Dr. Robert Gonzalez, an NYPD veteran and professor of criminal justice at St John’s University spoke to Sputnik about the flaws in the US police system. He thinks one unified policing system needs to be created in the US to stop civilians being killed.
Sputnik: Despite lengthy protest from the Black Lives Matter movement, accidental police killings of civilians still continue. Why?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: The United States does not have one unified use of force system. Of the seventeen thousand police departments in the United States, many of them have their own system and their own set of guidelines as it relates to use of force. So there's a lot of confusion as to what's appropriate and not appropriate. What's legal and what's not legal and what's ethical and what's not ethical as it relates to use of force. So people who live in New York City may view use of force differently than individuals who might live in Los Angeles, the other side of the country. So until there's one uniform system of use of force, you're going to continue to have these riots and protests and demonstrations because no one understands the appropriate steps as it relates to use of force.
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: Well, I think the president and the Department of Justice need to establish a panel of experts to create one system, one use of force guideline that every law enforcement agency in the United States must abide by. Right now, that's not the case. So until we have one unified system, there's always going to be confusion as to what’s appropriate and what the best way of dealing with use of force incidents, such as the ones that we've seen here in America over the course of the last year.
Sputnik: And what do you think should be done in order to implement this one unified use of force?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: Again, they need to put together a panel of experts and create a new use of force continuum that's endorsed and sanctioned by the federal government and supported by the federal, state and local law enforcement agency. So everyone has one system of use of force guidelines. Right now, there's just too much confusion on what the best action is and the best way of handling a use of force incident.
Sputnik: According to the body camera video of the Daunte Wright shooting, Kimberly A. Potter, the cop responsible for the killing confused her taser with her pistol. How?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: Well, it's not likely I mean, now we get to look at the incident after the fact and try to understand what her frame of mind was, which is very difficult to do in these situations. In my expert opinion, what I think perhaps happened was once they realised that he had a warrant, the intention was to arrest him and it was a violent felony warrant for robbery. I think that was the point at which she removed a firearm – to protect herself, because now the information that she was supplied to the radio dispatcher was that she was dealing with a violent felon. So she removed her firearm and a scuffle ensued. And I think she thought she had her taser in her hand when she actually still had a firearm, because that's what she removed initially when she approached the vehicle and ultimately thinking she had a taser when in actuality she had a deadly weapon and discharged that deadly weapon and ultimately killed Mr. Wright.
Sputnik: And do you think the system of training police officers should be changed?
Sputnik: You mentioned a unified use of force. What major reforms does the police system need in order to prevent such incidents from happening?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: Well, I mean, I think they have an adequate system in place, but it's not adopted by every agency. They have the use of force continuum that starts off with the uniformed presence. Then it rises to verbal commands: soft hands, hard hands impact weapons, the threat of deadly physical force and then the use of deadly physical force. So there is a system in play, but it's not adopted by every agency. And experts around the country should get together and have a heart and a real discussion about what the best system is and then have the federal government support that system for every law enforcement agency in the country
Sputnik: How can you find common ground between police officers and those who are angry about police violence. Is it possible?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: It's a very difficult thing that's going to take place now because we continue to have these situations that happen, I think, as we continue to diversify our law enforcement agencies so that they're reflective of the communities they serve, not just at the police officer rank, but also at the chief and commissioner rank. We need adequate representation where black and brown people run these police departments so that the public sees that these agencies diverse not just at the local level, but at every level.
Sputnik: And what is your forecast on the situation, can major police reform be expected in the near future?
Dr. Robert Gonzalez: Again, there needs to be a real conversation. We keep having these situations happen over and over again, and I don't know how many times it has to happen before the leadership of this country decides to bring in the experts and come up with one unified system. Right now, it's just lip service. If you look on Twitter, the Vice president is complaining about policing here in America. Well, she's in a position to make real change. And until that happens, we're going to continue to have these situations happen over and over again.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.