Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

Police must control their fear, says former Seattle Police Chief

Flickr Photo/scottlum (CC BY-NC 2.0)/
Flickr Photo/scottlum (CC BY-NC 2.0)/
Protest in downtown Seattle protesting police brutality against Blacks in Ferguson and in the Eric Garner shooting on January 10, 2015.

Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott. 

"These are all shootings that could've been prevented," said Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department.

"I think most of those mistakes are the result of fear," he said, speaking on KUOW's The Record.

"We don't acknowledge fear very much in police work, but it's a reality, and we need to do a much better job I think of conditioning officers to deal with their own fears." 

Stamper served as chief between 1994 and 2000; he was a police officer for a total of 34 years.

He said his biggest mistake while in uniform was authorizing the use of tear gas against non-violent and non-threatening protestors during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.

"I abused the very people I had been hired to protect and serve," he said.

In his retirement, Stamper has spent much of his time opening himself up, listening to criticism, ruminating and writing about ways in which police officers can improve their police work.

His latest book, "To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police," comes at a time when reform is critical. He believes that the lack of de-escalation skills are at the center of the problem. Officers need to slow down, speak calmly, exhibit maturity and confidence. 

"And yet we see time and time again, in these controversial videos, police officers who are quickly resorting to lethal force," he said. "Police officers who are screaming at the top of their lungs and basically exhibiting fear."

"Why would we not be emphasizing de-escalation skills to help reduce fear, to help reduce anger, to help reduce tension in the moment?" 

Stamper said fear is often unacknowledged in police work, but it's a reality that needs to be addressed. He believes that fewer cases of police misconduct would occur if police officers were better conditioned to deal with their own fears.

The bottom line, he said: "Police officers simply need to be in control of their own emotions." 

Produced for the Web by Brie Ripley.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012