Recently there have been numerous calls for police reform throughout the country. We have seen controversial incidents from Ferguson, to Baltimore. In fact, these very examples have been a catalyst, forming the black lives matter movement, gaining massive media coverage. If you listen to these groups, you might think that we are living in a totalitarian state where police powers are unchecked, that we the police are little more than jack booted thugs. Well, I have yet to be issued any jack boots and it is really hampering my ability to be part of the regime. All kidding aside, this article will delve into the legitimate concerns on both sides, bringing some much need common sense to the conversation.
Is It as Bad as They Say?
That depends. It depends on where you live. It depends on your actions. I will say, I have personally seen videos where excessive force is used and it is completely uncalled for. I have also seen completely legitimate uses of force, where the public outcry was ridiculous (i.e if you reach in an officers car and hit him in the face after committing strong arm robbery you should expect to be shot).
Both citizens and police officers have been right, and both have been wrong. I think it is important for both sides to realize that each has legitimate concerns and each is fallible.
The easiest way to avoid confrontation is to comply with the officer’s demands on the street. Even if they are wrong, you should comply. The initial charge is but one step in the criminal justice process. On the street, you comply, and in the court you argue.
I have yet to see a respectful person become the victim of excessive force and honestly, you should just treat people like you want to be treated. I have told this to people who are yelling and cursing at me on the street. Would you act this way towards any other stranger, then why act like this with me?
Bias in Policing
Previously, I thought that many people, black lives matter protestors included, were completely misguided; that there is no racial bias in policing. This is not true. All people have some type of bias, whether for good or ill. Don’t believe me? What do you think of when you see this photo?
For those Rocky Fans, he might look familiar. Dumb jock, right? Maybe does some type of modeling? Well, that happens to be Dolph Lundgren, film and TV star, who happens to have a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering from MIT and a genius IQ of 160. I guess your initial impressions weren’t accurate, huh? Guess what, police make that mistake too, but the good ones acknowledge that their initial impressions could be incorrect and make decisions based off of the facts and circumstances facing them.
I will give you another example where nearly everyone one is biased, in this case for a group of people, the elderly. Its true the elderly don’t commit much crime as a whole, but they drive just as poorly as any. I remember vividly, pulling over a vehicle with out-of-state tags when I was a new officer.
As I greeted the driver, I discovered she was a grandmother who, according to her, was looking for a nearby Target and was lost. She said she didn’t see the large no u-turn sign, where she illegally turned. I happened to glance in her back seat and saw a few bags, thinking nothing of it, I informed her why I stopped her and gathered her documents. I ended up writing her a warning and pointed her in the direction of the Target.
Wouldn’t you know it, when I watched her pull away she went the opposite way I told her. Upon further thought, the bags I saw were Target shopping bags. She had just come from there, lied to my face, and got a warning because I didn’t want to write an old person a ticket.
On the surface, most folks think that the elderly deserve a break, after all, they’ve earned it, right? Well, arguably, they have the most experience driving, the most life experience, and they should know better. I will be honest, I still have the urge to let elderly people off easy, when objectively, I know treating a group of people differently is a from of bias. So remember, when you think the police are biased, you are too and sometimes, you think we should be biased.
I will give you one last example of bias, in this case, it’s the media who are biased. Every time a questionable use of force incident occurs, the media immediately points out the race of both the officer and the subject. They then point out the racial make up of the department, which oftentimes, is predominately white. I can’t tell you how much that galls me.
In effect, what they are saying is, because the officer was of a certain race, he was inherently biased towards others of different races. Newsflash, when you say that a person is a certain way because of how they look, you are a racist. Let that sink in for a second, media outlets. In fact, a recent study has shown that officers of color are more likely to use their service weapons than white officers. We, as a society, should look for the best candidates to become officers regardless of age, race, sexual orientation or whether they are team Edward or team Jacob.
Use of Force
Regardless of what the media would have you believe, police use of force incidents are very rare. Yes, we do hit people, yes, we restrain them, and yes, they do get pepper sprayed, tazed, or shot. No sane officer looks forward to these incidents as, oftentimes, both parties come away injured and they are always ugly to watch, regardless of the justification. I can tell you, from personal experience, that about 5% of my arrests have required some degree of physical force for me to take them into custody.
Most often, that is simply me pinning them against a wall to cuff them. That is not to say that I won’t, in the future, have to use a higher level of force, but I, and the vast majority of officers, pride ourselves on our de-escalation skills. I remember one officer, who worked in the same area I do, telling me, with pride, how he talked a guy into handcuffs when officers in the adjacent precinct had to wrestle with him every time they had contact with him. This is not an uncommon attitude. Don’t take my word for it. If you really want to see what a cop deals with, go on a ride along. Most departments allow this and I promise, you will learn something. Ok, so we know that the vast majority of cops do their best to de-escalate situations, but what about certain tactics they use, including the dreaded chokehold?
Most of the time, discussions about things like chokeholds are specious and are not even remotely related to the problem. In the Eric Garner case, a chokehold was used to control the subject and he subsequently died. This is unfortunate and a tragedy for his family. The chokehold did not kill Eric Garner. You cannot kill anyone with chokehold quickly, unless you hold it for 5 or 6 minutes, to deprive the brain of oxygen. He died as a result of sudden custody death syndrome. He resisted arrest and ended up fighting with several officers. Anyone who has ever been in a fight knows, this is incredibly taxing and even more so if you are in poor health.
Now, should the officers have rendered aid more quickly, yes, they should have. Should they have eased up when he said he couldn’t breath, sure once he was in cuffs. Mistakes were made on both sides, but this death was not caused by a chokehold.
In fact, the chokehold is a very good technique to gain compliance quickly. When properly applied, it cuts off the circulation to the head, causing someone to quickly pass out. I think most people would rather me put someone to sleep with a chokehold, than bludgeon them with a baton or taze them. It’s much more humane. It has been unfairly demonized by those who have never walked a beat, been in a fight or talked to someone who has. So, we know that not all is as it seems, but what types of reforms do citizens claim to want?
Recently, the Black Lives Matter folks have started a new campaign called, Campaign Zero. They laudably would like to reduce police homicides to zero. Here is an excerpt, detailing what they would like to accomplish, in this campaign
Activists from Black Lives Matter have launched an initiative called “Campaign Zero,” which seeks to bring down the number of people killed by police in the U.S. each year. The initiative includes ten proposals for reform that would help make that happen. Those are: 1) End Broken Windows Policing, 2) Community Oversight, 3) Limit Use of Force, 4) Independently Investigate & Prosecute, 5) Community Representation, 6) Body Cameras, 7) Training, 8) End for-profit policing, 9) Demilitarization, 10) Fair police union contracts.
Many of these issues are redundant or not practical, especially Broken Windows Policing. This method of policing revolves around enforcing minor crimes, vandalism, littering, public intoxication and drinking, with the idea that these everyday type of crimes increase the likelihood of larger crimes. Campaign zero would also like to decriminalize marijuana and public drinking laws, which they say target the poor.
This won’t work. You are effectively asking me to let someone vandalize someone else’s property and have me do nothing about it? Would you like it if a group of teenagers got drunk, on school property, and threw their bottles wherever they wanted? No community would put up with this and they shouldn’t have to.
Furthermore, if you do not like the current marijuana laws, then you should make your voice known to the legislature. I do not create the laws, I enforce them. I also don’t see public intoxication and marijuana charges disproportionately affecting the poor. It effects people who have weed on them. It effects people that are drunk in public. I can tell you one thing, I’ve never arrested someone for these charges when they did not commit the crime. You might start to notice a theme here.
One area I, and the campaign zero folks, do agree on is more transparency with the complaints process and body cameras. These two things will help bring trust between police officers and citizens, especially in areas where it seems to have been lost.
Honestly, I will tell you what will happen with body cameras. Defense attorneys will move to suppress them, every chance they get. They won’t want the judge, or the jury, to see what their client did and how they acted during the incident. It’s going to be very hard for them to claim innocence, with video evidence showing otherwise.
If you are serious, and you want to reduce the amount of homicides, involving police and citizens, you would do more to develop the predominately poor areas where these people live. Many of these people live in terrible conditions and have poor access to vital resources, such as health care and education.
One of the most eye opening aspects of police work is seeing how some people really live. Most folks assume that others live more or less how they do. They might have more money or less, but that just means their car is a little older, right? Wrong.
There are some areas in my patrol district where there are no legal citizens. Almost all have immigrated from central america. They live in a roughly 1 mile square ghetto, where you will not see a white face, nor hear an english word spoken. I say all this, to point out, that their living conditions are horrendous, not to make comments on immigration laws.
Due to their illegal status, many of them work menial labor jobs, making less than the mandated minimum wage. They are also less likely to report crimes when they don’t speak the language, and have a fear of being deported, every time they come into contact with the police. I remember investigating a stabbing on Christmas morning, walking door to door in an apartment building. Only about every third person would speak to me, yes, I was speaking in spanish, and mostly they stated that they had no idea what was going on, even though they were all home during the gang fight that occurred right out side their window, culminating in life threatening injuries to their neighbor.
These folks need a chance to live a life in the light. They need legal status, whether that be a work permit or citizenship, as the current situation is a breeding ground for gangs like MS-13, who prey upon the undocumented populations’ fear of law enforcement.
They also need to be integrated into American society. I personally, don’t care what language they wish to speak, or what cultural practices they participate in, but they must learn english so they will have access to resources and opportunities. I know people in this particular ghetto, who have lived here for 10 years, in the US, and do not speak any english. How likely are they to receive a good education? How likely are they to learn a new trade, so they might earn a better living? The answer is, not very, if you can’t speak the language.
This article might have seemed long, but as they say, it was as long as it needed to be. I hope that I’ve shown that both citizens and police officers have been misunderstood, and both have to make efforts to change their current practices. The police have a duty to use violence, only when it is unavoidable, which is what currently happens in the vast majority of cases. Citizens have the right to examine the circumstances, and file complaints, if they feel that they have been wronged. Real reform will start with allowing the poorest citizens and immigrants better access to society and resources. Both sides need to keep in mind that these groups are not made of rank and file members. They are people just like anyone else, and are subject to the same laws and hopefully, eventually, the same rights as all citizens.