Clem Information Strategies works where public policy, communications, and outreach intersect.

Connie Clem, Principal, connie at
@ConnieInfo | | 303.242.6278
Niwot, Colorado, USA

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A person is on the ground under police control

Too many Americans are being shot by police officers. In the spirit of addressing a complex problem, here’s a suggestion.

Schools should invite police officers to talk with students about how to stay safe in an interaction with police. Young people need to hear this, and they need to hear it from an officer’s point of view.

The basics:

  • Follow an officer’s orders. It’s the law.
  • Keep your hands visible to the officer. This applies wherever we are – in a car, on the street, in our own home, and anywhere else.
  • If you have a weapon, keep your hands away from it.
  • Don’t run.
  • Don’t panic.
  • Don’t threaten the officer(s).
  • Get flat on the ground if there’s gunfire, with your hands away from your body.
  • Show respect, and expect to be respected.
  • Don’t give officers any reason to think you pose a danger.

The classroom sessions should examine some real-world incidents. Students should hear exactly what happened in a shooting that was reviewed and found to be defensible.

  • Go step by step through the sequence of events, show how quickly the incident unfolded, state what the officer knew and saw and heard, and explain what made the officer decide to shoot.
  • Describe how officers are trained. Review the involved officer’s training and experience level.
  • List the evidence the agency or other investigators used later when reviewing what happened.
  • Talk about what policies or practices the agency reviewed after the incident – and any changes that were made to reduce the chances of another shooting.
  • If any involved officers were disciplined or terminated or sent for more training, talk about that.

It’s important that people understand that most officer-involved shootings are found to be defensible. This is not because the system is stacked against community residents – it’s because of the law and the role of police officers. Officers have a legitimate need to defend themselves against weapons and aggression, and they have a duty to protect community residents. (Laying out the research on actual incidents is for another post.)

Shootings occur because of what the officer knew or observed in the seconds in which they happen. Their response is rooted in training, experience, second-to-second observations, peer culture, gut response, and other intangibles.

The classroom time also should cover what’s different about shootings or other use of force incidents that are not justifiable. We should understand and learn from them, too. Students should understand what those agencies that have officer culture issues are doing to improve.

We have too many shootings in our cities and neighborhoods. It’s heartbreaking. But we can’t over-simplify. The specific circumstances matter in each incident. Each officer is unique. Each person who has been shot is unique. Watching the news videos hurts every time we see a move someone shouldn’t have made, a reaction an officer made in response to something that heightened the perceived risk in that moment.

We can’t see into every incident before it happens, and we can’t turn back the clock. But we can see patterns, so let’s address those patterns.

Let’s tell young people how to lessen, not heighten, the perceived risk that officers respond to. Let’s reduce the fear, legitimate or exaggerated, that young people may have of police officers. Let’s reduce the fear, legitimate or exaggerated, that police officers may have of people of color who are or may be armed.

These goals require understanding and addressing bias on both sides.

  • Young people need to understand the daily risks inherent in patrol work and how an officer responds in a volatile incident.
  • Public safety agencies need to drop some of their defensiveness and work harder on building and maintaining community trust, whether they see any mistrust as fair or unfair. Shootings and inappropriate use of force make community relations even more polarized. Agency leaders can notice officers who have bad attitudes and don’t relate well with the communities they are sworn to protect. They can hire and support officers who have a good and realistic attitude. They can provide effective supervision and training that helps officers understand implicit bias and how to work with, around, and beyond it. Officers who can’t patrol fairly and justly should get into a different line of work. Agencies have a duty to remove people from patrol who don’t belong there.

Whatever we can do to end wrongful shootings, we should do. Community education can be a part.

Public safety agencies can reach out to school districts, or vice versa. Work out a plan so police officers will visit classrooms once or twice per school year. Start in middle school or early high school. If some school resource officers are doing this already, I’d like to hear about it and the results.

Building rapport and mutual understanding is a way to help save lives. It also could bring additional benefits. More young people of color might choose to work in public safety. That would be a good trend in many communities where the current officer staffing doesn’t reflect the makeup of the community.

We can also acknowledge that wrongful shootings involve suspects and officers of all skin colors and racial and ethnic backgrounds. Racial bias is not the only issue on the table. Good policing will always require the highest principles, the best ethics, and the best people.

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What keeps them up at night?

February 20, 2018

Ever wonder what issues jail leaders have to deal with? At recent meeting, jail directors tossed out one or two of their top challenges. I tallied up my notes on what they mentioned. The themes – #1 = STAFF ISSUES. As in: facility staffing levels, overtime reduction, recruitment, retention, reliability of staff to do the […]

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A word about #MeToo

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Now that the #MeToo meme is getting around, sexual misconduct and abuse of power are open topics of discussion toward long-needed social change. The surprise to many is that the corrections field is so far ahead on confronting a culture of abuse and establishing a comprehensive methodology for reducing it. The Prison Rape Elimination Act […]

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It’s a people business

June 14, 2017

When it comes to jail and correctional work, the demands made of people could hardly be more intense. Correctional officers (they are not “guards,” by the way) have to be 100% safety-aware and 100% open to the idea that the person they’re interacting with is a human being, too. They operate within these two very […]

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Don’t take my word for it

March 28, 2017

Jails matter! But don’t take my word for it. Talk with your local public safety leaders. Check out agency websites. If you know someone who works in a jail or has spent time in one as a volunteer or a detainee, see what they can tell you. Find out who is in your city or […]

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Industries examined?

October 7, 2016

Recently inmate industries made the news on a public radio talk program:  “The National Prison Strike (According To Prisoners),” September 28, 2016, On Point, WBUR, Boston, Massachusetts. I applaud fresh attention given to jails and prisons, so this was good to hear. However, the program seemed to accept at face value the comments of the […]

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Who’s Responsible?

September 29, 2015

Lately we’re seeing more attention to interactions between corrections/law enforcement personnel and community members, possible suspects, detainees, and inmates. This is a good thing—because accountability is important, and also because the scrutiny is helping the public to learn more about patrol work and jails. A big question is, how responsible is an agency leader for […]

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Jail Standards, Classification, and Safety

September 17, 2015

Last week I sat in on a meeting of jail inspection agency leaders from around the United States. These people work in state government, and their mission is to ensure safety and security in the jails they work with. They or their staff members visit each local facility statewide to check whether these jails meet […]

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What’s the difference between prison and jail?

November 3, 2013

You know how you’re watching the news, and the reporter solemnly says a criminal will be spending his or her life in jail, or will serve a 20-year jail sentence, or is languishing in prison waiting for trial? It’s not going to happen. Let me clear this up. In the United States, we often encounter […]

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Infographic – social media + emergency response

June 10, 2013

Must share this. From USF Master of Public Admin program. University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration

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