The Courage to Police


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[Posted on August 6, 2015 by Chief Andy Mills of Eureka, Calif. [Ed. Note: Chief Mills retired as a captain on the San Diego Police Department. Over the years, he has strongly been involved in community-oriented and problem-oriented policing. He has been chief in Eureka since November, 2013.]


 

“While conducting a hiring interview this week, a recent academy graduate said, ‘I would ensure my safety, then that of my partners and then the community…’ This was in response to an ethical question concerning an officer using excessive force. It caused me to stop and ponder how policing came to this. It’s not exactly a dive on a grenade for your buddy ethos.

“It might be a symptom of how policing trains its new officers. Too many cops are afraid to use physical force for fear of litigation or prosecution. Instead they present a lethal show of force to compel compliance and in the process trap themselves in the quagmire of a deadly threat they cannot or should not carryout.

“Policing can correct this course by:

“1. Change Our Training. Policing must go from hypervigilance with a side order of paranoia, to common fairness where people are given a voice. Every good gang cop I know has a simple mantra, “Give respect; Get respect. Your life depends on it.” The medical profession also struggles with empathy issues. A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly spoke to this. One study found malpractice cases are driven by a lack of communication. Also true of citizen complaints and law suits against the police.

“2. The police must have a realistic picture of assaults on officers. It is a fact that too many police officers are hurt and killed in the line of duty. In 2013 almost 50,000 cops were assaulted or killed. That is about 5% of all field officers…each year. Policing is an inherently risky job. Each officer realizes they have chosen a profession where injury during ones career is likely. I know of very few cops who have not been injured from hostile actions by suspects. But let’s think accurately about our risk.

“50,000 officers out of 900,000 are assaulted each year. Figure ½ are on duty at any given day. If each officer in the U.S. contacted 10 people a day that would equate to more than 1 billion police-citizen contacts annually. That is a violent assault on a police officer every 22,000 contacts nationwide. To counter this ever present threat, some academy instructors teach officers not to shake hands with the public or get too close because this puts the officer at a tactical disadvantage. This is the type of silliness that must stop.

“3. Develop an effective mental health program. When the state and federal government emptied the mental health facilities on to the streets without a plan B, the police became plan B. The Federal and State governments must solve the mental health crisis. Tens of thousands of seriously mentally ill are on the streets of our cities and society has abdicated this responsibility to the ill equipped local police. The violence that comes with this responsibility is preventable if government is serious about preventing police shootings.

“4. Realistic expectations of the police. Cops are not ninja’s. Many are so tired from working around the clock, eating poorly and lack of exercise, they are a mere shadow of what they once were physically, this affects their confidence and the level of force needed to survive. In addition they wear between 20 to 30 pounds of gear and a restrictive vest. A 50 year old cop fighting a 24 year old, doped up superstar is not a fair fight, even with tools. The level of force used by the police will have to escalate rapidly for him/her to win. Can the community adopt a realistic expectation for this officer?

“The police are also expected to incarcerate societal problems out of neighborhoods. Local, state and federal laws compel the police to incarcerate for minor offences such as homelessness, drugs and public morality. Is this what the community truly wants of the police? For example some Jim Crow type law appear specifically targeted for minority communities. Legislative bodies must strike these laws down to alleviate the pressure building between the police and minority communities.

“5. Tort Reform. When one sues the police unjustly there must be a consequence for dishonest lawsuits and the lawyers who promulgate them. If the lawsuit is just, the police will pay dearly. When one sues knowing full well it’s unjust the consequence must be swift, severe and costly to the plaintiff and counsel. The police must have confidence they will be protected when acting correctly. It will protect society from de-policing.

“This is a tall order for the public and police but to try and fix policing without them will result in more Baltimore’s, Ferguson’s, violence and death. The choice is ours. The police must change but so too must the community.”

6 Comments

  1. Prior to tort reform, the “Blue Wall” needs to be broken down. LEOs need to understand that lying and obfuscating to “protect” their fellow officers undermines the trust the community would place in them.

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  2. I think the chief is spot-on, however I would take one small exception to his points on training. I am less sure that academy and field training impact on an officer’s reaction to non-compliance, but, rather I am more sure an officer sitting through a 3-day ‘street-survival’ seminar; the 3rd day with a family member, watching scenario after scenario with police officers shot and killed, helps create that mindset the officer has when she/he is confronted by a suspect.

    I do not necessarily favor it, but I am not opposed to members of a disenfranchised community coming to pre-service or in-service training and addressing (civilly) matters that affect them, and their expectations of their police officers. From our perspective, I believe we need to get well beyond traditional community policing and start paying attention to the root causes of problems existing between the communities we serve and those most affected by the actions taken by police officers. I was quite disturbed with the shooting in Arlington, Texas the other night. It never should have happened but I do not believe the officer himself is totally at fault, but rather, fault creeps up the chain.

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  3. “The police are also expected to incarcerate societal problems out of neighborhoods. Local, state and federal laws compel the police to incarcerate for minor offences such as homelessness, drugs and public morality. Is this what the community truly wants of the police? For example some Jim Crow type law appear specifically targeted for minority communities. Legislative bodies must strike these laws down to alleviate the pressure building between the police and minority communities.

    If the cops had the moral courage to stand up to our political and economic leaders and gotten more involve in the political process to make life better for the citizens instead of supporting the political and economic status quo, they would not be in such a fixed.

    “If each officer in the U.S. contacted 10 people a day that would equate to more than 1 billion police-citizen contacts annually. That is a violent assault on a police officer every 22,000 contacts nationwide.”

    The trouble is that too many cops actively go look for trouble because they are bored, are pressure to raise revenues, were created (apart from military) to keep certain groups of people under control, and/or harass the citizens based on the political, social, economic, racial, ethnic, and any other background and then they lose their jobs because they just didn’t know when to stop.

    “Cops are not ninja’s. Many are so tired from working around the clock, eating poorly and lack of exercise, they are a mere shadow of what they once were physically, this affects their confidence and the level of force needed to survive. In addition they wear between 20 to 30 pounds of gear and a restrictive vest. A 50 year old cop fighting a 24 year old, doped up superstar is not a fair fight, even with tools. ”

    If cops can’t take care of themselves physically and mentally, then they have only themselves to blame. There are now gyms that are available 24 hours a day for cops to keep themselves fit. There is this story about a Florida cop harassing a disable veteran because the cop thought that he did not look like a disabled person. That cop looks really out of shape with a real belly gut.

    Fair fight? What about cops having unfair fights on young kids, old people, and people with physical and mental disabilities who can’t fight back? In Japan, the cops practice their martial arts skills every day, and many of them become martial arts experts themselves. The Japanese police may not win every fight but at least it is not due to a lack of not keeping themselves fit. In the British Army, if you don’t pass the physical fitness test, you are put on a three month warning order.

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