More on Ferguson: The Bracelets — What Goes?

Unknown “I AM DARREN WILSON.”

Really? Is this what professional police, dedicated to public service, protecting the weak and upholding our Constitution do?

The Los Angeles Times reported today that federal officials had intervened yesterday to stop police in Ferguson, Mo., from wearing these bracelets in solidarity with the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old there last month.

Sure, I understand the support fellow officers may have for Officer Wilson, but how they personally feel should not be the public face they present. Whether Officer Wilson was right or wrong is beside this. What is at stake here more eroding of the public’s trust and a blatant display of a lack of compassion for the Brown family.

So… the sad saga in Ferguson continues.

He did so only after Justice Department officials brought the issue to his attention after they were alerted by residents during community meetings earlier in the week. Citizens complained they had seen officers wearing the bracelets on patrol.

The Justice Department correctly stated: “These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists,” They also urged Chief Jackson to ensure that his officers wear their name tags in accordance with department policy. There were reports that officers were not wearing their name tags or had them covered with black tape. Another bad message to the community.

Excellence in policing will never be accomplished by supervision — it can only be accomplished by developing the internal integrity that allows an officer’s personal feelings about a person or issue be trumped by the rule of law and doing the right thing at the right time.

 

To see the DOJ letter CLICK HERE.

To read the full LA Times article CLICK HERE.

 

 

 

15 Comments

  1. If I was the police chief, I would be taking disciplinary action against the officers who hide or remove their badges and/or name plates by charging them with being out of uniform and unbecoming a police officer.

    Like

  2. I agree with you sir that public trust is eroded when officers make their personal opinions known while serving in the police role. Yet, it should also be noted that the wearing of bracelets that support Darrin Wilson is improper, as it contradicts an officer’s sworn duty to serving the public. Most departments require trainees to recite the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics upon becoming an officer; an oath that has called service to mankind a fundamental officer duty.

    To serve the community means to cater to what is most pressing in a neighborhood – interpersonal needs. The officers of Ferguson, Missouri are no doubt vital to increasing the safety of neighborhoods, but the police aren’t just crime fighters. In fact, research has shown that only a small amount of policing involves catching criminals. One way to reveal just how rare of an occurrence crime fighting is, is to look at the crime reported to the police against the number of officers employed in the United States. For example, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports note that 1,203,564 violent crimes were reported to the police in 2011. During that same year, Bureau of Justice statistics reported that more than 885,000 people worked as sworn officers. When placed against each other, these statistics show that there were 1.36 violent crimes reported for every police officer employed in the US. As such, police service to the public should mostly involve order maintenance.

    This entails preserving peace and maintaining a positive presence on the streets. Officers who show support for Darrin Wilson while engaged in police activities are not doing this. The bracelets inflame public opinions of the police and only lead to more disruption in the community. While the facts surrounding the guilt or innocence of Darrin Wilson are still being collected, many already feel that his actions are an example of excessive force being used against an African American. In essence, officers supporting Wilson have been construed as also supporting the use of excessive force against minorities. In removing these distinctions, what matters most is that officers disregard these personal feelings and accomplish what they swore to perform – service to the community.

    Like

  3. While everyone has made good points about officers needing to invoke public trust and well being, as well as uphold an ethical standard, I would like play devil’s advocate and pose a question about officer’s rights.

    When an officer takes an oath to uphold the constitution, does that officer then give up his or her 1st amendment rights of free speech? While it is probably not appropriate to wear the “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform, it is a form of free speech, granted to all citizens through the Bill of Rights and Amendment 1. How are officers supposed to uphold the Constitutional rights of citizens if they themselves are not permitted the same rights? While it has been deemed by their supervisors that they are not appropriate on duty, the Officers opinion of Officer Wilson is theirs to have and share. Do they give up their rights to free speech when they are on the job? No where in the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics does it say that an officer cannot utilize his or her right to free speech, on the job or off duty. It does however say that their personal feelings may not interfere with their decisions as a law enforcement officer. Simply wearing a bracelet does not or should not interfere with the duties of a law enforcement official.

    Additionally, Officer Wilson has not been proven guilty of a crime at this time. He also has rights under the United States Constitution, and is innocent until proven guilty. The standard does not change just because the accused is an officer of the law. No matter my opinion of his guilt, it should be recognized that his supporters have the right to show their support and peacefully protest on their beliefs. Officers are allowed to wear black arm bands in memory and support of fallen comrades, why is it so different that they show support in this case? In the 1960’s, the Warren Court (The Supreme Court where Earl Warren served as Chief Justice) established that the public employment does not yield ones Constitutional rights, but it seems in this case the public wants to revoke those rights. Regardless of our own personal views of the Ferguson case, officers still have the right to free speech and protest, just as any other citizen.

    Like

  4. Wearing the wristband off duty is fine, but wearing them while in uniform reinforces the idea that the police are biased. These bands shout volumes about the mentality and mindset of the law enforcement community. Whether or not Wilson is guilty of murder, the fact remains that an unarmed teen was shot and killed. Is there no remorse for that fact alone? These bands say no, and point to a total disrespect for citizens’ lives and for the law. This kind of behavior and attitude once ingrained cannot easily be corrected, and consequently, every citizen, white or black or something else, is at risk with these cops on the street. The cops see themselves as the law and can act in whatever way they choose with impunity and without accountability.

    Like

    1. Cuddle, that’s one of the big problems in a high-profile job like police perform — “once ingrained cannot easily be corrected.” How long to remedy the mistakes of Ferguson? And how has it impacted every police officer in urban America?

      Like

  5. Agent99, it appears that you are arguing in support of the officers being allowed to wear the bracelets. Please allow me to offer why police are not entitled to voicing their opinions while in uniform. You are indeed correct in noting that the Warren Court held that government employment does not yield one’s Constitutional rights. Yet, asserting that these rights are unlimitedly equal to those which are held by citizens is an invalid claim.Pickering v. Board of Education made it clear that comments from an employee that result in some damage to the effective operation of the government agency, are not protected by the First Amendment. In regards to Ferguson police officers, wearing bracelets that show their support for Darren Wilson are detrimental to police operations there. Emotions within their town are inflamed and as a result, controversial actions from the police have the potential to ignite even more disruption in the community. Furthermore, as policing mostly entails preserving peace and maintaining a positive image, the bracelets would severely hinder their ability to perform in this capacity. As such, an outright showing of the bracelets pose a legitimate threat to public safety. The courts balance the rights of government employees with concerns in maintaining the effective and efficient operation of public services. Here, the rights police have in expressing their support lose out in favor of the importance of preserving peace in Ferguson.

    Additionally, Connick v. Myers held that speaking out as a citizen on public concerns is protected, but speaking out as an employee on private matters is not. Expressing private interests as a government employee hinder the relationships that are necessary for completing public responsibilities. Support for Darren Wilson is a public matter that officers are indeed entitled to express during their time off-duty, however, voicing these same opinions while serving as a law enforcement officer is unacceptable. Allowing officers to don the bracelets is akin to allowing the erosion of the public’s confidence in the police to enforce the law impartially.

    Like

  6. Cuddle you offer a powerful explanation as to why these bracelets offend the public’s conscience so deeply. That fact that you acknowledge Michael Brown as a teen that was shot and killed is something that moves me greatly. There is no doubt that race could have possibly been a factor in Wilson’s decision to use deadly force. Yet at times so much attention is attributed to Brown’s color, that it is forgotten that he is first and foremost a fellow human being. When will it become unacceptable for those who are not African American to experience only guilt and regret for Brown’s death. Feeling sorry for the loss experienced by the black community when Brown was seen lying dead on the street has good intentions. But it is nevertheless an indication that the offensive nature of the event has not yet reached far enough into one’s conscience. What haunts many blacks the most about this event is a creeping feeling of “that could have been me.” When a young African American male gazes upon a suspicious individual that has been gunned down and sees himself, that creates a deep impression upon his mind of fear towards the police that has the potential to manifest itself into frustrations and eventually violence.

    To be clear, I do not believe that being Caucasian prevents one from ever looking upon a minority victim in a shooting as a brother, sister, mother, or father shot. I do however, suspect that this level of empathy is rarely felt outside minority groups, and this saddens me deeply. Chief Couper you ask a striking question about how long it will take to correct the mistakes made in Ferguson that I deeply want to know the answer to myself. Sir in all of your career in law enforcement have you seen similar errors in policing fixed or prevented, and if so, what did some of these reforms or solutions look like?

    Like

    1. John, obviously prevention is the best step to take. After the fact of a disturbing mistake by police, it takes both a very long time and many efforts to restore trust. That’s why I so strongly argue for a better police and to do it now. Thanks for your insightful comments.

      Like

  7. John- While you have very valid arguments with the cases presented, but I contend that the wristbands are neither a verbal nor an outright disrespectful statement towards the public. I pose this question: Why is it okay for an officer or unit to wear black armbands when a fellow officer is killed in the line of duty? Is it not the same thing; A quiet but respectful statement of that officer’s feelings towards a fellow officer? If it were Darren Wilson that was killed by Michael Brown, would the black armbands anger us? Regardless of the roles, I cannot fault Wilson’s comrades for sticking up for him when all the information surrounding the case is so unclear. We cannot speak of their intent, as we are not privy to that information, but I can say that if they wanted to show bias or disrespect towards the community at large, their actions would speak much louder than a blue bracelet.
    Cuddle, while I found your argument interesting, I cannot see it as anything but purely opinion. You seem to have already made up your mind about the situation in Ferguson, and have painted the officers there the villains. I am aware of the racial divide in Ferguson and the systematic racism, as a community with a 60% black majority, more than 6% of the police force should be black as well. They are underrepresented and likely treated unfairly, not because of officer opinion, but because of the way the officers are taught. I do not believe the bracelets have anything to do with officer opinion or disregard for community safety, but rather represent the bond that the officers have with each other due to the conditions of their subculture.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.