Former police officer aims to reduce forceful police behavior

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COLUMBIA - Dr. Joel Shults, a former Colorado police chief, will speak on Aug. 29 to Missouri police about how to reduce the use of force.

"I think there is an intentional, deliberate effort by police hate groups to tell a twisted narrative about policing. Right now some things that are really quite normal in the world of police work gets a twisted narrative," Shults said.

Shults spent time as the police chief in Alamosa, Colorado, where he says he saw things he took issue with.

"I began doing some research that I called the VALOR project, what I found is that police officers were frequently victims of crime on the job and prosecution of the offenders was very very low," Shults said.

He said any time there is a case of police brutality, it is concerning, but it is often not what people think. He said in order to change perceptions, the language police use with the public in response to events like those in Ferguson needs to change.

"When there's corruption or an act of police brutality, we say 'well, that was just one bad apple.' Well, that's still true because bureau of justice statistics show 99.9 percent of police-citizen contacts involve no force at all. And then again in the 90th-percentile of times when force is used, it is later determined to be justified and lawful. That kind of information is being completely lost in the current debate," said Shults.

"We can't say things like 'that's just one bad apple'," he said. "We can't say things like 'I'm out here every day laying my life on the line and so you're gonna have to cut me some slack'. I think that's true but that doesn't wash with today's public. They don't want to hear that that's not a narrative that makes sense to them."

Shults also said the timing of police releasing surveillance video of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store shortly after announcing the name of the officer who shot Brown likely wasn't predicted to garner criticism.

"That made all the sense in the world from a police perspective," Shults said. "It's open records, people asked for it." 

"It's almost like a parent and a teenager," Shults said. "One says 'I thought I was doing the right thing, I thought that's what you wanted', and then the teenager says 'well, if you thought that you were wrong and you don't really understand me.'"

When asked what he thinks Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson should do in the situation, Shults said, "I think what the chief needs to do is to do a very careful cultural study of the population that he needs to communicate with."

Shults also said the kind of tactical equipment police have on hand, which has been brought into question by many, is often on hand in case it is needed. But, police often have it just in-case. 

Shults said the most important take-away for what is happening in Ferguson is to communicate with police effectively.

"People of good will, who want better policing are going to achieve it by supporting their police officers. I urge everyone to take the time to, in a friendly way, approach the police officers that serve them and say, we recognize you have a great challenge and a great trust, we appreciate what you're doing and we want to do everything we can to support you and move you in what ever direction serves the public best," Shults said. 

Shults' seminar will take place on Aug. 29 at the Baymont Hotel and Suites in Jefferson City from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information and how to register, visit Shults' website.