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Would U.S. De-Escalation Standards Stop Cases Like AR Police Beating?



For about 30 seconds, a bystander recorded a video as three officers punch, strike and knee a man while struggling to arrest him outside an Arkansas convenience store. The video ends after one of the officers looks up at the camera, points a finger and appears to tell the person to stop filming.


Is the incident a clear example of excessive force?

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What led up to that encounter is unclear, and how the officers were trained to restrain suspects will be key as federal, state and local agencies investigate, law enforcement experts tell USA Today.


"We only see a very, very brief snippet of what the officers did, which doesn't look good, but there may be a justification for it," said Geoff Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina.


Alpert said if a suspect is reaching for a weapon, use of force would be reasonable. As soon as a suspect is under control, Alpert said force is no longer justified, even if an officer is injured.


He questioned what kind of threat the suspect posed. "With three officers and so many other opportunities, the strike to the head just doesn't seem justified based on what the video shows," he said.


The situation unfolded Sunday when police were called to a report of a man making threats against a convenience store clerk in Alma, Ar. The suspect, Randal Worcester, then rode a bike 11 miles to Mulberry, where he encountered Crawford County sheriff's deputies Zack King and Levi White and Mulberry police officer Thell Riddle.


"When you see videos like this it just reminds you how much work we have to do," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. "One of the things that we advocate is that departments do have training on de-escalation." He said the officers used "what appears to be excessive force... here's no training that I'm aware of that would have someone smashing someone's head into the ground."


Experts say national standards for de-escalation training could help reduce future use-of-force incidents.

Officers undergo 24 mandatory hours of training on their duty to intervene, said J.R. Hankins of the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training.


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the officers' conduct "reprehensible" and "not the proper response." "That response was not consistent with the training that they receive," he said.


Even when officers follow it correctly, police training has been criticized for creating a culture that encourages officers to fear for their lives in every interaction leading them to react with immediate violence to protect themselves. That culture compounded with racial bias can have deadly consequences.

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