William J. Lewinski, a psychologist who has studied police shootings, held a training session at the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs in Monterey Park, Calif., last month. Credit Michal Czerwonka for The New York Times
For years, to any observer of police brutality, the idea that officers were shooting people first and asking questions later was a foregone conclusion. Such a practice, while blatantly obvious, seemed too unethical, too harsh for police to ever admit.
Well, here it is. All of the proof we ever needed. Not only are American police, from coast to coast, shooting first and asking questions later, they are being trained to do so in seminars by a psychologist who openly promises them that he’ll testify on their behalf if anything ever goes wrong. He’s already done it nearly 200 times.
Meet Dr. William J. Lewinski.
No matter what the circumstances are in a police shooting, he’s the guy departments lean on to say it was completely justified and unavoidable.
His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.
It’s actually big business. A quick scan of Dr. Lewinski’s website has him teaching large workshops in Chicago, San Antonio, Orlando, and in other big cities across the country. Can’t make it to his conferences, don’t worry, he’ll come to your department, and offer your officers a certificate on how they are basically allowed to shoot first and ask questions later. He charges $1,000 an hour for his testimony and is, unsurprisingly, willing to testify for hours on end.
Hell, his whole company is named Force Science Institute—as in the use of force by police. This business is so lucrative that it’s all he does. Experts are denouncing his work as phony and dangerous, but police departments could not care less.
An editor for The American Journal of Psychology called his work “pseudoscience.” The Justice Department denounced his findings as “lacking in both foundation and reliability.” Civil rights lawyers say he is selling dangerous ideas.“People die because of this stuff,” said John Burton, a California lawyer who specializes in police misconduct cases. “When they give these cops a pass, it just ripples through the system.”
This is why we say “Black Lives Matter.”
Dr. Lewinski is basically training police to shoot before making a full assessment of the true threat. Because of this philosophy, it leans on the implicit bias within each and every officer. It’s why officers in New York fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo when he was pulling out his wallet. It’s why Officer Dante Servin blew Rekia Boyd’s head off when he saw her boyfriend pull out a cell phone.
It’s why police officers killed 123 people in July, a high for 2015.
It’s despicable and the more it happens, the richer Dr. Lewinski gets. I had always suspected some type of profit motive was behind the wholesale killing of Americans by police. Now we don’t need to speculate. After all, it’s the job for the Force Science Institute to keep this practice growing.