CASE STUDY: The Glenn Broadnax Incident

This outcome is extremely unfortunate. And while I have no insider information on it, the circumstances (as reported in the news) open the door for a multitude of discussions about police training and response. I'm walking through that door with this post.

On September, 14th, 2013, in New York's Times Square, NYPD officers had a confrontation with Glenn Broadnax. During the encounter, officers fired upon and missed him. The bullets struck innocent bystanders. Another officer used a Taser to control Broadnax, who was charged with several crimes. Broadnax was unarmed and has emotional health problems.

Research the incident particulars yourself...then come back. I'd merely be regurgitating what is freely available in open source Internet inquires anyways. I'll save some research time for you and suggest this NY Times search and this NY Daily News search.

I enter into this post with intent to limit both my critique and praise for the responding NYPD officers. My purpose of this post is to highlight some issues that both face and plague police forces nationwide. I will also offer solutions and ideas for police agencies to help respond to similar situations. I want to raise questions....not foolishly offer an evaluation.

My Background

It is important to explain why I am qualified to discuss this situation, even while armed with no information above or beyond what is cited, whether correctly or incorrectly, in the news media.



I am a full-time police officer, with a wide spectrum of training and experiences. All of these roles are current and active in a small municipal police agency:
  • Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officer - I develop partnerships with advocacy groups to help persons with: mental illness, suicide, emotional turmoil, homelessness, substance abuse, PTSD, family disputes, etc, etc. and respond to emergencies with persons in crisis. This role includes educating police, fire, EMS, dispatch, etc in a protocol response for persons experiencing Excited Delirium Syndrome, attempting suicide, and suffering other crises.
  • Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officer - I am assigned to a task force, working closely with Crisis/Hostage Negotiators. We respond to incidents that involve dangerous/armed persons in crisis and implement safe strategies to solve those problems.
  • Firearms Instructor - I teach the use of pistols/rifles in dynamic decision-making situations. I also teach the use of various non-lethal and less-lethal options. 
  • Taser(R) Instructor - certified by the manufacturer, with responsibilities in developing department policy on Taser deployment.
  • Use of Force Instructor - I teach and review procedural case law, specific to Fourth Amendment Search & Seizure and police Use of Force. This includes cases of a non-criminal nature, such as taking custody of people for mental health evaluations. I also write, review, and edit department policy regarding this, as well as educate officers on report writing.
  • Force Science(R) Analyst - I am certified by the Force Science Institute to conduct internal investigations involving police force, based on a wide variety of scientific data and human performance factors.
I don't claim to be an expert in any of the above roles. However, when taken together, this broad combination allows me to analyze the Broadnax incident through many different lenses, from many opposing angles.  I believe this jack-of-all-trades approach gives me a unique credibility to step onto the platform. Most of the critiques or praise I have read regarding this incident are from specialists who zoom in on only one very narrow aspect.

The same broadness of training and experiences influenced me to design The Illinois Model, our universal policing "system." It applies a simple and singular framework for policy, training, decision-making, and a whole smorgasbord of other issues of civilian law enforcement. This model will be a central theme to this post.

The Policing Environment

We first must make several acknowledgements about police procedure in general:

Police officers solve problems: crimes, traffic crashes, crowd control, suicidal persons, loose dogs, leaky pipes, hostage takings, burglar alarms. Officers are asked to have both an expansive and a deep knowledge of and proficiency in many topics. In the Broadnax case alone: traffic, crowds, mental illness, fleeing persons, police strategy, Taser, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, use of force law, criminal statutes, pistol marksmanship, awareness of surroundings. And officers must call upon and make split-second decisions based on these factors.

Officers are held to standards that were decided upon and evaluated after other questionable incidents. Courts, such as the US Supreme Court, make these opinions about what officers can or cannot do. This is called "case law." One such important ruling is that officers are not expected to be factually correct, only reasonable in their belief. This means that officers are allowed to be wrong, as long as at the moment of decision, they were rational. This also means that officers are judged with only the information known or suspected at the time....not facts discovered afterwards.

Officers also have to prioritize problems. For example, it may be completely reasonable to hurt or kill one dangerous person so that many other innocent people are protected. It's simple math. (No one jump to any conclusions here. I am NOT advocating shooting innocent bystanders, or even risking them in crossfire. But some dangerous people need to be hurt, at the risk of killing them, to save others.)

Questioning the Broadnax Incident

Initial Contact How did the NYPD officers interpret the actions of Glenn Broadnax when first seeing or observing him? Did they suspect mental illness or emotional distress? Did they assume a danger to the public? What was their purpose in making contact with him? Did the officers possess Probable Cause to arrest or otherwise take physical custody him? Did the officers have Reasonable Articulable Suspicion to detain him? Were the officers having a consent contact with him to further investigate some weird behavior that did not rise to level of RAS or PC? Why (legally) was the contact being made by the officers? What sort of tone or attitude was taken by the officers?

Mental Illness Could the officers articulate a mental illness that rose to the level of being a danger to self of others? If so, when was that decision made? What training or experiences did officers fall back on to make an educated determination? Did officers adjust tone to mirror the emotions of Broadnax? Did the officers escalate or de-escalate any aggressiveness, crisis, flight, escape, or resistance? Was there time to use compassionate tone and communication? Or was the situation so confusing and rapidly evolving that it was impossible?

Physical Control Assuming a lawfulness of a "seizure," what attempts, if any, were made to physically control Broadnax? Were officers too quick in trying to control him? Where they too reluctant to take physical control? Did officers try too hard to avoid physical control? Should the officers have attempted physical control earlier in their contact with Broadnax to prevent the situation from deteriorating/getting worse? Were the officers too reactive rather than proactive? Were the officers too proactive rather than reactive? What hands-on force, if any, was used or attempted? And for what purpose?

Incident Strategy What was the officers' plan? Did they use "stabilizing" strategy? Did officers use "act" strategy? Why? Was the strategy thought out on purpose...or did they "wing it?" Who controlled the timeline or evolution of the incident: Broadnax or the officers? Did the officers weigh the force/intrusion against the good of the community?

Situational Awareness How did the officers process their environment? Did they understand what was going on? Was their interpretation of the event accurate/reasonable? How confused were they with what was going on? Did they get tunnel vision (a well-documented human performance factor in stressful events)? Did they see all the people around? If not, can the officers explain why they may not have been completely aware of their surroundings?

Deadly Force How did the officers perceive the threat? What factors (in totality) were used to formulate that perception? Were the officers in fear for their own lives? In fear of the bystanders' lives? Since Broadnax was unarmed, was the officers' belief he was armed with a weapon reasonable? (Yes, that's a judicial court decision.) Did they over-react or process the threat improperly? Was their processing of the threat premature or right on time? Did the officers weigh the possibility of striking innocent persons? If so, did they fire anyways to limit the potential danger to an even greater number? (Yes, I know that's an ugly, uncomfortable thought...but needs to be asked.)

Marksmanship Were the officers shooting at Broadnax as either they or he was moving? What is the firearms training of the shooters? Did the officers have a clear shot of Broadnax? What was their sight picture, if any? Did the bystanders move into the line of fire? Did the officers perceive Priority of Fire or Crossfire?

Taser Use Did the Tasering sergeant process the situation differently? Did s/he arrive later? Did s/he properly de-escalate to a lower force option once the perceived threat changed/lowered? Why was the Taser not used earlier? Not available (Taser officer not there at the time)? Reluctance to use? Or was it used as soon as humanly possible?

Decision-Making Were the officers making conscious decisions? Were they on autopilot? Were they stuck in a cycle of continually processing the changes and new information? What is the  culture of the NYPD with regards to line-level decision-making? Empowerment? Ask permission? What decision-making education or training is given to officers?

Is this above line of questioning even remotely appropriate? Absolutely! This is only the tip of the iceberg of this investigation. But I wonder if some of these listed questions are neglected by those in the official investigation, being asked of the NYPD trainers in their curriculum review, or being evenly remotely considered by the masses of protestors who have absolutely no understanding of the dynamics of policing.

The responding officers may have been completely compassionate and empathetic with Broadnax; or they may have been complete assholes. They may have been praise-worthy heroes; or shameful cowards. They may have been intellectual strategists; or bumbling fools. They may have used a completely defensible process that ended with tragic results; they may not have used any process whatsoever.  They may have been working as a coheasive team; or as isolated individuals sharing the same proximity. No one will know until the above questions are answered. Even then, we might not ever really know. But to either criticize or praise before these are answered is pure ignorance.

Suggestions for Police Training

The Broadnax incident highlights so many police issues in one dynamic event. Police officers have to be programmed with a diverse yet universal "software" package to handle the variety of problems they are asked to solve. (Another disclaimer: Don't take this below list as any critique or praise of the NYPD officers in this case.) We must give our officers the broadest and widest skillset available. They must be Full-Spectrum cops.

Recognition Do officers see what the real problems are? Are they trained to recognize mental illness and emotional distress? Do they prioritize the problems and solutions effectively? Do they see the signs or symptoms of various crises?

Decisions Are your officers empowered to make split-second decisions in a dynamic and high-stakes environment? Are they given the opportunities to test their decision-making skills in training drills? Are they given education on how to make better or faster decisions?

Seizure Do they understand the factors that allow them to conduct a Terry stop or arrest? Can they logically articulate RAS and PC to justify such...both during the incident and afterwards? How about the "seizing" of a mentally ill or suicidal person (and I don't mean forcefully seizing them either)?

Strategy Do officers make hasty plans in the field? Do they weigh options? Do they understand how "governmental intrusion" factors into police incidents? Do they know how case law empowers or restricts those intrusions, and hence those strategies? Do they balance risk with reward? Do officers default to "stabilizing" strategies that call upon resources, verbalization, slowing down, and avoiding force?

Compassion This is related to strategy. Basically, how do your officers interact with people on the street? Especially ones suspected of having emotional problems? In many cases, its a question of Operational Philosophy. Do they "speak softly but carry a big stick?" Or do they only carry a big stick? Or do they only speak softly?

Force Do officers understand the need to be proactive rather than reactive? Does agency culture promote unrealistic defensive (reactive) tactics that do not account for need to be the first "actor?" Do they have the actual physical skills and tools to take control?  Does your agency support "Officer Force First" concept? Do your officers have the support should they need to punch first?

Firearms Do your officers experience training that mimics reality? Do they move at dynamic speeds while on the range? Do your trainers build confidence with weapons? Have your officers ever fired while moving? Have they ever fired on moving targets? Have they ever been involved in force-on-force exercises?  Have they ever fired under split-second time constraints at realistic deadly force encounter distances? Have the officers been required to fire on moving targets while surrounded by (moving or static) "no-shoot" targets? Have the officers had to justify their "shoot or no-shoot" decisions in any realistic training evolutions?

Human Performance Factors Do your officers understand the psychological and physiological changes in their minds and bodies during stressful situations? Do these changes take them by surprise, further confusing the situation? Does your training address these issues and work within them? Do your officers understand the reasons why their minds and bodies change or adapt in these situations? Can they explain their feelings or sensations accurately enough to help justify or rationalize discrepancies in later-determined facts? Does your agency understand these issues? Does your media relations official understand these issues?

Policy Does department policy allow for all of the above issues? Is it too abstract? Too detailed? Too open for interpretation? Too inflexible and unworkable? Does it give officers the necessary allowances to be creative in their solutions to the problems on the street? Is it policy that actually guides officers' decisions and actions in the field? Or merely a mandatory checklist that's used to defend the agency in civil complaints? (It can do both!)

And all the above have to be drilled in ever pressing time constraints, with lacking information, and lives held in the balance. No small task for police trainers or policy writers. Of course I believe The Illinois Model is one such answer. There may be others. If so, not many.

Summary

Keep in mind this incident timeline may have begun, developed, and ended in the time that it takes the typical suburban dad to run to to the end of the driveway and back, in the rain, to get the morning's newspaper! A certain allowance for error and mistakes has to be given to these officers (if any errors or mistakes were made!). Have you readied yourself and your people to process, decide, and act proficiently? in this avalanche of changing information? in this sliver of time?  The training programs are out there. Seize the opportunities.

I hope this post makes its way to the NYPD, specifically those officers who were involved in the incident. I also hope its read by those NYPD officials responsible for not only the investigation, but also the training for recruits and in-service veterans. But this is not a post solely for them. It is a post for all of civilian law enforcement. It should scare the shit out of all law enforcement executives who ignore advancements in training and who fail to promote their organization as one of constant learning.  It should influence police officers to seek the training to ready themselves for these situations...and demand it of their agencies. I hope it inspires trainers to give the best to their students, recognizing that proficiency and qualification is merely an inconvenient requirement, not a standard. Lastly, it should open the eyes of outsiders who are so quick to judge without any of the experiences or training of those involved. Early judgement without the information is pure idiocy.

Any and all comments are welcome...both private and public. Even without having the answers, I find great value in even posing the questions.

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Louis Hayes is a systems thinker for The Virtus Group, Inc., a firm devoted to public safety leadership. He is a co-developer of The Illinois Model law enforcement operations system (LEOpSys) and moderates several courses rooted in its theory and concepts. He is a 17-year police officer, currently assigned to a multi-agency tactical unit in Chicagoland. He is a certified ForceScience(R) Analyst, a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) member, Taser(R) and firearms instructor, and Master Tactical Patrol Officer.  A full compilation of articles on The Illinois Model can be found here.

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Comments

  1. What was the resolution of the Broadnax case? Any info would be appreciated. TY

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lawsuit filed against NYC/PD in April 2014 by Theodora Ray, one of the bystanders struck by police gunfire. Have searched open sources, but without much luck. http://pospislaw.com/2014/04/21/lawsuit-by-pedestrian-shot-during-nypds-botched-apprehension-of-unarmed-man/ Lou

      Delete
    2. http://nypost.com/2015/03/11/deranged-times-square-man-sentenced-to-two-years-in-prison/ and http://nypost.com/2015/03/11/deranged-times-square-man-sentenced-to-two-years-in-prison/

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