I have spoken and written numerous times about the stupidity of law enforcement leaders and organizations that moved the vascular neck restraint (VNR) to deadly force or ban it in the wake of the death of George Floyd. After all, George Floyd did not die from any type of neck hold and the technique has a 50 year safety record. It’s being used in jiu jitsu gyms today and the last I checked, no one drops dead in the UFC.
National Police Organizations like the IACP and FOP even jumped on board with this insane idea by recommending it as deadly force in their National Consensus Policy and that led the Department of Justice to start attacking law enforcement agencies that actually used VNR as the appropriate force.
Of course, this is infuriating to anyone with a few brain cells.
Considering that VNR has been a highly valuable tool for the profession, providing the safe ability to stop bigger and stronger opponents, the removal of this technique will make the job of a police officer more dangerous, which has proven to increase injuries to both police officers and suspects.
The decision is a clear example of violating the important Courageous Police Leadership Principles of “never let feelings redefine facts” and “communicate to eliminate misunderstanding.”
In my fury over what our own leaders have done to those putting their life on the line in the streets, it got me thinking. What other decisions have our leaders made based on emotion and feelings?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe body cameras have probably saved the profession from the crazy people that wake up every day with the intent to destroy the men and women behind the badge with lies and rhetoric but our leaders have sold body cameras to the public as if we could not do our job without them. Leaders will tell you they “build trust” with the community and while I’ve had plenty to say about the scam called public trust, I would ask those leaders how is that working?
Virtually every cop in America now has body cameras. Are all the activists happy now? Have the accusations stopped? Have the lies against the profession stopped? That’s the thing about all of these decisions that were supposedly based on facts. No one evaluates what impact, if any, it even made in the profession and in the case of body cameras, it has made no impact on how others see us or how we do our job.
In fact, a quick look at the historical data on police trust with the police, shows no statistical difference before and after body cameras in the profession.
As I said earlier, law enforcement needs body cameras and I wouldn’t work without one but not for the reasons our leaders are saying. Cameras expose the liars which is why the same groups that told us to get body cameras are now getting upset when they are used.
The demand for body cameras came shortly after the Ferguson Incident, which is ironic because if we had video of that legal, justified shooting, I doubt the media would still be saying “hands up…don’t shoot”…just kidding, of course they would still be saying it.
The Rialto Police Department was the first police department in the world to participate in a study of police body-worn cameras. That study, known as the “Rialto experiment,” was published in 2014 and it touted a reduction in police complaints over a 12 month period which made law enforcement leaders immediately believe that meant that police behavior improved with the presence of body worn cameras.
But like the faulty proof for other lies we have been told, there were a few issues with this so called study. Just 54 police officers participated and there was not any definitive evidence that complaints went down because of officer behavior. In fact, most cops reading this know exactly why they went down and it’s the same reason they want a camera.
When citizens know they are being recorded, they are much less likely to lie and thus, complain.
I know this personally. As a rookie officer, I was pretty active and that activity got me in Internal Affairs more than I care to remember. I wasn’t abusing citizens but in the aftermath of the Rodney King Incident, there was a myth among the local drug dealers that if they filed a complaint, they would be able to get out of the charges they were facing. After a few times in Internal Affairs for literally doing my job, I asked for a dash camera. It was more like a VHS tape in my backseat and the installer told me that it wouldn’t even work but I didn’t care.
I told every suspect from that day forward that the entire encounter was recorded and I showed them the suction cupped “old school” camera on my windshield. I also told them that lying on an official police report was a crime. Granted, I was bluffing. The camera rarely worked and my agency didn’t file charges on bogus police complaints but something very interesting happened.
I didn’t go to internal affairs again.
While the Rialto Study was flawed, a more recent study out of Washington D.C. tells us what a few million dollars a year will get any agency that has body cameras. 1189 D.C. Metro Cops were given body cameras and 1035 were not. Patrol was essentially split into half and both groups were monitored for 18 months.
Researchers found no difference in police activity, complaints, or use of force between the groups.
Body cameras are needed in the profession and it has become a necessary tool to prevent frivolous lawsuits and liars from attempting to ruin the careers of those behind the badge but the idea that they somehow make those in the profession perform at a higher level or act better is complete nonsense. If anything, they are a tool to ensure that citizens act better, although criminals rarely care about how they act.
For years our profession has been told by policy that we cannot let a suspect, that seconds earlier was fighting cops, rest on their stomach. Considering that millions of Americans sleep this way, I always thought it was an odd policy and wondered why we weren’t responding to hundreds of dead citizens every morning but who was I to question it? Every policy I ever saw said it and I just believed it.
That was until I did my own research.
This issue began in the early 1980s after a Washington State medical examiner concluded that three prisoners, who were hogtied, had died from their positioning. Shortly after, a term called “positional asphyxia” began showing up in medical journals and the media hasn’t stopped talking about it since. That’s all it took for suspect positioning to become a major police training and policy issue.
The problem was that the three cases were “fraught with methodological errors” and additional studies refuted those original claims. According to Dr. Christine Hall, an emergency room physician and a medical faculty member at the University of British Columbia and the University of Calgary, suspect positioning “gradually translated into the unsupported idea that any and all prone positioning for any length of time is immediately dangerous” and that prone positioning came to be regarded “without scientific evidence” as “particularly dangerous.”
In one of the most comprehensive studies on the issue, Dr. Hall studied the arrests over three years, involving a law enforcement agency with 2000 patrol officers.
Without officers being aware of the study, the agency embedded additional data entries in their use of force reports and researchers gathered information on a number of factors including the suspect’s “final resting position…once physical control had been achieved…and while awaiting further disposition.”
Out of 1,566,908 interactions between police and subjects across the study’s 3 years, force was used in only 1,269 contacts. 43% of subjects ended up prone in their final resting pose after their force encounter and 57% were not prone.
One person, that exhibited signs of excited delirium, died but that person was not in the prone position. The findings of the study concluded that “there was no [significant] difference in the death rate between prone and not-prone positions.”
While I realize that some may believe that an officer placing their weight or knee on the back of a suspect changes all of this, that would also be a myth. Known as “restraint asphyxia” the idea that holding a prisoner down in the prone position creates sudden death is debunked by anyone that grew up with an older brother.
There was already overwhelming scientific evidence that this is nothing more than a way for attorneys to get rich but a study by Dr. Mark Kroll, an internationally renowned biomedical scientist, leaves no doubt that cops are being fired, arrested, and thrown in prison, for no reason other than this lie that has simply been accepted as fact.
According to Dr. Kroll, the average force weight delivered by the single-knee techniques ranged from 55 to 73 pounds and double knees produced slightly more weight. In his studies, for death to occur, it “would take two or more LEOs, weighing 287 pounds each standing on the back of a prone subject.”
The results of the study coincide with official records from centuries ago when criminals and religious martyrs were subjected to “pressing” under weights piled on their chests for purposes of interrogation or execution. It’s rather obvious that weight directly on the chest is more dangerous than the back but it’s important to note that it took 700 pounds and 15 minutes to kill one woman according to the records.
Unlike VNR, I’m not going to fight like hell to change department policy on the positioning of suspects but there is a huge issue with our leaders placing terminology in policy that has no factual basis behind it.
Law enforcement captures, arrests and fights with suspects that aren’t always at the peak of health. Combine that with exorbitant amounts of drugs flowing through their bodies and “in custody” deaths become all too real. Of course, attorneys, activists and even district attorneys don’t seem to care about the drugs but they will point to the actions of law enforcement and if at some point the suspect was on their stomach during a struggle or after, what logical thinking citizens know is a drug overdose or excited delirium, all of a sudden becomes murder by police.
No Knock Warrants
If you thought that banning the vascular neck restraint because George Floyd did not die from a vascular neck restraint and banning the prone position because of one medical examiner was insane, the banning of “no knock” warrants will make your head spin.
Following the tragic death of Breonna Taylor, multiple states banned the constitutional practice of “no knock” warrants and hundreds of law enforcement agencies stopped using them.
But like the other lies that our leaders are telling, the reason for banning them have no foundation. The Louisville Metropolitan Police Department had obtained a “no knock” warrant from a judge but they did not execute it. Multiple witnesses heard the officers knock and announce but when the suspect began shooting at officers, they did what every cop in America is trained to do…shoot back. Unfortunately, Breonna Taylor was standing next to her boyfriend (not sleeping peacefully in her bed) and died in the gunfight.
Like the VNR, the banning of “no knock” warrants makes the duties of law enforcement more dangerous. The United States Supreme Court has long permitted the use of “no knock” warrants if the warrant can articulate that evidence may be destroyed or officer safety would be compromised.
The execution of “no knock” warrants are rare and they should be but they remain constitutional for a good reason. Warrant services are generally dangerous but some are extremely dangerous and in those cases, law enforcement needs every tool at their disposal to go home at night.
There’s plenty of other lies that our profession continues to hold up as the reasons to “reform” law enforcement. From banning the constitutional practice of “stop and frisk,” car stops, or placing feel good words in use of force policy like “sanctity of life,” only one thing is proven by leaders making decisions based on feelings rather than facts.
The job of the law enforcement professional becomes more difficult and sometimes more dangerous and the outcomes that are trying to be prevented never change. Of course when law enforcement isn’t wrong, that is exactly what you would expect but I wouldn’t hold your breath for any “criminal” reform anytime soon.
In the meantime, I encourage police leaders to make decisions based on the Courageous Police Leadership Principles.
By making decisions that are principle based, leaders can ensure that they won’t compromise their agency policy, training, and safety simply because:
One medical examiner said so…
Because 54 police officers got fewer complaints…
Because George Floyd did not die from a vascular neck restraint…
Or that one police department did not execute a “no knock” search warrant…
Dr. Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy with a Doctorate Degree in Strategic Leadership and the CEO of the Courageous Police Leadership Alliance.