Home News Will 'Tactical Retreat' be the new normal?

Will 'Tactical Retreat' be the new normal?

President Barack Obama, center, speaks during his meeting with elected officials, law enforcement officials and community and faith leaders in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House Complex in Washington, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Obama said that in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri, he wants to make sure to build better trust between police and the communities they serve.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama, center, speaks during his meeting with elected officials, law enforcement officials and community and faith leaders in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House Complex in Washington, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. Obama said that in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old man in Ferguson, Missouri, he wants to make sure to build better trust between police and the communities they serve.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

By Stephen Owsinski

After examining the Ferguson, MO, officer-involved shooting death of Michael Brown, and the subsequent often-violent protests exposed to the world, a seemingly new philosophy is brewing in the way police officers do their jobs. Called “tactical retreat” or “tactical withdrawal” or “tactical restraint,” the paradigm shift stems from a central question. Given the circumstances as we know them, is it possible that if police officer Wilson exercised greater restraint, and withdrew from the suspect-escalated situation, would Michael Brown be alive?

Transcending Ferguson, can such a change in policing techniques spread throughout our nation? Should it?

That is what authorities in the St. Louis County, MO, area are postulating. If police are trained to essentially back-down from incidents which escalated to the extent of imminent deadly force, will tactical withdrawal methodologies plausibly offset these episodes?

Criminologist Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is now a criminal law professor at the University of South Carolina, thinks so. Stoughton delineated it this way: “We add the word, ‘tactical’ and not just ‘retreating’ or ‘giving up’ because that’s what makes it palatable for police officers.” Sounds like a quaint pitch from a salesperson pushing a new product via police vernacular.

No matter those dynamics and semantics (and connotations conjured by these proposed tactics), is tactical retreating the answer? Will the criminal-minded perceive this proposed tactical adaptation as being given the upper-hand? Will such a maneuver alleviate any perceived police/community relations woes? Will withdrawing weaken the objective and mission of law enforcement? Will sliding-scale of perils have any pertinence?

Stoughton suggests “It’s basically the choice to work smarter rather than harder.” Although one may appreciate that credo, it leaves out the dimension of criminal elements fleeing, without concern for being pursued. As St. Louis Metro police Chief Sam Dotson explained to the press, “Society has to realize that we pay police officers to keep us safe. And if every criminal knows, ‘If I confront an officer, they will take four steps back, that’s my escape route,’ then that becomes the new norm.”

Traditional methodologies taught in police academies, largely founded in command and control, are based on assessment, actionable responses, and resolution, not start over mentalities. With good reason. To the extent tactical retreat becomes an indoctrinated police protocol, the bravado-based responses from the bad guys are sure to be influenced.

One may wonder why the onus is squarely placed upon the shoulders of LEOs. Implicit by nature of their titles, public servants are relegated to public safety provisions. So, too, are society’s members responsible for complying with social norms. Norms, not chaos, crises, and/or anarchy. Relenting from traditional police practices to confront malcontents is a huge gamble, leaving too much to chance.

Moreover, tactical retreat measures (if any validity exists) does not take into account inherent dangers imposed to innocents at/near the scene. A scared thug who takes advantage of police retreat can use the factor to become brazen enough to delve into the realm of anarchy, maiming or slaying a bystander. The mindset/response from the bad guy is “I did it because I can!” Tactical retreat, therefore, is construed as an invitation to menace and malevolence.

Criminologist Stoughton posited Officer Wilson “could have been trained to do something different to allow him to apprehend Michael Brown without putting himself in a situation that made him feel deadly force was the only safe response.” Perhaps. That very notion –“putting himself in a situation”– implies sole responsibility for the beginning, the middle, and the end, effectively indemnifying the aggressor.

In relative support of the tactical retreat debate, John Firman, the Director of Development of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, weighed in: “[Cowardice] is a very unique situation. That’s a rarity. Tactical hold, perimeter hold, is making sure that you’re reducing the likelihood that someone — either the suspect or the officer — is going to be harmed.” If department policy dictates an officer must retreat when this or that transpires, that is not cowardice; however, it may very well be perceived as cowardice in the eyes of suspects.

St. Louis County police Detective Gabe Crocker recently stated via a 97.1 FM News Talk radio show, “Why should we have to change law enforcement nationwide to make exceptions for this violent few when what we should be doing is making it harder for this violent few to have such a powerful lobby on their side?” Crocker asked. “Police officers are trying to uphold the laws of society and protect people. Instead, people are labeling us as aggressive and people who need more training.”

How do you reason with the “tactical retreat” proposition and philosophy? Stand down and regroup…or take the bull by the horns?

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  1. “Criminologst Stoughton” should have his certification as a Police Officer revoked by whoever originally issued it… While he may have been a “Police Officer’ by definition…it’s THIS Retired officer’s contention that he wasnt a “Cop” by any means.

  2. “Tactical retreat?!” How about “Tactical don’t bother showing up at the call in the first place?” You want less policing, you got it. If you think that’s not happening already you’ve got your head in the sand. US Senators are displaying “Hands up. Don’t shoot” gestures. Police departments are “cracking down” on real street cops who are the target of an arbitrary number of Internal Affairs complaints – complaints made by frequent flyer arrestees in an attempt to negotiate their way to lesser charges. The anti-police, anti rule of law attitude this promoted is very disturbing to me. Be careful what you wish for.

  3. This is absolutely the most ludicrous thing I have ever heard of. This will do nothing but endanger every law enforcement officer on the street. Because every thug will know they can push the LEO to the point that he backs away and he gets away with the crime. I will not add anything else because I am boiling over this BS!!!!

  4. Stoughton is just as much of a nut case, as is Obama. It’s frightening to think of Stoughton as a police officer. I’m sure he was last man in, first man out.

  5. So former ” Police Officer ” Sethie thinks cops should run away, I mean “Tactically Run Away” is a great way to avoid more Michael Brown type thuggery???? I can see why he’s not a cop anymore. What a great way to hand over control of a city to thugs. One thing thugs smell and act on……is fear.

  6. Is this guy out of his mind? We “tactically withdraw” and said suspect then continues on to his original goal of robbing a liquor store or killing his ex and this idiot is gonna take the brunt of the ensuing lawsuits? No, he is not. These armchair cops sicken me. I can imagine he wasn’t high on anyone’s list for “back me up” requests. For the most part the people we police will view it as cowardice or simply the easy means of escape.

  7. If I’m not mistaken Brown reached into the cruiser and attempted to disarm Officer Wilson. How could he retreat from that. He was forced to do what he had to do to stay alive. Once he was engaged, he had to fight. There was no retreat. I’ve been in this profession long enough that I’m closer to retirement than being a rookie. I can only see this causing more deaths and/or injuries to police officers and innocent bystanders. We take an oath to serve and protect. By “tactically retreating” we are doing neither. I hope that those that are proposing this takes a real long and hard look at the propaganda that they are trying to make not only the Law Enforcement of this country but the public as well. This is in my opinion the same thing that has taken place with our government regarding sending our men and women of the armed forces into battle. They train them to do a job, then when they are put in a situation (war) the government ties their hands and won’t let them do what they are trained to do. Our military fears being prosecuted for doing their job. The streets that we protect are like the battlefields. The stance that our government is taking on incidents like Ferguson with Brown and New York with Garner, law enforcement is being chastised for doing their jobs. By retreating, we are not doing our job.

  8. As a member of the community, I am discusted by the thugs. If they were busy working to support their families- they would not be clogging the streets. If you notice so many of the shootings are prompted by a 9-11 call by someone connected to the situation. I conclude that- they only thing this verbose element is going to understand – is cops not showing up. They seem to think yous are racist if you wont die for them. I am a middle aged home owner. I want to give you the tools to do your job. I appreciate what you do. I am not one to cheer lead or to go to rallies- but these thugs are pissing me off. Thugs think we owe them. When they do months of protests- this makes over time. Someone has to pay for it. So- they are robbing me- via higher taxes to pay for them clogging the streets. If they are so unhappy – they could leave the country. Many citizens support you. THANK YOU.