USING the term “perp” to refer to suspects with whom they interact may shape police officers’ understanding of the behavior of a suspect they are attempting to arrest, because it conditions the officer to consider that person already guilty.
A suspect becomes a “perpetrator” only when they have been found guilty in court, a distinction that may be lost on both parties if the suspect becomes aggressive or violent attempting to escape after being informed they are under arrest.
When arrested, a suspect is required to cease all resistance and submit to being placed under arrest. No one has a right to physically resist or evade arrest. The opportunity for disputing an arrest occurs only later, typically in court.
When an arresting officer is assaulted while trying to arrest a suspect the situation becomes confused. If the suspect attempts to take the officer’s firearm or taser, the assault has the potential to turn deadly for the officer, the suspect and others.
Dealing with a larger, stronger suspect may put a smaller police officer at a significant disadvantage (just as it would in wrestling). At this point, the officer knows the suspect is guilty of something — resisting arrest — and knows the danger.
This is hardly the optimal situation for making a thoughtful, well-reasoned decision, nor should one be expected. Is it reasonable to expect a police officer to recall in a nanosecond all the lessons they’ve learned viewing SHOOT/DON’T SHOOT videos in a safe and comfortable classroom?
But that is precisely what we expect arresting officers to do and is in part why we arm them: to protect others and themselves from harm.
The question the officer has to answer in that moment is clear: Does the threat warrant a deadly response? And the officer must act on that question in less time than it took you to read the question, because that is how long it takes an armed suspect to shoot.
And what response are police trained to make? Probably two or three aimed shots to the central body mass in less time than it took you to read the answer.
If a police officer goes into a confrontation already believing the suspect is a perpetrator, could that perception shape the officer’s actions in that instant? Does the continual reference to all suspects as perpetrators cause police to pre-judge guilt, particularly when faced with great stress and a responsibility to apprehend wrongdoers?
Is this the sort of position we want to place any police officer in?
Wouldn’t it be preferable to de-escalate such confrontations? This could happen by having police officers identify and issue arrest tickets to suspects for offenses not involving weapons, threats or acts of violence, or grand theft, and let tactical officers handle apprehension when a suspect refuses to accept such an arrest ticket or later fails to appear to answer the charges?
Why not have a policy against using force in any apprehension not involving endangerment of others or use of weapons? An officer’s options might include getting a license number, ID or a photo, putting a boot on their vehicle, giving an arrest ticket in lieu of a physical arrest.
Police officers shouldn’t need the experience of a football linebacker, wrestler or martial artist to do their job. Yes, we need a tactical group of officers to handle armed confrontations, but not every patrol officer should have to function in this capacity.
Some changes in policies and procedures, along with training, might reduce deadly confrontations significantly and still enforce the law.
Perhaps it is time for police departments and courts to disallow the use of “perp” and all other prejudicial or pejorative expressions.
Further, why not require in public education a course that teaches basic civics, including how to deal with law enforcement. Make it a requirement to obtain a driver’s license or legal identification card. Then almost everyone would understand that they are under arrest the moment an officer tells them so and that resisting only adds another crime to the charges against them. Instead of dangerously resisting, they’d better understand that they’ll have a day in court and that they’ll be provided with an attorney if needed.
We should also draft laws that clearly distinguish between a chokehold, which restricts or damages the windpipe or could damage vertebrae in the neck or spine, and a carotid restraint that temporarily restricts blood flow to the brain and causes fainting.