Disclaimer: This is written as a perspective, not official guidance on the law or police procedures. If you have questions on your laws and ordinances, seek professional guidance. This article, or my views, may not necessarily represent the opinions and thoughts of any agency that I (the author) am affiliated with. They are strictly my own. Any real-life scenario will have any information withheld that would be considered confidential or identifying information.
It’s long….I know. But if it perspective and truth you seek, it is worth a little bit of reading.
In the weeks since what happened in Ferguson, New York City, and here locally in Beavercreek, I’ve seen that police is a very polarizing issue. I’ve seen and heard lots of positive comments from people with my involvement with the “I Support the Beavercreek Police“, and from folks on Twitter and Facebook across the nation. However, I have seen some VERY negative comments, including personal attacks. I’ve been told I’m a “white supremacist, black lynching, hillbilly monster”, that I’m a murderer (because I support the officers in question) and that should just “rot in hell”.
So what is my take on some of the issues? For those of you who don’t know me, here is how I come to the following conclusions. I’ve been around public safety since 2008 and a Chaplain since 2012. I’ve spent over 550 hours in a police cruiser with police. I have been in situations that I thought I might have to use a weapon in defense, or almost hit by a passing car in traffic.
Complaint 1: “No one trusts the police” – Here is my “official” opinion. We can not cite low “trust” in police without taking a look at the broader picture, and this is what various police sources have been telling officers in the last few months (that I have seen) – people do not trust any form of government. The president has a low approval/trust rating. So does congress. So does state and local governments. And enforcement of the laws passed by these governments come down to one group of people. Most of us have seen the pictures from anti-police organizations with instance of abuse by police. (I’m not going to say that there are no bad cops, or that some do not follow procedure, or that none of them abuse their power.) However, for every one of those that I’ve seen I can produce at least twice as many of officers doing amazing things in their community. Buying meals, sports equipment, or furniture with their own money for people. Stories of officers adopting children of murder victims. I can also provide a list of names of the over 100 officers that die in the line of duty every year. And when you have cultures who wholesale teach (in word, deed or song) not only to not trust them but make heroes out of people who attack (physically or otherwise) then we have a huge problem. To clarify that statement, that is not a racial thing. There are places in the US (Eastern KY, Montana, etc) and groups like Sovereign Citizens who not only “don’t recognize” federal or state law enforcement, is cases like the Sovereign Citizens movement advocate the murder of Federal LEO’s.
Complaint 2: “Police don’t care about ‘public relations’ anymore” – No I’m not a strategy guy. I’ve never been to the academy. But very few departments have anyone dedicated to “public relations” because they are busy doing an increasingly harder job with increasingly few resources. There are some departments that I know that are so short-handed, that some officers work almost as much overtime as regular hours. So it’s rare that a department (especially local smaller ones) can afford to have an officer dedicated to the PR function. And some who do , they do it on their own time. They manage the department’s Facebook page at home. Some rural departments the officers do a 12 hour shift, and go home and repair their own cruiser. I’ve been in one.
Complaint 3: “The police is too militarized.” – We complain we cops get RE-ISSUED equipment from the military, but no one seems to care when they are driving Crown Vics that are 15 or 20 years old. No one complains that there are police vehicles that do not even have the basic internet connection to run plates or to see if the guys they stopped has a warrant or is dangerous. Don’t tell me they don’t exist because I have been in them. We complain that they have “scary guns” (hey I’ve handled an M4 and that would qualify if it’s coming at me) but no one seems to notice that some are using outdated weapons and in cases they are FAR out-gunned by the locals (good or bad) in the area. It’s called “parity of force”. The most common department cited is Ferguson. Keep this in mind: They rolled in with those AFTER they are assaulted with rocks, guns, bricks and Molotov cocktails. “So if you up the ante against me, it will come back and bite you, because I am going home tonight to my family.” As for body armor and Kevlar, it has saved the lives of countless officers, so as far as I am concerned, they can wear it all they want. When I was in a disaster area for almost a week (Tornado ravaged KY) all the KSP, and local officers were in camouflage and had weapons like the M4. And no one complained except a few people and those who were trying to loot. And why wear camo? Because it is more durable and functional in high stress or high use incidents.
The other thing to note is that police have had access to military surplus equipment for years. The twenties and thirties cops had bars, Johnson Rifles and Tommy Guns from military stock. Even Barney Fife had a Military Motorcycle and helmet. To close out this point, I’ll quote a law enforcement officer friend of mine on a recent attack in Texas: “So… ISIS is now taking responsibility for the Garland TX cartoon contest shooting. One in which responding officers stopped within 15 seconds of their arrival according to news reports. For all of you that are adamant that American police departments don’t need armored vehicles and high caliber weapons, we just stopped a terrorist attack on OUR SOIL. Your argument is invalid. Find something else to complain about.”
Complaint 4: “Police should NEVER shoot anyone with a toy gun” – “Killed because of a toy gun”. What people infer is that since we NOW KNOW that the gun was an Airsoft or BB or toy gun, the police did not have to shoot. While this statement is true, it is only true at face value. The each of the major cases, officers were not aware that the gun is the suspect’s possession was an Airsoft/BB/toy gun. Only after examined up close were they able to determine that fact. So based on the information they had, they thought someone was pointing/using an actual firearm. In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that the “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” inquiry is whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. Pp. 490 U. S. 396-397. In an initial statement following the tragic incident in Cleveland, a police spokesperson said, “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun. Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.” So the point here is that given the information they had, did they do what a “reasonable” officer would do in the situation. Is it reasonable to shoot someone who attempts to go to their waistband for a gun? I would say “Yes it is”. Is it reasonable to do it even when it is a child, even if it may be (or even looks fake)? I again would say it is. And while some would like to rush to judgment based on the facts as we know them now, the Graham v. Connor standard mandates that officers be judged on the information they have.
Complaint 5: “I should be able to film the police anytime I want.” – Some people (including anti-cop groups) are encouraging everyone to “record all contact with police.” On face value (and some of my LEO friends may disagree), I don’t see a problem with recording. When I think back on my experience, the overwhelming majority of that time would not reveal ANYTHING wrong, or improper. It would show that the overwhelming majority of that time the officers have been professional, dedicated, courteous, and accommodating (even to those who were placed under arrest). But it’s not the majority that these folks are after, and quite frankly I don’t think that they care. I’ll give you a personal example.
Scenario: I am with a police department who gets a call for a missing child. We catch the suspect who is extremely uncooperative with officers. He admits to maybe knowing where the child is located, but is belligerent to anyone talking to him.
So , had this entire thing been recorded, what would they have seen? Was the suspect handled rough? Was he treated graciously? In the real life case he was treated kind, far better than I think he deserved. But it could just as easily go the other way. If the officer didn’t guide his head properly and he hit his head on the door, you become an internet sensation. “Officer XYZ when talking to this helpless teen, bashed his head on the side of the car. #StopAbusiveCops.” What if it was very hot or cold and you left him outside so you could talk to him and not break your neck trying to turn around in the cramped car? “Officer XYZ leaves defenseless young man in the hot sun for hours while questioning him. #StopPoliceBrutality” See a problem there? Out of an hour or so incident, someone took 5 seconds to “prove” their own agenda that all cops are bad, and that police brutality is intolerable. Then we all get to see that picture on the internet a thousand times. And does that cop have any recourse? Can he stop the flow of misinformation? And taken out of it’s context, you have “proof” of brutality that doesn’t really exist when it’s viewed in context. I know some of you are saying “That doesn’t happen” or “You are minimizing the significance of the proof”. I’m not saying that every cop is perfect, that brutality doesn’t exist, or that there are no bad cops out there. What I am saying is this: I don’t object to anyone videoing the interaction. What I object to is the ability to throw a 30 second video or a couple of pictures taken completely out of context. In addition to that, where is the right of the office to face his accusers? Where is the right of the suspect for fair treatment (I mean, the suspect may not want that picture/video out either)? And on the flip side, what if we recorded you at your job? Do you always give 100% all day, every day? Because that one time you don’t, I’ll make sure all your friends and family (and boss) see you sleeping on the job, shopping online, or sticking that pencil in your pocket. Fairness and context is all I ask.
Complaint 6: “If cops dealt with ‘dirty cops’ then I might care more. – This came up from a Twitter message I had after another New York officer was attacked, shot and killed in the line of duty. People might care more about the deal of an innocent, dedicated and highly decorated officer who was killed by a career criminal if “dirty cops” were dealt with? SERIOUSLY?
So why do we not hear more about the “dirty cops” getting caught? I think there are a few reasons for that. You also must consider what makes a cop a”dirty cop”. If you are reading this, I’ll presume that you mean more than a “hateful” cop who doesn’t seem to have a lot of patience or “niceness”.
Police, just like most of our jobs, always have supervisors who are making corrections. Some infractions may be minor or department policies (misspellings in reports) and others major or legal issues (taking money from a drug raid). So when you see the article or meme on the internet, you just presume that the issue was not dealt with, when in fact, the disciplinary action was not published. Officers are fined, given extra duty assignments, suspended, forced to resign or fired when it is deemed necessary. I’ve received a “correction” at work, and it didn’t appear in the Dayton Daily news or on WHIO, and most likely, neither did yours. So why do we expect any different from them?
In addition, cops ARE arrested and charged when they do wrong. Michael Slagle was fired and charged with murder in South Carolina. 6 cops were arrested in Baltimore on various charges. Those are two recent and high profile ones for example. Additionally, they, like everyone else, are innocent until PROVEN GUILTY. When not proven guilty, then there is no conviction.
On a separate note, the odd thing is that you could not get away with that statement about ANY OTHER GROUP.
“If Christians dealt with bad Christians, I might care when one dies.”
“If Muslims dealt with bad Muslims I might care more when one dies.”
“If YOUR RACE dealt with bad members of YOUR RACE then I might care more when one dies.”
Most rational people would not say those statements, and fewer would defend their use. But police and their families are supposed to be OK with it?
It’s long, but there was a lot to cover. I’m sure there are more, but I wanted to touch the big ones, from a Chaplain’s perspective. Can law enforcement agencies do more? Sure. Can they appear less aggressive? Maybe. But I place my family’s safety way over my neighbor’s touchy-feely experiences any day.
Thank you for reading and I hope you were able to glean from this article.
If you are one of my LEO friends and you have additional thoughts, examples or clarification, please let me know and I’ll update the article.