CIT Trained Cops Do The Right Thing: Avoid Shooting & Help A Family


(9-14-16) Here is a refreshing reminder why Crisis Intervention Team training for the police should be required in every jurisdiction.

When the police get it right
By M. Moss, first published in The Washington Post. 

“F— you pigs!”

This was last month. My son was on his side on the ground, in handcuffs, a police officer pinning down his legs, another officer holding down his upper body.

“F— you piiiiiigs!”

When it looked as though he might be scraping his face on the asphalt of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail bike path, the officers moved him, while holding him down, so his face was on the grass.

“Buddy, if you calm down, we’ll let you sit up.”

“F— you piiiigs!”

The joggers and bikers on the trail moved past, looking concerned but not stopping to turn the scene into a spectacle.

My son has a neurological disability. He didn’t ask for it, and learning to live with it has not been an easy task. He is also a big man — 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and fit. When he drinks, which is rare, he is unpredictable, aggressive and — though I hate the expression — a danger to himself and others.

He had come to Arlington a week before, after a year at Spring Lake Ranch, a therapeutic community and working farm in Vermont, where residents raise animals, make maple syrup, chop wood, build barns and grow vegetables. Mostly, he was learning to inhabit his own skin and enjoy the days that become possible in a life lived without alcohol or drugs. Everyone treated each other with respect. My son was expected to pull his weight, and he did. He wasn’t given a break because of his disability.

On that afternoon my wife was away on business, so he had a few hours alone in the house. For some reason, he decided to drink most of a full bottle of cognac we had locked away.

When I came home, he was staggering in the kitchen. I asked him if he was high.

“Yeah. I gotta go.” He picked up a backpack in his room, stuffed in some clothes and headed down the street to the bike path.

I tried to persuade him to stay and sleep it off, but he kept saying that he felt ashamed and had to leave. I followed, trying to talk him into coming home. I couldn’t let him walk away — drunk, no money, no identification and, worst of all, no judgment.

Prior episodes like this ended in a brush with death or the police or both, so I did what family members of the mentally ill always struggle with: I called the police and asked for officers with crisis intervention training.

The first officers to show up walked alongside my son and tried to talk to him. When he wouldn’t stop, they got him into handcuffs without hurting him and sat him on the ground. He was struggling, kicking and spitting at them. He only had three words left in him. “F— you pigs!”

Wherever else I have lived — from New Orleans to Nigeria to Paris — my son would at the least have been beaten up, probably thrown in jail or worse.

Watching this scene unfold, I was shocked by my son’s behavior but grateful for the officers’ restraint. My son was drunk, dangerous and abusive. Yet these guys didn’t respond in kind: When someone is kicking, yelling abuse and spitting at you, punching him is an understandable, human response. Instead, they treated my son as someone who needed to be protected from himself. They didn’t take his behavior personally. They put him in the car and drove him to a hospital, not to jail, though they could have done either.

Policing in the United States is under scrutiny, and for good reason.

Why was my son’s outcome different from the many tragic stories around the country over the past two years? The legal standard governing these officers’ use of force is the same here as everywhere else. They could have responded more aggressively, up to and including the use of deadly force, based on their subjective perception of the threat. And they did have to use force, but for some reason, they chose to use the minimum needed to protect themselves and get my son into the car, not the maximum permitted by law. Why? Was my son lucky? Does Arlington have a different standard than Fairfax County, which has had tragic officer-involved deaths?

Watching these officers pack my violent, drunk, beloved son into the back of their squad car, I felt only gratitude. Gratitude for what they did, but also for they did not do. These officers showed self-control that I frankly would not have had in their situation. They showed my son a hard-edged kindness and a fundamental respect that his behavior in that moment did not merit.

We prove our professionalism not on our best days, but on our worst. What these Arlington police officers did was exceptional. As a father, I am grateful. And so is my son.

(Tomorrow– a different view on police practices.) 


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.