Tell Me Again: What’s Your Job?

One of these can cause trust problems.

When a few police officers continue to make poor decisions regarding the people they have sworn to serve some questions need to be asked.

The most pertinent question is for their leaders to ask this question — “Tell me how you see your job, describe what you do and why you do it?”

If leaders listen carefully they can find out a lot about their department’s hiring and training practices and the effectiveness of their overall leadership.

Here’s recent example from the “Orlando Sentinel.” It involves a senior officer working post-retirement in a reserve capacity in an elementary school. Accordingly, this department had a policy that an officer must get supervisory approval before arresting a child under 12 years of age. He is accused of arresting two 6 year-old for having a “tantrum.” Something went very wrong here.

Here’s the local news story:

Orlando Police Department Officer Dennis Turner, who sparked national outrage after arresting two 6-year-old students at a charter school last week, has been fired, Chief Orlando Rolón said Monday evening.

Rolón said the arrests made him “sick to [his] stomach.” He apologized to the children and their families.

“I can only imagine how traumatic this was for everyone involved,” he said at a press conference.

Earlier in the day, State Attorney Aramis Ayala confirmed that her office would not prosecute the children and is working to clear their records.

“I refuse to knowingly play any role in the school-to-prison pipeline,” Ayala said. “… The criminal process ends here today. The children will not be prosecuted.”

News of the kids’ Thursday arrests attracted national headlines after the grandmother of one of the children spoke to WKMG-Channel 6.

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This story made national news as another “bad apple” brings disrepute to the entire profession. I’m sorry, but it is true. Folks do make widespread judgments about police behavior when too many of these cringing events reach the public.

Some questions that need to be asked:

Why was this retired officer permitted to work in a school setting with his past disciplinary record including an arrest for abuse of his 7 year-old son?

Would the officer have been terminated so quickly if he wasn’t on a post-retirement “reserve officer” status?

In one of the arrests, did the transporting officer question whether or not Turner had supervisory permission to arrest a child who was under 12 years of age.

Did the assisting officer question the use of handcuffs in this matter? (In the matter of a later arrest that day, the transporting officer refused to to do so and what appeared to be a “peer intervention.”)

Luckily, the prosecutor intervened, but should we not expect that a well-trained, emotionally-balanced police officer would NOT resort to arresting a 6 year-old who is having a “temper tantrum?”

I am not trying to pick on Officer Turner, what I am trying to do is to highlight the importance of police officers fully knowing their purpose in our society. The image of professional policing gets lost when rogue officers are not sanctioned. It gets lost when police begin to see themselves as “warriors” fighting crime rather than “guardians” of the people they serve and defenders of those most vulnerable in our society — and that certainly gets lost when police arrest and handcuff 6 year-olds!

When events like these happen, police need to stand up and say THAT’S NOT ME, NOT US! They need RE-AFFIRM their commitment to the rule of law and their trustworthiness.

They also need to hold their fellow officers accountable and personally intervene when they see wrong things happening in their ranks.

Honest, accountable, constitutionally-based, emotionally-intelligent policing the right of every citizen and needs to be a national standard, how we will judge our police.