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?

3 Comments

  1. I wonder if police officers fully understand how important as role models they are? For better or worse, they are showing citizens, especially young men, how intelligent, mature people respond to disagreements and dangers. What do our young people learn from our police? Contempt and unnecessary use of force model racism and brutality rather than restraint and respect. Consequently incidents of violence increase throughout our society — and at all levels. This makes police work even more dangerous for our officers of the peace.

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  2. re: use of force or resorting to the gun, I’m reminded of an old tv show that we’ve probably all seen, some in first run, many in re-run. I’m talking about the Andy Griffith Show from the early sixties. Yes it’s a comedy tv show, scripted and an exaggeration in many ways, but there is one point repeated throughout the run of the show.
    Andy Taylor the sheriff wasn’t fearful, he rarely carried a gun and used his head when dealing with people, never jumping to conclusions, he knew and understood who he was dealing with. He didn’t rush to judgement but instead talked to people even acknowledged criminals as people.
    Barney Fife the deputy on the other hand, was a 180 degree opposite, always jumping to conclusions, he was clearly and obviously fearful, and grabbed his gun and started shouting orders as his first move almost every time. He really didn’t know or understand who he was dealing with even though both he and Andy had apparently grown up in the town. Barney seemed to view everybody as a threat, he hadn’t bothered to know and understand the people he was “serving.”
    I’ve been awhile getting here but my point is simply that we need more Sheriff Andy’s in our police departments rather than the Deputy Barney Fife’s that seem to be the norm and in the majority now. Hire calmer, less fearful people, stop training that their lives are in danger every minute of every day, because they aren’t. Help them get to know and understand the people they’re dealing with, especially when they’re different, instead of not knowing anything and being so afraid the first thing on their minds is to shoot first or commit other violence, to win, or be in control, or to come out on top.
    Which based on the news, and youtube videos seems to be the norm. Cops dumping a crippled 80 year old woman with a small knife out of her wheelchair onto the ground, a NYS Trooper tasering and dragging a near term pregnant woman out of her car because she talked back, 6 Fullerton cops murdering a slight homeless man Kelly Thomas by piling on and smothering him, etc., etc. etc. etc…
    I’m not a cop, but I’ve been unarmed security off and on since the 1960’s, and I’ve never needed a weapon, truthfully never even wished I had one, if you treat people respectfully they generally respond respectfully.
    Thank you.

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