George Floyd’s death in Minnesota has led to violence and riots across the USA, not for the first time. It is yet another tragic outcome from non-approved policing tactics resulting in avoidable death. For me, it reignites a not too distant, personal despair following similar experiences closer to home.
On July 22, 2017, my nephew, Rashan Charles, died during a Stop and Search encounter with a Metropolitan Police officer in Hackney, London. In the aftermath, and up to the present day, I have aimed to be very clear on this highly emotive subject. While the police officer involved was ultimately cleared of misconduct, there is no doubt that Rashan’s death was avoidable. And in the absence of effective, strategic action by those governing our police services, more avoidable deaths in the UK will occur.
This is my informed assessment, as a former Met Police Chief Inspector, and current police trainer. Reactions to my stance range from overt agreement by an angry minority, to defensiveness from an ambivalent majority. Often, my viewpoint provokes stark hostility from those irked to hear a former police officer take this view.
But I qualify my competence to analyse and assess policing tactics. For many of the police actions that have resulted in fatalities, I don’t ask: “What would I have done if I was in that situation?” Instead, I review what I did do when faced with the same types of offences and arrests on countless occasions.
Of course, all incidents differ, but the range of approved training in tactical operations to resolve the many different situations officers find themselves in are clear and consistent. During my time with the Met, as I progressed in experience and seniority, I had management and training responsibilities for many officers. It was my responsibility to ensure they were competent to effectively assess risks and use operational tactics effectively.
The deaths of 46-year-old George Floyd and 20-year-old Rashan Charles were clearly visible to onlookers. Both events were video recorded and are accessible to people worldwide. The images in both cases are harrowing, and evoke understandable anger each time they are viewed. We see both men at the beginning of each film apparently fit and active. However, within minutes they are lifeless.
The force used by former police officer Derek Chauvin while detaining George Floyd, and the tactics of BX47, the officer who detained Rashan who now has lifelong anonymity, were excessive.
I know too well the risks from serious violent criminals and organised networks. Police officers can encounter some extremely dangerous characters. During my service, I ensured every officer within my sphere of responsibility was prepared and trained for the “harder face of policing”. In making that requirement of them, I ensured I met the same criteria.
Those who take on the privileged responsibility of policing know, as a last resort, use of lethal force is permissible.
In such circumstances, both then and now, all police officers require assurance that they have unequivocal support to use the highest levels of force. Beyond doubt, our police service deserves the widest public support to police our communities safely.
But, for George Floyd and Rashan Charles, it is abundantly clear, not only was there no obvious threat to the officers or to bystanders, furthermore, any evidence of resistance – from the now deceased parties – was negligible to zero.
These operational policing failures are a breach of public trust committed by a few officers, but affecting the entire service. It makes policing in many environments extremely difficult for thousands of police officers, who try to engage effectively with various communities and neighbourhoods on a daily basis.
Worse still, the hostility toward police in some communities has become so ingrained that there is no possible chance of change during our lifetime. It may take a generation or more to repair. But there will be no possibility of restoring police and community relationships as long as current entrenchment in existing attitudes and defensiveness continues. Too often, senior police officers, politicians and the Police Federation are at the helm of that resistance.
When senior police continue to fail to enact change in the face of clear injustice and unlawful deeds, the cycle of avoidable death will not end.
There are many families in the UK who have lost loved ones following contact with the police: Sean Rigg; Christopher Alder; Brian Douglas; Joy Gardner; Olaseni Lewis; Thomas Orchard; Roger Sylvester and Sheku Bayoh. There are many more, and my inability to list all other cases in this short article in no way detracts or disrespects the plight of their surviving families and friends.
It is ironic that targeted hostility towards those criticising police actions comes not only from those who can see no wrong in the woeful damage being caused by some police officers. It stems too from people who no longer accept the value and benefits of an effective police service, simply because they believe the latter is not attainable. This compounds challenges that present day police officers face. But primary responsibility for repairing this damage sits within the police service, not communities or neighbourhoods.
I know the difficulties police officers face. I also know a majority of police officers deliver exemplary service day in day out. But when senior police officers and strategic decision-makers continue to fail to enact internal change in the face of clear injustice and unlawful deeds, the cycle of avoidable death will not end.
Rod Charles is a former Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector. He is now a police trainer, researcher and risk consultant, and author of “Policing with Difference”.