Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good cop....bad cop

 Good cop

Bad cop

Over the past several days the news, the social media, and water cooler conversation everywhere has been all about the shooting and subsequent grand jury no-bill of the police officer involved in Ferguson, MO.  

As if the incident itself wasn't troubling enough, now I'm taken back by the almost universal opinion, presented as fact, that the cops are always wrong and the victims, especially if they are of color, are always innocent.  All this before ANY evidence has been presented, and this from people I know to be highly intelligent, people who should know better than to speak before knowing the facts.  Of course there are some out-of-control police officers, just as there are kids who sometimes make bad decisions.  But without knowing the facts, it's impossible to tell which is which.  Decisions this important should be made on a case-by-case basis.

I know this because for 18 years I served as a Civil Service Commissioner (a non-paid volunteer position) in my city.  We oversaw the hiring, firing, discipline, and promotion of firefighters and police officers.  I was recommended by some firefighters I knew, who knew me to be fair and open minded, not capable of being bullied by anyone.  

Over the years we (there were 3 commissioners) backed up some decisions of our fire/police chiefs against errant firefighters/police officers, and other times we decided against the chiefs.  We called 'em as we saw 'em.  

For the record, I'm white, one was a hispanic male, and one was a black female, and I can honestly say our fairness was universally considered beyond reproach.  We represented the CITIZENS of our city, not the city administration, and not the police officers/fire fighters associations.

I took both the Citizens Police and Fire Academies, each a 15 week course where we were given insight into every facet of department operations.  Regarding the police, we had classroom time learning about state laws, Miranda rules, chain of evidence rules, rules governing search and seizure, court decisions, the proper use of escalating levels of force, and more.  We learned about patrol, traffic, narcotics, investigation, SWAT, K-9, forensics, etc.  

We drove pursuit cars and fired guns on their range.  We did role playing where we answered imaginary calls and had to deal with yelling/screaming spouses, parents and their out-of-control kids, etc.  We had to calm everyone down, then reason with them and get them to "kiss and make up".  We were just as often psychologists as crime stoppers.  The job involves a lot of stress and requires a lot of thinking on your feet.

We were taught to always look at a persons hands, not just blindly into their eyes.  Eyes won't hurt you, hands and what they're holding will.  I once went out on a "ride along" on an overnight Friday shift, on a payday, with a full moon no less.  It was crazy.  We...OK, the cop...caught a kid stripping a car of electronics.  As we pulled in behind him the kid reached abruptly into the back seat for....what?  The cop jumped out and unholstered his firearm, and the kid gave up.  Turned out the kid was just hiding something behind the back seat, not getting a gun, but the cop had to err on the side of caution.  (And yes, I was shown the "unlock" button on the console that freed the shotgun in case it all hit the fan.)

Once our city had an officer kill a minority youth when he was charged by the kid who was wielding a large knife.  There was an immediate outcry from the community....not on the level of the unrest in Ferguson, thank goodness....that was finally quieted a few days later when dash-cam video of the entire incident was shown publicly.  It showed conclusively it was a sad but proper response considering the life threatening situation the officer was confronted with when he arrived on scene.  Thank God that video existed, for without it who knows how explosive our city could have become.  The cop wasn't out of control, and the kid was definitely in the wrong.

I've also seen instances where there were complaints from citizens against officers for offers of leniency in exchange for sex, cops roughing up kids, cops wanting a payoff for letting someone go after being caught with hard drugs, etc.  To his credit our chief came down hard, indefinitely suspending (firing) the bad cops, and we upheld his decisions.  And once one city fires them no other city would dare touch them....they're tainted forever.  I've seen...we've all seen...videos where cops drag a grandma out her car window when she didn't unbuckle her belt fast enough.  Inexcusable!  Brutal!  Bad cops exist, for sure, and must be rooted out.

I know I'm rambling, but I do have a point here.  The job cops do is dangerous.  It can be scary.  It can be mundane one second, and life threatening seconds later.  Would you want to walk through a high crime area alone, after dark, looking for someone who just knocked off a 7-11?  I wouldn't, but we expect our cops to do it every day.  They sometimes have to make split-second decisions that can mean life or death...to someone.  As I've tried to show, they aren't all bad, and they aren't all good.  

It is unfair of us to listen to hearsay rumors and make a decision on guilt or innocence.  I would hope we would be smarter than that.  ONLY evidence presented under oath should be viewed credibly.  In the case of Ferguson, MO, buildings were burning before anyone knew what evidence the grand jury had heard.  That just wasn't right.  For myself, I still haven't heard most of the facts that were presented to the grand jury, so I will continue to withhold my opinion until I do.

One good thing that might come out of this tragedy is (I hope) a law mandating all cops have body cameras on them when they answer calls.  That should offer invaluable, hopefully even conclusive evidence of who did what.  That seems like a win-win for both the public and the police.  But in the meantime, please THINK before you pass judgement.

Knee-jerk reactions are dumb.

S


12 comments:

  1. Body cameras would protect the police from false charges, and also protect citizens from police abuse of power.

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  2. Like you I think the body cameras would be a win/win for everyone, police officers need all the help they can get especially now to prove they handled their jobs correctly, and for those bad cops the body cameras would help weed them out a little quicker.

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  3. In addition to body cameras, there needs to be more training on the use of deadly force. As more police departments continue towards a military style enforcement and demeanor the excesses will continue. The use of deadly force should be the last alternative.

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    1. Google "force continuum". That's the policy that allows police to use one level higher force than what is presented to them. Deadly force should only be used if an officer feels his life is threatened. In other words, you can't shoot someone for throwing a rock. A thrown punch might be countered with a baton, a knife attack with a gun, etc. The trick is for the officers to remember their training and not panic when they face violence.

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  4. I blame the media for this Ferguson fiasco, that and a chronic lack of leadership in the police department, city government and black community. Why aren't there more blacks on this police force or on the city council? Is it because blacks don't want to be involved? This is the result of what happens when the police don't reflect their constituents. Aside from this, I agree with everything you say. Take care and Happy Thanksgiving.

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    1. Proportional representation is easier said than done. Want to hire 50 black police officers this year? Good luck! Finding candidates that can pass background checks and the required training syllabus is hard, regardless of the race of the applicant.

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  5. I agree on the body cameras. It will save a lot of trouble and questions down the road.

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  6. One question I haven't seen is, which has no borders, why officer's seem to shoot to kill? Are they trained to do so? One couldn't shoot an arm or leg? And I agree with the camera's, although the facts were presented in Ferguson.One would think that would be the end of it.However, I caught a glimpse of the said officer's tv interview where he said, the boy mocked his bravery, leaving a TV viewer to believe he was goated to shoot the boy.Its all so complicated, like a stewing pot of trouble, no matter.

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    1. I have heard directly from officers involved in shootings that careful, reasoned shooting range etiquette goes out the window when you feel your life is in danger. You don't have the luxury of getting your stance just right, controlling your breathing, taking careful aim at, say, an arm or leg, and firing a shot. Then waiting to see if it was an effective shot, and if not, firing another. Adrenaline starts pumping through you, and you just "point and shoot". You are trained to shoot for the biggest body mass, the chest...anywhere from the neck to the waist. It is a large enough target that you are more likely to get a hit, and it will likely be something critical enough that it will "put the bad guy down". It isn't really a "kill" shot, but likely to make him/her stop his/her attack. Regarding the Ferguson facts, they weren't presented until AFTER the grand jury made their decision public. And of course the rioters were at the starting gate, ready to riot before any facts were released. In their mind they already knew all they WANTED to know. They didn't take time to learn what evidence was presented.

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  7. I have just downloaded iStripper, and now I enjoy having the sexiest virtual strippers on my desktop.

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