Speaker covers police use of deadly force



Attorney Michael Piotrowoski gave a presentation to Allegheny students for the CPP’s Constitution Day event in Tippie Alumni Center. The presentation addressed the Constitutional limits of police deadly use of force, a subject which Piotrowski has experience speaking about all across Ohio.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Center for Political Participation hosted a presentation on the Constitutional limitations of police use of deadly force for Constitution Day, keeping with its plans to focus on topics of student interest. The presentation was led by Attorney Michael Piotrowski, general counsel to the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, who shared that the Fourth Amendment is the most commonly referred to amendment when dealing with cases of police use of deadly force.

CPP fellow Heather Bosau, ’17, believes that the topic of police use of deadly force is one that will engage many students.

“It’s something that’s still in the public’s consciousness,” she said.

Abigail Lombard, ’16, another CPP fellow, introduced Piotrowski. She agreed with Bosau that the topic would be one which students could engage.

“I think it’s going to be a good topic of conversation for the campus,” Lombard said.

According to Lombard, the CPP fellows this year are a mostly new faces since many graduated last year. She and Bosau are the only returners. With the new fellows, however, she believes their pool of interests has expanded.

“We’re using the new CPP as a catalyst for change,” she said.

The CPP’s first event of the year was a town hall meeting focusing on the growth of populism seen with presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. According to Bosau, the CPP hopes to have other relevant issues for topics that will engage with a variety of students, both within their usual crowd and beyond it.

“I think similar to the town hall meeting…we’re focusing on this issue that people are already interested in, so we’re going to build momentum off of that,” Bosau said.

The CPP originally sought out a different speaker who was unable to schedule an event with. That speaker recommended Piotrowski instead.

“I’m actually from the Cleveland area, so I’m excited to see what a representative from my area has to say,” Bosau said.

Piotrowski has done talks across Ohio on the topic of police use of deadly force specifically. He specializes in labor law and told Lombard he is currently focusing on representing police and fire employees in work-related cases and labor arbitration.

According to Bosau, Allegheny receives certain funding that requires a speaker or event to be hosted for Constitution Day.

“I think it’s important to get a well-rounded view, and the Constitution is key in that,” Lombard said.

For her part, she had hopes that the event would provide more police perspective to the conversation. Although she said she does not believe people should necessarily side with the police more when issues arise, she does believe their perspective is often overshadowed.

Piotrowski agreed that the conversation on police use of force can be misconstrued.

“A lot of times what I do becomes more political or media-driven than it should be,” Piotrowski said.

Piotrowski said he used to have issues with authority, but after working for the defense of police for 19 years, he has learned more about the training and procedures of police officers.

“Now I recognize that a lot of that is a failure to see how they’re [police] viewing the situation,” he said.

According to Piotrowski, municipal budgets that fund police training have grown smaller in recent years and departments have had to adjust for that. While police have undergone significant amounts of training, they undergo less tactical training than Piotrowski expected. However, the more training police do, the more it costs and the more people get hurt, which costs even more. With such small budgets, it is difficult for departments to do more than what they already do.

As well, Piotrowski said police do not carry handguns with enough accuracy to shoot a weapon out of a person’s hand or to shoot at legs, as they often struggle when they have to shoot at a person’s body.

He also said that police have been trained to be critical of themselves, and that he does not think many police would look at recent events and not think that something could have been done better.

Piotrowski showed those in attendance the chart police officers are meant to follow when dealing with another person, stating that police can always use one step of force above what the person they are dealing with uses. For example, if a person is using defensive resistance like pulling their hands away, the police officer is permitted to use intermediate weapons like tasers or batons.

Police are also taught that if a person is closer than 21 feet away, police may not have enough time to draw a weapon before they are charged, and a second said that if someone has a gun at their side, they can get a shot off on police before the police can fire, even when the police are already pointing their gun at the individual.

Being taught and trained to react according to these studies and protocols, Piotrowski said it is not surprising that they react with deadly force quickly in many situations. However, he also said that officer-involved shootings are down 54 percent since the 1970s.

For his presentation, Piotrowski wanted students to recognize that much of what he was sharing was based on his personal opinions.

“I’m not an elected official in the Ohio Fraternal Police Order,” he said. “My opinions are my own.”

The CPP’s next event will be on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, and will be a discussion on the refugee crisis in Europe. The event will be hosted in Grounds for Change from 12:15-1:15 p.m.