• Vex

The Killing of Daunte Wright and the Failings of Police Selection and Training

Daunte Wright was killed on April 11th when a police officer, Kim Potter, ostensibly mistook her firearm for her taser and shot Wright once before exclaiming “Oh sh*t, I just shot him” as heard on her body camera. Before firing, Wright had called out “Taser taser taser!” as many officers do to alert nearby officers to a taser deployment so they can get clear. Unfortunately Wright had not deployed her taser, but was instead holding her Glock model sidearm.

Many have taken to Twitter to vociferously criticize the officer’s apparent mistaking of her firearm for her taser. A particularly popular point that was brought up was the weight differential between a loaded full-size Glock handgun and the typical tasers employed by police in the U.S., with the Glock being notably heavier than the taser. Others pointed out that Officer Potter’s taser was on her weak side – her left hand side – while her firearm was on her right, two very different locations. These details have fueled a round of skepticism over the claim that Potter mistook her firearm for her taser, with some believing that this claim is little more than a convenient excuse for a potentially intentional act.

In my opinion, given what I saw in the body camera footage and what I know of police training, I do not believe that Officer Potter intentionally discharged her firearm. What I believe is that Officer Potter had no business operating in a high stress situation and lacked an appropriate amount of training to compensate for her inability to remain composed under stress, and that this training deficiency also contributed to her deficient knowledge of, and familiarity with, her own equipment. If the act of shooting Wright instead of tasing him was intentional as some believe, Officer Potter would have had to consider this and plan out her pre and post shooting verbalizations and actions in advance, which I do not believe she did.

What I do believe happened was that an individual not suited for the stress and intensity of such law enforcement work was allowed to possess lethal weapons while on the job and was not given adequate training in use of force nor adequate training to overcome the effects of adrenaline, the fight-or-flight response, and the tunnel vision many experience in such circumstances. This is not a failure of the equipment or even a direct failure of Officer Potter – this is another example of an endemic issue within American law enforcement, particularly city and state police forces. Contrary to what some believe police training regimens are often sub-par. Firearm qualifications too often take place with only a few shots fired from a static position at a static target, and officers often do not train at all with their firearms outside of qualification.

To put it bluntly, many “training” regimens for police officers in the U.S. can hardly be called training. They simply do not receive regular and thorough instruction in weapons handling, force continuums, and most importantly of all the training needed to compose yourself and retain conscious control of your actions under stress. There is a reason that military units, from the common Army infantryman to a MARSOC operator or Navy SEAL, undergo high intensity stress training. It is done to inoculate these individuals from the natural effects of extreme stress. You induce a sense of duress in a controlled environment so the trainee learns how their mind naturally reacts to such situations, and can then temper their reaction so that they retain control over themselves without their actions devolving into primal fight-or-flight reactions and all the loss of composure and motor control that comes with them.

It seems apparent that Officer Potter was the subject of such a loss of composure under duress – she used her dominant hand to reach for her dominant side where one of her firearm shaped pieces of equipment (a piece of equipment she was surely told to reach for in such situations) was located. I would assume that at that point her ability to easily distinguish her firearm from her taser had been significantly diminished due to the likely effects of tunnel vision and mild panic. She was most likely relying on simple gross motor skills at that point. On top of all that, I cannot discount the possibility of failure within the broader law enforcement recruitment system allowing for Potter to be in this position in the first place. There are certainly individuals who are not suitable for this type of work and should be weeded out by the selection process. This is done with a reasonably high degree of efficiency in the military recruitment systems of most Western nations, and there is no reason it cannot be done in law enforcement to keep people who cannot be trained to adequately handle heightened stress and emotional responses out of the line of duty.

Additionally, while some are incredulous about the idea that one could mistake their firearm for a taser, I find no reason for such incredulity. Between the aforementioned issues with training and officer selection there is also the simple fact that such instances of mistaking a firearm for a taser have occurred before. Indeed, there are multiple documented instances of officers discharging their firearm after having apparently mistaken it for a taser. Some of these cases resulted in criminal convictions and prison time for the officers, while others have not.

Regardless, my opinion of the matter, given what I know, is that Officer Potter made an extreme error in discharging her sidearm instead of taser and that poor officer training and selection practices likely contributed to this event. While Potter is ultimately responsible for her mistake, we cannot ignore endemic issues with the quality of police training and the flaws of the officer selection process that allow for these events in the first place. If we want change to occur, the system at large must be examined and refined.

- Vex