After unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO in 2014, an uproar ensued. And triggered a national debate about police tactics. Since then many police departments have reexamined their use of force policies. But few have gone as far as the police in Camden, New Jersey, one of the poorest and most violent cities in America. There, officers are relying on patience and restraint to resolve tense encounters that can quickly escalate. Americans have seen a lot of videos that show police officers using deadly force. But the Camden police feel the following three clips show what police reform looks like out in the field.
The scene is a restaurant. A man pulls out a knife and threatens a customer before walking out. When the police show up, the man is still swinging the knife and will not drop it.
[officer] “Drop the knife!”
In the past, incidents like this may have resulted in the officers firing on the suspect because they consider themselves to be at risk. But something different happens.
[officer] “Sir – Drop the knife!”
The officers continue to implore the man to put down the knife, but they hold their fire. Eventually over ten officers are following the suspect. They corral him down the street, clearing out traffic ahead. Still they hold their fire.
Officers are now being trained to seek alternatives other than shooting people who are armed with knives and acting dangerously.
When they get their chance, they spring into action, apprehending him.
In another video, a man is refusing to let officers arrest him.
[man] “Don't touch me.”
The officers give him a choice.
[officer] “Sir you have two options: allow him to handcuff you or to tase you.”
This situation could have easily ended with officers tacking him, or shooting him with a taser.
But after calmly talking with him, the officers are able to make an arrest calmly and without incident.
In interaction after interaction, police are encouraged to exercise patience and calm a situation rather than escalate it.
[We’re here to help you. What is it that we can help you with?]
[I don’t want your help]
[What can we do to help you?]
Here the police encourage a suicidal woman holding a knife to drop it. You can clearly see that the officer has both hands out. He’s not holding a gun or taser.
[We’re all here to help you. Put the knife down Lisa.]
In the end, they convince her to drop the knife. And even to kick it away.
[Just kick it. Kick it on the street for me.]
Even though the footage in these videos may not seem dramatic, these videos are unusual. There are few examples of police videos in the public eye that show tense encounters resolving peacefully and calmly. But the hope is that that way of operating will become increasingly more common nationwide.