping when an opportunity arises or just, I’ve saved enough, I’m doing okay. I got to get out of here for my sanity.

Dr. Gary Deel: Now it seems to me that there’s a lot of discussion, at least that I’ve observed around “bad apples” and we could have an entire discussion about how many bad apples there are. And I think that seems to be the focus of a lot of the debate about, is this a ubiquitous problem that is ingrained in law enforcement culture? Or is it a few bad apples that are ruining the reputations of otherwise good, honest, decent officers?

Whether there’s one or a 1,000, we can agree that there are some in that population that probably should not be doing what they’re doing. And so I guess my question is, do you have any thoughts on what could be done to avoid ever putting a badge on a bad apple? Are there revisions to the recruitment process, the standards for hiring, psychological evaluations, something that could maybe cut that off at the pass and stop the problem before it occurs?

Dr. Chuck Russo: Yes. And actually, that’s what I did for several years. I was a background investigator and ran background investigations, ran the unit, and I was the gatekeeper essentially for the agency. And many of the things you just mentioned are in place already. There are psychological screenings, there are medical screenings. They’re greater than, it’s not a top secret type of a background clearance investigation that’s occurring. But typically, an agency will check with past associates, former employers, educational institutions the person went to, law enforcement agencies where the person lived, where the person worked, where the person went to school to see if there are instances of their name popping up at a negative way, as far as calls for service and such.

And a lot of money and a lot of effort goes into these background investigations. We have medical exams, drug screenings, again, the psychological, depending on the agency, depends on possibly which psychological examination or what they use to determine employability. There’s also like a polygraph and, or a voice stress analysis. A lot goes into it and takes a lot of time to properly process an applicant.

What I saw in doing background investigations over the years and what I also experienced as an internal affairs investigator, someone gets in the door, hopefully, it was the right person we let in. Does it happen bad apples get through? Unfortunately, yeah.

All we can do, unfortunately, we don’t have a way of predicting future human behavior. The best we can do is take individual snapshots of time in their past and try to use that to determine when and if a situation arises, how might they act? What’s the probability they will act in the right way? And really that’s the best we can do.

So using that, of course, sometimes the best person does not get through the door. And when that occurs, that’s when the internal affairs investigations occur and sometimes lawsuits and the media gets on board and broadcasts stuff out, as it should. It’s something that should not be hidden. It’s something that should be understood and discussed and explored.

Switch gears a little so the internal affairs, 90% of the issues and 90% of the complaints we would investigate were based on 10% of the employees. It was always a very small group that we’d see time and time again. And so as a background investigator, I saw it as my job to find the person that’s not going to be that 10%, that’s going to do what’s right when it’s right for the right reasons. And is not going to get the agency on the front page of the newspaper in a bad light.

Now, sometimes the recommendations of the unit would be overwritten by those above and that happens in a lot of agencies. Because the agency may see while the background investigation may determine the best candidate for the job, that may not be who the agency wants. We can talk about various demographics and such, and sometimes an agency may be looking for what they determine to be representation of the community.

Dr. Gary Deel: I was going to ask on that subject, is it common among law enforcement agencies to have a voluntary or mandatory affirmative action program of sorts that promotes diversity within the ranks?

Dr. Chuck Russo: Many agencies will have a voluntary, they’re looking based upon politics, which plays in everything, based upon community demands, what they perceive as who they need to hire. They may not select who has been determined to be the best candidate based upon numerous factors. They may want this person or that person. And depending on the agency, and sometimes the state that they’re in, they’re able to not take the top person or top three people or whatever on the list are able to pick essentially from anyone who “passes” the test. Now in some states with civil service, that is not an option, but down here in Florida, it is an option. And we see that often to where not necessarily the best candidate is getting the job.

Dr. Gary Deel: One would hope that a diversity hire would not take a precedent over ignoring certain qualifications that were not present. That you wouldn’t hire someone who fits a diversity quota, despite the fact that they are not the most qualified person available for the job at that time. But I would imagine that, as is the case and one of the primary criticisms of any kind of affirmative action program, that may happen from time to time.

Dr. Chuck Russo: It does happen. I’ve seen it happen. It’s rather unfortunate. I’ve done a lot of writing in this area with backgrounds and recruitment and such. And what I find interesting is that whenever you hear talk about the agency must represent its population, it’s always about race. What I find odd is that the conversation is never about representation of females in law enforcement, which have generally 50% of the population.

At an agency, if you’re running 20% female, that’s actually very, very high. 15% is usually what you see. It’s an interesting conversation in that me logically, what I think you should see isn’t what’s represented in the vast majority of the conversation that goes on in the media and actually within the agency itself, there are active recruitment in specific race and demographic areas, but unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like gender is really a big one.

Dr. Gary Deel: When you see applicant pools for, say, an officer posting for a law enforcement agency, do you see that when we look at the racial demographic spread, that there is an equal representation that matches the population among interest? Because I know that from my background, which is not law enforcement, but private security, and in some ways, there are parallels, there is generally speaking, less interest among the female demographic in positions that involve law enforcement or security than among the male demographic, because it is a male-dominated industry, and I’m not suggesting in any way that it should be, but that just tends to be the case.

So if you have, for example, a 100 applicants for a security guard position, and 50% of your community is male and 50% female, if the interest level was more or less the same across genders, you would expect to see roughly 50 applications that are from women and 50 for men. But we don’t. We might see 90 and 10 or even 95 and five heavily dominated male.

So I’m just curious if you see the same thing in law enforcement and if it mirrors the demand from or the interest among the racial demographics that have been called into question among public talks recently.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Yeah, we have. And it’s unfortunately I think it’s part of the reason is we haven’t done a very good job of selling the profession, selling the position. If you look just even 10 years ago at all the recruitment materials and such, it was all flashy lights, SWAT trucks, specialized weapons, the dog, all these types of things that would generally attract the adrenaline junkie, for lack of a better term.

However, that’s really a small part of the job. And what we still should be gearing our marketing materials to the vast majority of what the person actually does, which is working with the community, helping the community, the partnership aspect of what the job actually entails, which far exceeds what you saw on those recruiting posters from 10 years ago.

If we do a better job at packaging the job, the benefits, some of the advantages to working in the field, we may be able to get that number up to a respectable number. At this point, 70/30 would be great, but to even take a step back what you started with, you just mentioned applicant pool, at this point, it’s pretty shallow.

I remember years ago, one of my first jobs in law enforcement, I was one of two hired. There were two slots. I was one hired out of 400-something applicants. And that was normal back then. I remember when I took NYPDs test back in the ’80s, over 50,000 people took the test.

Now the applicant pool is, the nicest possible way I could describe it is shallow. There are just not a lot of people who are really interested in getting involved with this and understandably so. Every day, I’m thankful that my son didn’t follow in my footsteps and go into law enforcement. Instead, he went in the Army. He’s better off there, much better off there than with everything that’s going on now.

Dr. Gary Deel: But I would imagine that a lot of your applicant pool is probably former military, veteran military, we see that a lot in the private security world, that a lot of folks that come out of the military, particularly if they’re active-duty, boots on the ground type of personnel, that law enforcement is a natural progression for them back into civilian life, if you will.

Dr. Chuck Russo: And what we found is our applicants coming out of the military, if they had a successful military career, they will find success in law enforcement. And when I was doing the backgrounds, we would look for three things. We would look for prior law enforcement experience, a formal education, some type of degree, and military experience.

If they had two out of the three, they went to the top of the pile. If they had three out of the three, we started processing them that day because we don’t want anybody else grabbing them before we did, because we know they have the tools necessary to succeed.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s really a shame that there isn’t more interest among the female gender in the profession, because to the extent that the complaints about law enforcement, which are commonly centered around abuse of force and too much, too quick are legitimate, I have to think that that would be an ameliorating effect because we know psychologically speaking that, for example, a woman’s voice tends to be more comforting in tests and research that have been done than a male’s voice. So I just have to think that that would be an element that could be helpful to the problem rather than harmful and add something of value to the current status quo.

But then of course, you have folks on the other side of that table who say, the anatomical differences in strength and power and just stature, bone density, so on and so forth between men and women put them at a disadvantage, for lack of a better phrase, in these positions, especially on patrols that routinely require a lot of physical confrontation with people and that kind of thing. Do you see that being as legitimate a concern as people make it out to be? Or is that mostly just conjecture?

Dr. Chuck Russo: Oh, you touched on several things there. So let me address a couple of them and see if I can keep them all straight in my head. We can look at data and data will tell us that female law enforcement officers will use force with less frequency, the force levels will not be as severe. The one thing that returns a similar type of data result is higher education. And then we have basically working in the field and how there may be perceived limitations. In my mind, that comes back to training. Proper training can solve many, many, many issues.

I, myself, I’m not the biggest person in the world. I’m average height. When I started on the street, I was 5’10”. And I think I weighed dripping wet about 130 pounds. I was a walking stick that happened to have a gun attached to him. Back then, I even have enough waist to have carry all the gear I had.

But with proper training and proper tactics, when the few times when you must go, essentially hands-on, that can overcome size differences and basically physics to a degree. And unfortunately, there were times back early in my career when I was a response to resistance. And I was ended up locking up with people who were 6’7″, 6’8″, far taller than me, far bigger than me, far outweighed me. But I was lucky in that I had very good training as far as defensive tactics goes. And I was able to control individuals much bigger than me.

Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. I think that’s a really valid point because as you said, the physics are an element, but when you have certain training, in particular defensive tactics and an art, for example, like jujitsu, and I’m not suggesting that law enforcement should necessarily train in every step of jujitsu or every component of the lesson plans there. But you learn to use your body weight and leverage whatever that may be, as limited as that may be, if you’re a lighter or a smaller person, to the advantage of your own position, to the extent that you’re not necessarily at a disadvantage against someone who is bigger, heavier than you, if you know how to handle yourself. So I think that’s a great point.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Yeah. It comes back to more tools in the toolbox. If you have more defensive tactics training than just what you say, get in the academy, it gives you more options and it’s more opportunities to find a successful resolution to whatever presents itself. And this is whether you’re talking about defensive tactics, whether you’re talking about, say, critical incident training, dealing with persons with mental illness. The more training, the more different things you’ve been exposed to, the more opportunities you have to practice and work through many of these things, chances are, it means the more success you’re going to have, if and when you confront these types of things in a street setting.

Dr. Gary Deel: Right. Yeah, absolutely. And I’m curious to know from a training perspective in the law enforcement agencies that you’ve been a part of if there’s as much emphasis on the verbal deescalation of conflict. As I witnessed in the private security world, because I know that we tried to balance things out with the physical self-defense training that I would lead or teach in classes of security officers, but we would also complement that with training, and for lack of a better term, verbal judo, which I know is a proprietary program, but it’s basically the idea that you might be able to avoid a physical conflict if you just know how to talk your way down from it and get someone off the ledge, so to speak.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Yeah. Take that “maybe” person and make them a “yes” person or take that no person, at least try to get them to the maybe stage. While we do have training available, even with the basic defensive tactics curriculum, you’re always talking to the individual you’re with. It’s not just the stop resisting, but you just keep communication, keep contact with them and sometimes explain, “Look, you stop doing this and I will be able to sit you up or I’ll be able to stand you up. But until you, if you don’t stop, I can’t do that.”

So you’re constantly talking with the person and trying to essentially deescalate or mitigate whatever the issue is going on with that individual. So even in the basic defensive tactics, that’s conveyed to the recruits, there are more advanced trainings where you get more and more into that. And the whole communications aspects of things is very important. That’s something we’re finding with applicants is we’re getting people who don’t necessarily know how to communicate like the applicants 10, 15 years ago.

My thing was when I was doing recruiting on the backgrounds and all, give me somebody who was a bartender. I want that person because they can talk to anybody. If they’ve spent any time behind the bar working, they know how to deescalate, they can talk to anybody. That’s what they do.

If you have a person who doesn’t have that skillset, it’s can be very hard to create that and to give them the confidence in speaking with people. More and more, we get people today, as far as the applicants, that their verbal communication skills are, I would say, somewhat behind the last generation we got through. They’re great with the tech and that’s wonderful, but actually talking to people and being with people can be a challenge for some of these folks. They haven’t had to really do it in the past. And it’s hard to all of a sudden, you can’t just flick a switch and okay, go talk to everybody.

Dr. Gary Deel: And that brings me to a question because you had mentioned something earlier, I know we had talked about the fact that there are fairly robust screening procedures for identifying people who may not be a good fit for law enforcement before they ever get into the process. But that being said, we recognize that some people look good on paper. And we only find out later that they’re not a good fit through things that could not be identified even with the most scrutinizing tests.

But you mentioned something, correct me if I’m misquoting you, but I think you said 90% of the problems that you would deal with in law enforcement were from the same 10% of the people that worked in the agencies. If that holds water, does that suggest that the people that are sort of repeat offenders in this regard are, that this is something that can’t be taught or that they’re incapable of learning the skills that are necessary to do the job correctly?

It’s an innate thing that you either have or you don’t versus something that can be trained in a classroom or from a mentor. Because I know that one of the criticisms stemming around several incidents that have happened in the past few years and made the news and law enforcement were the look retroactively at police officer records of those involved to find that, oh, this individual had 17 reports of misconduct on the job or something that was not done. And people were saying, “Well, why was this not addressed at number 16 or 15 or 14?”

So I’m curious to know what your thoughts are in terms of, if someone is having problems adjusting to the needs of the job insofar as it’s soft skills or people skills or whatnot, do you feel like those are things that can be corrected or is that just an uphill battle that may sometimes not be worth fighting?

Dr. Chuck Russo: No, many things can be corrected, but in order for that to happen, the person’s got to be open to the stimulus, whatever the new stimulus is. Whether it’s new training, whether it’s new procedures, new reporting, new, whatever it may be the new thing we’re trying to introduce that variable to stop whatever happened or the change that person’s behavior pattern.

Now we just talked about some of the issues where retroactively something happens and then the media does a request for public information, gets access to the individual’s file. And we see, well, this happened, this happened, this happened, why is this person still here? And you got to remember, there are issues such as progressive discipline.

The officers, which most people don’t understand, actually have job rights and have rights as well. And we’re seeing now with events over the last year and a half, where officers who were improperly terminated are starting to get their jobs back. Because a lot of people are familiar with what due process is as far as the criminal system goes. An individual, if you’re arrested, you’re innocent until proven guilty, you have a right to remain silent and all these different things.

What people don’t realize is that believe it or not, these officers have job rights, have sometimes a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. And much like in a criminal trial, when an agency violates these and there’s a knee-jerk reaction to appease the public voice, by doing that, they’re violating their own policies, procedures, Bill of Rights laws. And much like in a criminal trial, when you do a violation, the case gets thrown out. You see the same type of thing with these individuals getting their jobs back and back pay and pensions restored and everything else.

Agencies need to realize that they need to follow the rules as well. And with politics being what it is, that doesn’t always happen. Why did this person get, they’re still here after 15, 16 write-ups or violations, whatever. Well, you can maybe be able to look at that and say, well, half the time, the agency didn’t do what they were supposed to do. So it essentially got voided.

Dr. Gary Deel: Well, on that subject, obviously, a lot of law enforcement agencies have unions. And so I’m curious to know what your thought is on the role, because I happen to be a fairly pro-union person, as long as the union is acting in the best interests of everyone involved. But there’s been some criticism among law enforcement unions or emergency services unions as a collective, that their interest in the loyalty of defending, whether it be a law enforcement officer or a firefighter or what have you, may sometimes stand in the way of justice because they’re so interested in protecting a job that they’re not looking objectively at the facts of, “Hey, this person really shouldn’t be here anymore.” So they end up working against the natural grain of things, which would be to move a person who is problematic out of that environment.

Dr. Chuck Russo: That’s one way to look at it. I look at it a little differently. I’ve worked with unions as a union member and worked with unions as a representative of agency administration. I’ve been on both sides of that union desk. And, in my mind, what it comes down to now that I’m not working for the agencies anymore, just out here, independent of either side, if the agency does its job right, it shouldn’t matter what the unions involvement shouldn’t matter if they’ve dotted their Is, crossed their Ts.

If the person did something wrong and the agency follows its own rule book, which includes the union contract, the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, civil service laws, and such, then regardless of whatever the union says, it goes back to matter of fact.

If the agency failed to follow their own rules, guidelines, and procedures, and the union does its job, and that person’s going to get their job back, they’re going to be reinstated. Penalties may not be what they should have been. The agency needs to do their job properly.

And much like a criminal case, when you arrest someone as an officer, logically, the results should mean that the person is then convicted or pleads guilty. If you don’t do your job right, you shouldn’t really be upset when it doesn’t go that way.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. Chuck, when we left off, we were talking about the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights, due process that police officers should be afforded whenever there’s an allegation of misconduct, we talked about the union side.

One piece of it that I was also curious to get your thoughts on is the controversial issue of police officer immunity for anything that they happen to do in the course of or scope of their duties. Do you feel like that helps or hurts the process? And is any revision or evolution of that idea needed?

Dr. Chuck Russo: Qualified immunity is what typically we’re seeing in the media, we’ve been seeing in the media. And if an officer does something outside of the scope of their duties and such, they can in fact be sued and sometimes are. With qualified immunity, if you take that away, I would recommend to anyone in the profession or thinking about getting in the profession to run. Because it’s going to be extremely difficult to do your job and be able to provide for your family, protect your family, because what little pay you get is going to be going to either an insurance umbrella for liability or it’s going to be going to attorneys.

Because right now, say I was employed again back as a law enforcement officer. And in the course of my duties, I end up making an arrest, I act within the scope of the law, the scope of policy, the scope of procedures, I act within my training. If that person who I arrested happens to bring a suit against myself and the agency, which is usually how that works, I would personally fall upon qualified immunity and I would not have to go get a lawyer, try to cover all my assets and everything else.

If you do away with qualified immunity, what that means is say again, same scenario, lawful arrest, everything by the book, that person sued me. And now I have to defend myself. It’s going to cost me $5,000 at least retainer for an attorney plus, plus, plus, plus. And just for something that was essentially “legit” begin with.

Without having qualified immunity, it’s going to be extremely dangerous for an officer and not in the physical sense, but in the fact that you actually like your car, your house, things that you have, because there’s a good opportunity that they could go away at some point.

If you talk about qualified immunity, you want to do away with it, fine, then do away with it for prosecutors, attorneys, judges, elected officials. Let’s open up, let everybody be sued and let’s see how well this works out for everybody.

But by just targeting a specific area that’s really already covered by the law, it may play well politically in certain areas, but it really does nobody any favors. In the end, it’s going to be extremely painful if that was to happen.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. It’s an interesting point because we’ve all seen the horrific videos of unambiguous, abusive force and unreasonable behavior from police officers. But you can also imagine, and I’ve firsthand seen it in the private world situations where you are acting within the scope of your authority, even as a private citizen or a security officer and your force is reasonable. And yet the person on the other end of that confrontation is injured despite your reasonable actions. If you take offensive action against a law enforcement officer or against the private person, and they defend themselves, and in the process of defending themselves, you are hurt, could you bring a suit against that individual? You could, that would have to be litigated either way, but that doesn’t mean, to your point, that that person should face some liability for your injuries if you were at fault and to blame for the injuries that you sustained and their actions were ultimately reasonable. But obviously, the line between reasonable and unreasonable is what this all hinges on.

Dr. Chuck Russo: It’s all perception really, because you got to remember when your response to a resistance, somebody resisting arrest, requiring an officer to apply some type of force, you got to remember people don’t stand still when you’re doing those things, they move around a little and fight and push. So while you may be, say, using a baton strike on a complex joint like an elbow or even an arm, if they move, if they duck, guess what? You just met the head and that wasn’t your intended target. But again, people don’t stand still when you’re doing these things.

The reality of the situation on the street in that it is extremely dynamic, lots of different variables to take into account and not everything goes as planned, no matter how good your training is. Sometimes when you see some of these videos, as a trainer, as someone who represented the agency and also the officers in these types of situations, I look at it probably a little different than most people do because of I was a trainer on many different areas. I can see what the officer was trying to do, I can see how it ended up in the situation it ended up, that may be on a body cam on a video or whatever, I can articulate, especially after speaking with the officer, this was plan A, this is what happened, this is why this went the way it did and this is what everyone sees.

But I’ve had thousands of hours of training above the basic academy. I trained officers in firearms, defensive tactics, driving, ethics, legal, all these different things over the years. So I have a little different view of some of these incidents. And, unfortunately, I’ve been involved in many incidents over my law enforcement career, dealing with maybe people and no people that things did not go as gently or as nice as I wish they did.

Dr. Gary Deel: I assume because you mentioned body cams, it’s safe to assume that you’re in favor of those and mandating their use as well, or are there any caveats there?

Dr. Chuck Russo: I actually wrote some of the initial policy in the US on it for an agency, I was involved with it very early on. One of my courses I teach, that actually comes up. And what I always say is I understand the body camera, back years ago in the early ’90s, when I was doing DUI enforcement, I had this big VHS camera in my car. So I’m used to working with the microphone and working with being on video and always had to tell, especially back then, because that was a rarity whenever another officer would back me up, I’d have to let them know that they’re mic’d and we have the camera on them.

Now that really doesn’t matter. The reason I say that is because with so many security cameras, traffic cameras, every other possible type of camera out there, you’re going to have to assume that you’re being videotaped at all times. And chances are, you are. No matter where the call is, no matter what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, there’s probably a camera on you. So just adding one more camera being attached to your body, so be it.

What I would like to see is we have all those in the field, generally most agencies, where the officers oftentimes will have to have a body camera, and there’s policies that dictate when it must be on, when it must be off and so on and so forth. What I would like to say is let’s put body cameras on the administrators of the agency. Why does it matter if you’re in uniform or not? If you’re running that agency, why shouldn’t you be subject to see what your officers experience? See what that means having that camera on. What it means wearing that and that all these interactions are recorded.

I know in a few areas that the agency might have in mind that all the uniform personnel must wear body cameras. And chances are, if the administrators had to, there’d be different administrators at that agency, because the way they act publicly is very different than the way they act within their own walls that they can control. So let’s make it fair. Let’s put cameras on everybody then.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s interesting because, obviously, as you mentioned, almost everyone today is carrying around cameras with our phones and that’s just a part of life. Whereas we tend to forget it wasn’t that long ago, 20 years, 25 years, that to have a camera on your phone, a video-recording camera was virtually unheard of.

And so it makes one wonder if the perceived prevalence of these issues is a product of a real rise or spike in law enforcement officer misuse of force or abuse of force, or it’s now for the first time being available because somebody somewhere at all times has access to a camera that they can record whatever happens to be going on in that moment. So we’re not missing things that we can only speculate about after the fact.

Dr. Chuck Russo: I see it a little different. What I see it as, is it’s put the agencies in a very bad position, not that the incident was recorded. Everyone now has the ability to be an on-scene reporter. We all have these devices on us at all times that I can take a video, post it with my narrative. And as we often say, the first one who gets it out there is the one who wins. That narrative then becomes the dominating narrative, regardless of whatever the facts that later come out. Because you can take a video and you could edit it to make it look whatever way you want it to look.

And that’s the bigger problem now is, in my mind at least, it’s not that the video is out there, it’s that the agencies are all the time are in a damage control scenario. Because oftentimes, the information, the video that’s out there is accompanied by a narrative that may not necessarily be correct. And maybe that individual’s perception of whatever is being recorded, whatever they saw, or it may be, let’s just say slightly one way or the other to reflect a, I’ll say, a personal concern, but to basically play better in the media, let’s just put it that way.

So now you have that out there and the agency has to come back with basically damage control. There’s a piece of video that was accompanied by a narrative that is very, very skewed. Will the facts come out there to explain what actually happened and what actually occurred? Yes. However, is it going to be in five minutes later? Is it going to be two days later, is it going to be two weeks later? And by this time, the damage is done, regardless of whatever the facts say, individuals are processing the initial content on its merits.

Essentially, the entire amount of information available in the world is at my fingertips and I can’t process it, but I can catch bits and pieces. Now, hopefully, the bits and pieces I receive, I can then utilize my knowledge, skills and abilities to determine, is this crap? Is this factual? Okay, let me see who this is and why are they saying this? Is there a reason? Is it skewed?

I’ve been doing this for quite some time, as you have. And we’ve both been trained knowing your background, filtering through these types of things. However, how many people out there haven’t? And how many people out there just grab that, whatever that initial piece of information is, regardless of where it comes from and take that as fact. When in fact, it’s a variation, let’s just say, on the fact.

Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. If you’re not trained in bias awareness and confirmation bias and looking for what you’re looking for, as opposed to looking for the truth, you can be easily misled. And obviously, you and I are unique in that respect of our experience of having that unique training and background, but many people do not.

And that leaves them susceptible to being misled by bad evidence or tainted evidence. And as you were describing those scenarios, I was thinking about what has emerged now with the latest technology, which is, of course, what’s being called “deep fake” and then you can pretty much make anyone say anything they want or do anything that you want them to on a video that is fairly convincing. We’re not far away from it being almost virtually unmistakably appealing or persuasive to someone watching, if they didn’t know better.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Years ago, there was one of Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes movie, basically Photoshopped. And you can see an image and while you’re looking at it, it actually isn’t what it is. It isn’t what it seems. We still haven’t prepared people for analyzing things that are in the print media to determine what’s right, what’s wrong, do I need to take a better look at this? Is this correct? Or is it just a variation on a theme?

We haven’t prepared people to do that properly. So here we are testing various types of technology that can basically distort reality to a degree. And how do we train people to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong? What’s truth and what’s false? And what’s a variation on the truth as opposed to what’s actual?

Dr. Gary Deel: We talked about equipment in terms of cameras, but one other piece that I wanted to ask you about was with respect to use-of-force equipment, and obviously, firearms are fairly ubiquitous throughout law enforcement use. But less standard, of course, is the non-lethal taser technology, projectile taser technology. And so I’m curious to know your thoughts on carrying it and also when to use it versus are there scenarios clear and compelling where we should be reaching to one side of our hip as opposed to the other as law enforcement officers?

And there was recently an unfortunate incident that the officer, and I forget which one, but I remember reading it in the news where the officer who had drew a firearm and I believe shot someone in a vehicle had given the explanation that she mistook, that she made a mistake and reached for the wrong piece of equipment and pulled her firearm instead of what she intended to pull, which was her taser. So I’m curious to know your thoughts on that sort of scenario of which hip and whether both equipment should be mandatory for all officers on the beat, et cetera.

Dr. Chuck Russo: I carried a taser for many, many years, and was in fact a taser instructor. So let me just lay that out there right away so you know just some of the ways where I’m coming from. I’m familiar with three or four incidents similar to what you described, where the officer in that officer’s mind, he or she thought they were drawing the taser and actually pulled their firearm and shot the individual. Now three or four, that’s bad.

However, if we look at it over the number of taser deployments, since the implementation of taser, it’s a very, this is going to sound horrible, but it’s statistically insignificant. And like many things, it goes back to training and training under stress.

And no matter where you carry it, it’s just being familiar enough with your equipment so that when you’re in a stressful situation, you respond accordingly. And that’s with any of the equipment you may have on.

And unless you train properly, you run the risk of doing something that will lead to an outcome you do not want. And it’s even to a point where mistaking grabbing what you think is your baton and you grab your pepper spray instead, that could have a negative outcome for you or for the individual. Again, it’s a training issue.

Typically, agencies are required to have their officers go through mandatory training on different topics, depending on the state, depending on locality, depending on the agency, may determine what those particular topics are. And what you sometimes get is you get training that just checks boxes.

One of my agencies one time, the firearm qualification course of fire for that training was one round on target from three yards. That was the qualification because we had no ammo. These are very unfortunate things, but lack of planning, but we had qualification the box was checked. However, it was, let’s just say less than stellar that time.

So you have these types of issues and it goes back to proper training. So that under stress, you can replicate good tactical decisions, you can replicate good tactical movements, good tactical options, so that it leads to this, whatever the incident is, whatever the equipment use is, it leads to the desired outcome.

Dr. Gary Deel: It’s my understanding that there’s an efficacy argument that the taser, perhaps the reason why they’re so infrequently deployed as you noted, and I didn’t realize it was that sort of disparate in terms of the relative frequency, but that the stopping power of the taser obviously doesn’t compare with that of lethal firearms.

And so in situations where there’s an officer presented with lethal force from an assailant and they want to make sure that they can go home to their families that night, they may feel more comfortable with their firearm if they have to draw something, because they’re more likely to be able to neutralize the threat against them than with the taser. Does that mesh with your own experience? Because you mentioned you were a taser instructor and I just, I’m curious to know if you see that.

Dr. Chuck Russo: I’ve deployed taser many times, I’ve been on the other end, I’ve taken the ride several times. Like any tool, it is not a 100% effective. There are times when you may get one taser probe struck the target. So if the person is running, the other one is just swinging and when it contacts the body, you may get a quick jolt through them and you may see them move real weird. And then if right back off of, and then they’re running or doing whatever else.

Like any tool, even a firearm, none of these tools are a 100% effective. A firearm essentially is a compromise in itself. If you want to neutralize a threat, there are far better tools to use than a sidearm. However, it’s a compromise that it’s convenient. It’s easily portable, it’s easily carried, can it be effective? Yes. If it was effective 100% of the time, you just have something which is one round, but we don’t because it doesn’t always work, it doesn’t always work as desired. And unfortunately, we don’t always hit what we’re shooting at. Well, the same thing even goes for the taser.

Dr. Gary Deel: And that’s exactly what I was just thinking is with taser, you can’t carry 17 in the clip, if you miss with first two set of contacts.

Dr. Chuck Russo: My taser had a cartridge on and I had a spare cartridge. And my cartridges we had were, oh, jeez, remembering, I think it was 21 foot basically was the range seven yards, which that’s pretty close. And if that person had a knife, if they wanted to cut me, regardless whether I fired the taser or not, they’re going to cut me. I’m in that range. By the time they cover that distance, I’m going to get cut, guaranteed. And that’s even if it works.

If you get probes to stick in your intended target, if the reaction is the predictable reaction, depending on what chemical cocktail may be running around in their body, and yet, they’re still doing whatever they were doing, whatever it may be, that could be dancing the jig out there and they just keep dancing. Even if you get around on target, doesn’t mean it’s going to neutralize the threat immediately. Because again, a pistol, whether it’s a nine millimeter, a .40 caliber, .45, a .357 SIG, which are the popular calibers that law enforcement carries typically in a pistol, not a 100% effective. So you always have to have essentially a plan B regardless of whatever the situation, the response to the resistance presents itself because things don’t always work out.

Dr. Gary Deel: I think that’s the overarching theme of our discussion here is the nuance that’s involved in all of these different situations that might present themselves in the duties of a law enforcement officer. Well, this has been wonderful. I know we’re approaching our hour, so I want to be conscious and respectful of time here, but was there anything that you wanted to talk about that we didn’t get a chance to cover today?

Dr. Chuck Russo: No. I just thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about these topics. The more information out there, I think the better off we all are. And hopefully this will contribute to the vast body of information out there on some of these things we’ve discussed.

Dr. Gary Deel: Yeah. Yeah. It’s my pleasure. And thank you for joining us today too. I think this has been a really fruitful discussion and I echo your thoughts. I don’t think there are any easy, convenient, quick answers to the problems that we’ve discussed here today, aside from encouraging people to talk about them more and think about them more. And so by us offering this conversation in the public sphere, hopefully it encourages more to do the same. So this has been great. I want to thank you for sharing your expertise and perspectives on these topics. And thanks for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.

Dr. Chuck Russo: Thank you for the invite.

Dr. Gary Deel: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can learn more about these topics by visiting the various American Public University blogs. Be well and stay safe everyone.

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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