Columbia officer gives lethal force a different perspective
COLUMBIA – One Columbia police officer is trying to bring something new to the conversation over lethal force.
Sgt. Lance Bolinger of the Columbia Police Department, designed a presentation on use of force by police in which participants learn to think like the officer.
According to Sgt. Bolinger, the main point of the presentation is to reach out to the community and explain how police officers make decisions.
"We really wanted to just give some insight to citizens about what kind of decisions we're making and how we're coming to those decisions," he said.
The presentation goes over the legal aspects of use of force as well as the case law that pertains to it.
He compiled videos from dashboard cameras, camera phones and body cameras, showing confrontations in which officers were faced with the decision on whether to use lethal force.
Bolinger showed real-life scenarios and then asked citizens to interpret the situation for themselves.
"One of the things I've tried to do with this course is really put the person in the shoes of the officers. I want the citizen sitting in there to actually feel what its like to be an officer and see how quick the decision is made by the officer," said Bolinger, "the officers are forced with the situation where they're going to make a split second decision on the street, and then their decision is going to be reviewed over months and years."
The shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer last year reignited the controversy over lethal force.
Since then, Missouri legislators have submitted several bills aiming at modifying the Missouri statute on when officers are justified in using lethal force.
The current law reads, "A law enforcement officer may use deadly force when he or she reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to effect an arrest and the suspect has committed or attempted to commit a felony, is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or may otherwise endanger a life or seriously injure another person."
Lawmakers came close to passing a bill modifying the current law on police force in 2015, adding a provision deeming the force used unjustified unless "the amount of force used was objectively reasonable in light of the totality of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer, regardless of the officer's intent."
But, with more required dashboard and body cameras and advanced camera phone capabilities, there is more video of officers than ever before.
Bolinger said the technology has not only changed police work over the past 10 years, but has made it more visible to the public eye.
"When you talk about the sheer number of police officers in this country and the number of videos out there, or the number of recorded police encounters, there's probably going to be instances where people make mistakes," he said.
The Columbia Citizens Police Review Board rules on cases brought to it by people who believe that an officer has done something wrong in the line of duty.
The chair of the board, James Martin, said the videos from all of the new technology have been instrumental as evidence in deciding cases, and has allowed the board to maintain objectivity.
"We don't intend to be pro-citizen or pro-police, we want to be right down the middle and say the facts to us prove, show that we should rule this way," Martin said.
Bolinger has only presented his use of force class to the Citizens Police Review Board, a group of volunteers and local media members.
He said as time allows, he hopes to have more opportunities to present to open groups so that anybody could come that wants to know more about the law enforcement community.