When it comes to the use of deadly force, police officers may not always have the clearest instructions.
Case in point: Yesterday the Department of Justice released a report on the Philadelphia Police Department, which was requested by police commissioner Charles Ramsey after a shocking spate of police shootings in 2013. In the report, the DOJ pulled two charts that are supposed to show cops when it is OK to shoot people. They are taken from different parts of the PPD's internal policy.
Here's the first one. This one is meant to show officers when they should discharge a firearm:
And here is the second. This one is meant to show when different levels of force are necessary:
The issue: the two different flow charts are inconsistent in how they teach an officer to handle a potential situation. In the first chart, there are three steps leading up to the use of deadly force. In the second chart, there are five steps, and many factors that it asks police to consider before allowing a situation to reach that point. The DOJ reports:
“Both policies include guidance on the use of deadly force. It is problematic, particularly for newer officers, that the PPD has two reference points to understand the department’s use of force policy, which each use a different illustration. Likewise, each policy describes the use of force review board, but uses different terminology, dispositions, and processes."
In the field, this ambiguity can lead to confusion of how an officer should act when confronting a situation, the report says. It goes on to make a series of recommendations that would at least be consistent—that way it would be easier to tell when one of the guidelines has been breached.
Last, and perhaps most problematically, the report finds that despite how confusing these guidelines might be, the PPD doesn't even have a system in place to "determine how well it is keeping officers abreast of policy updates at the department level, nor can it track compliance at the individual officer level."
In other words, the department should update the policy. But first it should put a system in place to keep track of which officers are even aware of what the policy is.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.