Intergenerational Conversations in Blue #2

Continuing “Intergenerational Conversations in Blue” – No. 2 of 9

The Second of Nine Exchanges About Police Uses of Force and Community Relationships

Dear Chief,

Thank you so much for the quick response and I appreciate your willingness to meet… [Ed. Note: We did.]

Another week has come and gone and I am once again reminded of the challenge.

In your post, “Changing the Police,” you wrote that it is crystal clear to you what the police must do.  I’m interested in seeing a more detailed plan, as we are in need of a great idea.

It appears, from your blog, that the police must restore the trust, stop hunkering down, cease defending or hiding behind the USSC and Constitution, predict the future and use force based on some moral continuum.  A new system is the answer.  I assume this would entail a new mission, new values, new policies and procedures, and new training.

Again, I am asking for a proposal. I am a pragmatist. I approach this challenge asking if it is realistic.  Can we construct the system you speak of?  Can we train our citizens, the ones who choose to serve, to be effective in this new system?  Should we strive for public approval and willing co-operation of the public absent force?  For certain.  I am ready to go there with you.  But I will not accept your assertion of us hunkering down or hiding behind Graham v Connor.  You said that force continuums are beneficial because the public understands them.  I agree and disagree.  They understand them, while seated at table in an air conditioned conference room.  Applying them consistently, to a fluid and dynamic situation is another thing completely.  Instead, they are a simplistic tool helpful only to people unwilling to invest the time and energy required to develop a more complete understanding of the myriad of factors at play when two or more human beings engage in a force encounter.  We know human beings do not make decisions, in time compressed situations, through an analytical assessment of a continuum of choices.  It just doesn’t happen that way.

You commented that the Young, Gifted and Black (YGB) group may be getting it right… starting a dialog through agitation.  You appear to be selecting a similar approach in your harsh criticism of the police.  Fair enough, we all choose how to approach a situation.  Agitation only works so long I believe.  Pointing out flaws without offering tangible solutions comes with a time limit.

I had opportunity to sit down with two leading LE trainers in North America this week.  They too spent time highlighting the challenge.  They spent far less time, however, blaming and name calling.  They offered real suggestions that were rooted in individual and collective responsibility.

I am reminded this week, once again, of the great challenge of this job.  A job in which a life and death decision may be thrust upon an officer in just their first day solo.  Officers do not wish for that day to ever come.  They also don’t, I believe, function with an ever-present fear of it.  What they do fear is doing their job, in keeping with their training, policy, state law and the Constitution, only to be labeled a murderer, poorly trained or a coward by the YGB, elected officials, or retired members of their own department.   In [your blog] ‘Talking to Future Cops,’ you commented on being concerned with how police emotionally handle what they see and do.  I think you might want to add “what they read” to this list of concerns.

So, for now, I will stop reading the blogs.  Instead, I will join those in the arena in identifying ‘what’s important now’ and ‘what’s next’.  It is what we do.  It is who we are.  We have a long tradition of it in my city.  I am confident we will continue to innovate and improve, and we will continue to be called names.  The challenge is great.  We need great ideas and people willing to serve.

Dear Sergeant,

Sorry to hear you will no longer read my posts. You should. I won’t chastise you, but intellectuals listen to all sides of the argument. I think I have outline what needs to be done — an open and honest review of the SYSTEM(s) that have led to what I believe is unacceptable — taking the life of an unarmed person.

As I recall in my foggy memory, that was something we avoided at all costs. We didn’t want to take a life. I still think a stick is more acceptable against a knife than a gun. Maybe I’m wrong but I taught that and practiced that through my first ten years as a street officer. I also believe that your department has the internal capacity and ability to make changes to your use of force system.

Voltaire once uttered one of my more favorite expressions: “While I absolutely disagree with what you are saying, I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

I suggest we remain in dialogue. I will listen to your critique and counsel. Can we do that?