Policing: escalation versus de-escalation
Guns do kill people/when your primary tool is a gun, people get killed. For years I've been "surprised" when people express outrage when a mental illness distress call is made to the police, and the incident ends with the person being killed by the police.
Police officers tend to have a limited tool set, a gun being the primary tool.
Broken windows theory. There has been controversy lately over "broken windows" theoretical approaches to policing because of the stop and frisk case in NYC as well as the recent death of a person arrested for illegally selling cigarettes, who died in custody ("NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio walks thin blue line in chokehold aftermath," Christian Science Monitor).
WRT "broken windows theory," there are two elements. One is the general idea of order maintenance and management in communities ("Broken Windows," Atlantic Monthly, 1982).
In my personal experience, living in places that had been reasonably tough (if you call living a few blocks from a major crack distribution area "tough") the broken windows theory--that if you don't maintain order by for example, fixing broken windows, removing abandoned cars, picking up litter, eradicating graffiti, etc., order tends to further decline, including vacant properties being taken over by criminal elements, etc.--is an important, powerful, explanatory, and useful theory that is borne out by practice and observation in the real world.
Unfortunately, too many police departments think that it means arresting or ticketing any offense, no matter how small, such as taking up two seats on the subway when there is plenty of room but is still against the law, as opposed to when the trains are full.
Take this too far and you break the sense of trust that is necessary between police who exercise "the coercive power of the state" and citizens.
Note that George Kelling, one of the original co-authors of this work, argues that the theory is better termed "problem-oriented policing" and focusing limited personnel on interdicting problems and crimes in specific, directed ways, rather than merely reacting or "being passive." (Literature review, "Community Oriented and Problem Policing," US Department of Justice)
As crime drops do police officers have less to do? One of the problems, in cities like New York City, is that as crime drops, police departments need to keep their statistics and action up, so they have more time to focus on minor crimes, but which can backfire, such as with the deaths of people taken into custody.
From the article:
it will require proof of extraordinary circumstances indeed to find the killing justified. Police are supposed to act professionally and with restraint even when ordinary citizens do not. They receive training in how to de-escalate confrontations. Shooting Brown did not, to put it mildly, achieve that end.
It happens that I was reading an old National Georgraphic (June 2009) and it reported on research in the UK about "embedding" police officers in crowd situations, especially soccer games, to reduce the likelihoood of violence.
From the article:
Actually, "crowd control" is the wrong phrase. ... Rather than focus on cowing a crowd, officers look at its members. If a person acts criminally, the cops step in. They also encourage organizers to monitor their events. "We are nervous every time." ... But the approach is promising.
Clifford Stott ... studies soccer riots. His conclusion? If officers are embedded in a crowd they aren't seen as a threat and can quietly nab hooligans.This FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin article, "Crowd Management: Adopting a New Paradigm," covers the same work (image above from this article).
Granted it won't work when the police department is so different and disconnected from the demographics of the community it is policing, when various elements (like Bay area anarchists) are focused on fomenting violence, and when the police department adopts militaristic techniques ("Ferguson and the Shocking Nature of US Police Militarization," US News).
Conclusion. There needs to be an upgrade of requirements on police departments in terms of training, especially in de-escalation, for both crowds and individual acts, and de-militarization (see the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, Wall Street Journal article by the author).
States are in the position to be able to regulate the operation of police departments. However, the herocization of police officers, demonization of the poor, and the power of police unions in political campaign financing at the state and local level will make this difficult.