MAPLE Delivers First Use of Force/Threshold Inquiry Symposium
Fitchburg State University police academy cadets and criminal justice students attended MAPLE’s first public symposium last Friday, held at the McKay Building at Fitchburg State University. Approximately 50 students attended, average age of the audience was about 19- 20 years old. The diverse audience had the opportunity to listen to and interact with individuals representing over a century of police experience. In welcoming the students President Galvin told them that they were going to hear from a perspective that has often been left out of the public discussion, that of the police officer.
Former Mass State Police firearms instructor Lt Mike Conti (retired), opened the program and expounded upon the psycho-physiological reactions that occur in a human being during a life or death situation. In his animated explanation of the human nervous system, Mike Conti captured the crowd’s imagination by his uncanny ability to reduce millions of years of human brain evolution to just a few very memorable concepts. Mike Conti, a pioneer in interactive firearms training, explained how involuntary physical reactions can occur in people, who perceive threat stimuli in their environment. He noted that without proper training these can lead to tragic results. He emphasized the importance of simulated interactive training for shaping proper responses. He capped his presentation with a live demonstration utilizing a member of the audience and two mock firearms. He used the demonstration to vividly portray the split second decision making required by a police officer in a motor vehicle stop, facing a life or death encounter.
Former Mass State Police Lieutenant Al Puller (retired) used his expertise as a working road trooper, line supervisor and attorney to challenge the audience further by discussing the dynamics of street stops under fourth amendment restraint. Capitalizing on the demonstration by Mike Conti, Al went on to discuss implicit bias and procedural justice issues involved in making stops. He outlined the meaning of probable cause, the core concept of the fourth amendment, and he explained how over the past two hundred years exceptions were made by the courts to accommodate the exigencies presented by policing a modern society, case in point, Terry vs Ohio. Drawing upon his own personal experiences, he told the students that the reasonable suspicion standard had often been abused, and in far too many cases African Americans were inordinately victimized by that abuse. He emphasized society’s responsibility to ensure disciplined and ethical policing, which he said was the reason he joined MAPLE. He ended his presentation by stating that “everyone, black or white, wants good policing, but they want it done right.”
A panel discussion capped the program in which students were invited to ask questions and offer comments. The panel consisted of Al Puller, Mike Conti, Marcel Beausoleil and Dennis Galvin. The most extended discussion occurred over the issue of police education. One student asked the panel if they thought education was worthwhile for police officers. There was a unanimous agreement by the panel that it was necessary. President Galvin told the student that “everything that you do, from the term papers that your write, to the history, psychology and law that you learn, will significantly help you understand the issues that you will be required to deal with.”
Special thanks to member Ralph Mroz, who drove out from Greenfield to attend and watch the symposium, and to member Marcel Beasoleil for arranging the seminar. This presentation met a long standing objective of MAPLE, which is to engage the public in order to provide them with a better understand of the role of police in society. The MAPLE symposium team is ready and willing to go anywhere to do it again.