Dahl says police reform starts with de-escalating habits of violence

Chattanooga activist — and now mayoral candidate — Chris Dahl addresses city council. (Photo David Tulis)

Chattanooga mayor candidate Chris Dahl feels likes it’s not only time for Judicial reform. But it’s also time for the police department to have a strategic plan to restructure into a new type of department that works better with and for the community.

[The following position paper looks closely at the prospect of police department reform in Chattanooga. It is published as a public document by Chris Dahl, an independent candidate for mayor and libertarian activist. — DJT]

The Narrative from the public is that the police need more training. And the Chattanooga police department constantly goes through training. For, in September they have a street crime training course. The Issue Dahl has raised numerous times to the city council is that training and policy seemingly are ignored. Dahl feels the department should look to abide by the Peelian principles. 

Less warlike approach by police

Mr. Dahl feels like it’s time for the CPD to have a de-escalation non-lethal approach to responding to most crimes especially mental health calls. Dahl also hopes to see community precincts placed within the community. These precincts would rent space from the community or rec centers. Dahl also feels like it’s time that policy and training are maintained to keep a safe and productive department.

He feels like it is time to bring the department up to date technology-wise to allow for a more open to the public department. He would also like to see the police create a Citizen Advisory Boards and also a Civilian Oversight Board. Dahl hopes to see that a policy to de-escalate is added to the department’s policy and is upheld to the highest standards of integrity.


The Use of force, including less-lethal weaponry, is not new to policing, and in any use-of-force incident, injury is a possibility. Researchers have estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of arrests involve the use of force. A group of researchers led by Geoffrey P. Alpert, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, recently completed an NIJ-funded study of injuries to officers and civilians during use-of-force events. Injury rates to civilians ranged from 17 to 64 percent (depending on the agency reporting) in use-of-force events, while injury rates to officers ranged from 10 to 20 percent. Most injuries involved minor bruises, cuts, and abrasions. Major injuries included dog bites, punctures, broken bones, internal, and gunshot wounds. Some of the Injuries that happen to suspects can result in Lawsuits and further action is taken. 

Advances in less-lethal technology offer the promise of more effective control over resistive suspects with fewer serious injuries. Pepper spray was among the first of these newer, less-lethal weapons to achieve widespread adoption by police forces. More recently, conducted energy devices (CEDs), such as the Taser, have become popular.

Using electrical shocks on members of public

The researchers conducted a combined analysis of use-of-force data from 12 large local law enforcement agencies (including Miami-Dade, Seattle, and Richland County). The large sample, representing more than 24,000 use-of-force incidents, allowed the researchers to use statistical techniques to determine which variables were likely to affect injury rates.

The use of physical force (e.g., hands, fists, feet) by officers increased the odds of injury to officers and suspects alike. However, pepper spray and Controlled Electronic Device (CED) use decreased the likelihood of suspect injury by 65 and 70 percent, respectively. Officer injuries were unaffected by CED use, while the odds of officer injury increased about 21 percent with pepper spray use.

In 22 cases, researchers interviewed both the officers and the suspects involved in an incident. Suspects often told a different story than the officer who arrested them. In almost all cases, suspects said officers used excessive force and that they were not resisting. Some suspects said officers used Tasers early in the interaction, and several said the officers seemed to enjoy watching them endure the pain. Some suspects said officers kneed them in the back and kicked or punched them after they were in handcuffs. Some also said officers used Tasers on them after they were handcuffed.

Better control over taser use

CED use is widespread and often controversial. Based on their findings, the researchers involved in this study made recommendations about whether and how CED’s should fit into the range of less-lethal force alternatives available to law enforcement officers. Most law enforcement agencies instruct officers in CED’s and have policy guides for officers regarding appropriate responses to an escalation of activities in an encounter with a civilian. “The use-of-force continuum” is a phrase to describe this kind of guide. The continuum of a particular agency may cover a full spectrum of actions from no-force and de-escalation, in which having officers present is enough to defuse the situation or deter crime, to lethal force, in which officers use deadly weapons. If injury reduction is the primary goal, however, agencies that deploy pepper spray and CED’s are clearly at an advantage. Both weapons prevent or minimize the physical struggles that are likely to injure officers and suspects alike. 

Although, CED’s can be used inappropriately. Law enforcement executives can manage this problem with strong policies, training, monitoring, and accountability systems that provide clear guidance (and consequences) to officers regarding when and under what circumstances CED’s should and should not be used.

Besides setting the resistance threshold appropriately (that is, determining the level of suspect resistance at which officers should be allowed to use CEDs), good policies and training would require that officers evaluate the age, size, sex, apparent physical capabilities, and health concerns of a suspect.

In addition, policies and training should prohibit CED use in the presence of flammable liquids or in circumstances where falling would pose unreasonable risks to the suspect (e.g., in elevated areas, adjacent to traffic, etc.). Policies and training should address CED’s used on suspects who are controlled (e.g., handcuffed or otherwise restrained) and should either prohibit such use outright or limit it to clearly defined aggravated circumstances.


In addition to the possibility of CED’s being used in too many cases (i.e., inappropriately in instances of low-level resistance), there are also concerns about CED’s being used too many times in a single case. Deaths associated with CED use often involve multiple CED activations (more than one CED at a time) or multiple five-second cycles from a single CED.

CED policies should require officers to assess continued resistance after each standard cycle and should limit use to no more than three standard cycles. Following CED’s deployment, the suspect should be carefully observed for signs of distress and should be medically evaluated at the earliest opportunity. 


The Use of a Non-lethal approach should consider utilizing not only the aid of interested civilians but also other items such as  Ballistic shields, new technologies, and also utilizing police discretion. All of these changes would require additional training and policy updates. And that a de-escalating non-lethal approach should be the first response as much as possible. Which should be based on the organization “International Association of Chiefs of Police” National Consensus Policy on Use of Force. Which if reviewed promotes de-escalation first. 

The thought of using police discretion and its utilization can ultimately change the relationship the police department has with the community. Dahl feels that Chattanooga’s police department’s policy on police discretion is vague. The CPD should look to clearly define “Police Discretion” And to adopt a new policy based on what has been put out by the National Institute for Justice and Police Dynamics training course.

Officer discretion is a powerful, basic tool in policing.  Removing officer discretion by creating “must arrest” offenses would result in too many unnecessary arrests while creating “can’t arrest” offenses would result in people ignoring the existing laws. The basic rule is to let the nature of the offense determine the range of options and let the character of the offender determine which option you choose.

Slaying of the mentally ill?

To address Mental health issues Dahl would like to see more crisis intervention training along with policy changes and social workers to address the situation without causing harm. Studies have shown that people with mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by officers than other suspects. Dahl wants people to understand that there is a broad range of situations in which police encounter people with mental illnesses.

These encounters may involve domestic disturbances that occur in a private home, mental health crises, reports of victimization, street stops for identification check, response to significant criminal behavior, or public disturbances/disorderly conduct. With effective programs and training, it can help officers de-escalate situations and get people the help they need. It would also aid in Judicial reform. The department needs to strive to build a better relationship with people who have mental illnesses. So not only that part of the community is looked after but if something was to happen they would not be fearful of help. 

Precincts in rec centers

Mr. Dahl would like to see small police precincts placed at community or rec centers. This would allow the police to not only take a new approach to police the community but to be able to work with the community as well. It could also strengthen the CPD’s Youth Programs.  And in the long run, it could save on gas costs. The police could use bikes or walk around the community. This would also allow the police department to invest funding into the community. 

The officer’s role would change to a more Peace officer base. Part of their duties would include reporting potholes, sewer issues, broken sidewalks, and other issues in the community. They would be able to aid the community members in strategic approaches to issues in the community. It could also allow community members to aid in policing their community as well. Although this seems all feasible Mr. Dahl would like to have a cost-benefit analysis to make sure the burden to the taxpayer isn’t substantial. 

The police department has a need to update technology. With a city that population is growing and housing that is getting closer together. The need for a technology-based approach is needed. This would include the police to have a website that is not tied to the City of Chattanooga’s. A website that has the department’s policy posted for the public to see.


A website where real-time data is kept up to date. A better-made application that can allow officers and the public to give feedback and real-time reporting of crimes and issues. Because real-time input whether it is good or bad can help a Department move forward. Dahl would like to see the policy changed pertaining to video camera audits where they are more routinely performed. Dahl would like to see the police department make efforts to stay updated with technology.  

Mr. Dahl would like to see the Police department work with the Chattanooga Fire department to create a  commission style board that meets once a month to address issues in their departments and allow for public input. This would be in conjunction with a citizen Advisory board and Citizen oversight board. 

A Citizen Advisory board can be defined as a group of individuals appointed for the purpose of examining a public issue or set of issues, who meet over an extended period and develop alternative solutions and new ideas through comprehensive interaction. Rather than being open to all members of the public, a citizen advisory board is restricted to a small number of individuals who are expected to represent the interests of the public. A board may be asked to conduct research, generate new ideas or solutions, or provide informed recommendations on public policies and practices. What a citizen advisory board should not be is a policy-making body; otherwise, the ability of the police executive to do his or her job will be compromised.

In May of 2019, the city voted to create a citizen oversight board. Citizen oversight should involve a city agency independent of the law enforcement agency with responsibility for reviewing either citizen complaints against officers, or the policies and practices of the agency, or both. There are two basic forms of a citizen oversight board. One where the Citizen review board is responsible for reviewing citizen complaints against officers. Only a few review boards, however, have the authority to conduct their own independent investigations of complaints.


The other style of review board reviews the investigations conducted by the police department’s internal affairs units. Our city will have to carefully assess the needs of the community and the cost-benefits of the oversight program they adopted. The key question is whether the oversight system is sufficiently independent–in terms of political, professional, and financial independence and authority—to do what is needed and what is asked of it. 

Mr. Dahl would like the public to understand that a large portion of the police department’s budget goes towards their pension funds. That their primary training officer Ronald Zirk also has a business to train others at 6212 Highway 58 called Zirkops. Dahl wants everyone to know that Changes will take a community effort. He would like to one day see marijuana become decriminalized, and other codes on the city’s charter gone over. Mr. Dahl Believes that department policies need to reflect the laws. It’s time for Chattanooga to become a city where everyone is proud to live, grow up, and old at. Dahl knows with your help we all can strive to make a better Chattanooga. 

The 9 principles of Robert Peel, father of policing

 Peelian Principle 1 – “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”

Peelian Principle 2 – “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”

Peelian Principle 3 – “Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”

Peelian Principle 4 – “The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”

Peelian Principle 5 – “Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”

Peelian Principle 6 – “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice, and warning is found to be insufficient.”

Peelian Principle 7 – “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

Peelian Principle 8 – “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”

Peelian Principle 9 – “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

The Tulis Report is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

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