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Police Use of Force: Training, Community Relations Help Township Police Ensure Proper Use of Force

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PA Township News - September 2015

Chris Carusone was quoted in PA Township News.

By: Brena Wilt

You can hardly look at a news outlet these days without seeing a story about alleged police brutality. Township police departments see those stories, too, and are taking steps to ensure that they have up-to-date policies and training on use of force, as well as good relations with citizens to build trust and mutual respect.

Do an Internet search for “cops playing basketball with kids” and you’ll find links to several heartwarming videos of police officers taking time to shoot hoops with local children. Some of these videos have become online sensations as viewers share the images on social media and major news outlets replay them.

These scenes stand in stark con­trast to videos showing alleged exces­sive or deadly police use of force that have made headlines over the past few months and made place names like Ferguson, Mo., and North Charleston, S.C., household words. In southcentral Pennsylvania, a veteran police officer in Hummelstown, Dauphin County, just outside of Hershey, has been charged with homicide in the February shooting death of an unarmed man.

Shooting hoops or shooting sus­pects: Which of these scenes more accurately portray typical police action in the United States? The answer often depends on who you ask, but the reality is that inappropriate use of force is the exception, not the rule.

“These acts are extremely rare,” former Pennsylvania State Police Com­missioner Frank Noonan says, “despite what you see in the media.”

Still, given the proliferation of recording devices and 24/7 access to news, a single incident can put a mu­nicipality on the map and its police department under the microscope, attorney Christopher Carusone of the Cohen Seglias law firm says. He teamed up with Noonan to present a session on police use of force at the PSATS An­nual Conference in April 2015.

“Decisions [to use force] are receiv­ing excruciatingly detailed scrutiny these days,” he says, “and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been much more aggressive in going after police departments.”

It is said that the best defense is a good offense. For municipal police departments, experts say that means developing or updating a well-written policy on use of force, educating and training officers, and cultivating a good relationship with the public. These ac­tions will not only help defend officers in a court of law but also, they hope, in the court of public opinion.

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