Race dominated the coverage of the 2014 shooting of John Crawford. Crawford was a young black man gunned down by white cops in a Beaverton Creek, Ohio, Walmart as he talked to his girlfriend on the phone while absentmindedly holding a BB gun he had grabbed from a store shelf. Ohio is an “open-carry” state where it’s perfectly legal to walk around with a loaded AR-15.
What got less attention is that less than two weeks before the shooting, the officer who shot Crawford had been trained to respond to “active shooter situations” by shooting first and asking questions later.
According to The Guardian, officer Sean Williams and his colleagues were “taught to keep in mind that ‘the suspect wants a body count’ and therefore officers should immediately engage a would-be gunman with ‘speed, surprise and aggressiveness.’” At that training, they were told to imagine that a crazed gunman was threatening their own relatives.
Dispatchers led Williams and his partner to believe that an active-shooter situation was underway. Store surveillance video showed that Crawford was shot and killed just seconds after police made contact with him, and probably had no idea what was happening. They followed their training, acting with speed, surprise, and aggressiveness.
Thanks in large part to pressure brought by Black Lives Matter activists, some police experts are calling for a complete overhaul in the way cops are trained, both as cadets and during the “in-service” training they receive over the course of their careers. There are no national standards for training police, and the amount and quality of their instruction varies from agency to agency. But a survey of 280 police departments conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), a Washington, DC—based think tank, found that American cops are given extensive preparation for using violence, and very little guidance on how to avoid it.
The median police recruit in the United States will receive 129 hours of instruction on defensive techniques and using his or her gun, baton, OC-spray, and Taser. That cadet will receive another 24 hours of scenario-based training, drilling on things like when to shoot or hold fire. The median trainee also gets 48 hours of instruction on constitutional law and his or her department’s use-of-force policies.
But that same future police officer will receive only eight hours of training in conflict de-escalation. And despite the fact that a quarter of the 838 citizens shot dead by police this year showed symptoms of mental-health issues, according to The Washington Post, the median cadet gets only eight hours of training in crisis intervention.