Attitude Adjustments and Police

It’s a beautiful day in the Mahaneighborhood, and this morning I walked to the salon down the street for a long-overdue haircut.  And while I was there I listened to a salon full of middle-class mostly white and Latina ladies talk about an accident someone had had recently.  A speeding cop car, no siren, had struck the car of one of the ladies’ friends, shoving the car some distance and spinning it around. The friend was injured, although she will recover.

One woman in the salon saw the whole thing. And then she watched while the cops canvassed the neighborhood looking for people who would swear they heard the siren going, even though it wasn’t. They were building a case to exonerate the cop, not investigating what happened. And the interesting part of this, to me, was that all of these middle-class mostly white and Latina ladies agreed that the police were out of control and couldn’t be trusted.

I realize that a big chunk of the white middle class will still automatically side with cops. And I realize I have only anecdotal evidence that anything has changed. But I do think I’m seeing some shift in attitude toward the police around here on the part of white people, especially compared to the glory days of Mayor Giuliani back in the 1990s.

Not a day goes by I don’t see two or three fresh examples of police overreach from all around America. Today’s outrage, btw, is about the arrest of a black man sitting in a public space waiting for his children to be let out of school.

Of course, lots of people in social and news media are still trying to spin events in Ferguson to exonerate Officer Wilson. The standard trajectory of these arguments is that we shouldn’t rush to judgment regarding Wilson (agree) and, anyway, Michael Brown was a thug who had just robbed a convenience store and Wilson didn’t have a choice but to shoot him. Um, who’s rushing to judgment, again?

All kinds of stuff could have happened in Ferguson, but the only facts everyone seems to agree on is that two young and unarmed black men were walking in the street of their own residential neighborhood, had an encounter with Officer Wilson, and somehow this escalated into a shooting that killed one of the young men, which is self-evidently screwy. Beyond that, the police have one story and eyewitnesses have another.

Even if Wilson is exonerated of blame for the shooting, seems to me he’s still got some ‘splainin’ to do about why a jaywalking incident got  so out of control.  Whatever happened at the convenience store — which is not entirely clear –  is a red herring. The store owner made no complaint to police; Wilson could not have known about it.

The other part of this story that is beyond dispute is that since the shooting Ferguson and Saint Louis police have behaved horribly. They’ve put every possible foot wrong. See, for example, Michael Brown’s Body and Michael Brown’s Mom Laid Flowers Where He Was Shot — and Police Crushed Them. Since justice will likely be determined by forensics I sincerely hope the Justice Department at least keeps an eye on this, because if the investigation and possible prosecution are left to the local crew, they might as well not bother. Yeah, okay, #notallcops but it’s sure as heck #alotofcops.

What a change camera phones have made, eh? U.S. police departments need to realize the days when they could get away with whatever are coming to a close. Time for an attitude adjustment, folks.

26 thoughts on “Attitude Adjustments and Police

  1. Police boiz and goilz loves da new hand-me-down toys.
    If we continue to go the way we’re going, and keep arming our police with what our Military Industrial Complex want to replace for fun and profit, then we’ll have to live in an ever increasing police-state.

    “Yes, Officer. Whatever you say.”

    Memorize that, or risk injury or death.

    “Yes, Officer. Whatever you say.”
    Get it?
    Got it”

  2. Maybe we should be agitating to have a law passed in 1994 actually followed:

    Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Among its provisions was the order that “the Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” The Justice Department was also required to publish an annual report on the data collected.

    AG Holder could appoint a task force to collect this data. Maybe get police leadership with a history of reining in bad police work to lead it up (i.e. Joe McNamara).

  3. The cowboy element is present in almost every occupation. The sour and prejudiced are well-spread-about, too. If law enforcement comes to regard the neighborhood as a war zone, it is not just because soldiers moved into the neighborhood. The treatment of people by some officers ruins it for all. The reinforcement of bad policing by coverups and laws so broad as to legalize everything police do is totally counterproductive. The body and car cameras look like the best thing for making the public aware that their conduct is on record and making the police aware that their conduct is on record. The examples of failure to deal with mentally ill citizens are also a terrible indictment of training. A police officer defended multiple kill shots as consistent with training, saying officers were trained to shoot till all danger/approach/movement was eliminated, not to just stop or deter, so 11 shots would be correct training response, thus legal. I think the training has problems. I do not belittle the dangers, but I do resent the overkill attitude.

    • “A police officer defended multiple kill shots as consistent with training, saying officers were trained to shoot till all danger/approach/movement was eliminated, not to just stop or deter, so 11 shots would be correct training response, thus legal. I think the training has problems. I do not belittle the dangers, but I do resent the overkill attitude.”

      I ran into that in an article yesterday, and I find it repulsive and shocking. That can’t be right. that may be why the number of deaths from police shootings are off the charts in the U.S.

  4. Blessed be sousveillance; surveillance from underneath. It’s a defense against “to self-serve and self-protect”.
    Remember those dashcam video of the Chelyabinsk meteorite? Also due to sousveillance. Russians don’t trust their cops. They’re ahead of us in that respect.

  5. Will,
    I remember the day, back in the late to mid 60′ – at l least in m neighborhood of Elmhurst, NYC – when the police didn’t carry any guns.

    If there was an emergency, then they ran to the nearest street-corner, to a special phone, and called forr help.

    Which, they never needed, because no on had any guns, back in that dayl

    In the late 70’s. the NRA went from being a gun-safety and education group, to being the marketing arm for gun manufacture’s”

    And very effective one’s, at that!’

    Now, they are made with the best weapons our military can buy.
    We are well, an truly, f*ciked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. The video from Minnesota is heartbreaking. With the slightest protestation or resistance from the “suspect” who is doing NOTHING wrong, the police can escalate the situation into whatever level of violence they want. This is not the land of the free, and it’s certainly not the home of the brave.

  7. Yikes, that overkill procedure would make sense in a zombie apocalypse, maybe, but not everyday urban America.

    I do like the term & concept of “sousveillance,” though.

  8. Thanks Maha. It took me a few days to realize that this law needs to be publicized… don’t know if it will hit the 100,000 threshold, but the fact of the petition will help.

  9. I sometimes think we should have a lot of desk jobs for LEOs, and then… well.

    I’ve heard it said that, in the US Navy, if you run a ship aground, if a review board finds you did *everything* perfectly, that they all think you handled the situation prior to the grounding and the outcome in an exemplary manner – you’ll still never get command of another ship. Period.

    There are too many command-qualified officers, and too few command posts.

    I’ve even heard it said you might advance in rank normally (though it’s hard to rise *really* high if you never get another command). It’s not that they are going to hold it against you (since the review board found you did okay). But… maybe you’re just not lucky.

    And I’d like a lot of cops to be in these desk jobs, see? Because they shot an unarmed person. Or maybe, they shot one once, and they went through training and passed, and got back on the street and *again* shot an unarmed person or otherwise used force in excess of what was required. And again, let these cops advance, and earn their 20+ to get a decent pension, let them be considered good cops – but don’t give them a badge and a gun, just like you don’t give a ship to an officer who ran one aground.

    And part of this is because there’s so much whining, don’t throw this good cop’s career away for a mistake maybe you could make. Because on the one hand, yeah, I agree – I might make the same mistake (but then, that’s why I *don’t* want to be a cop!). On the other, let’s make sure that we don’t keep a guy on the street who is maybe just unlucky, but who has shown himself to be too unlucky to be in a life or death situation again.

  10. I’ll look forward to moving forward on this. Police conduct is something I’m passionate about – in ’94 when i ran for legislature I proposed police carry video cameras… I’ve written to local LEO authorities both to praise and condemn police actions (praise for handling a mentally ill young woman with compassion, condemnation for taking me on a high speed chase while handcuffed in the front seat of a police cruiser).

  11. Signed
    And I’m sure I speak for many, WMD; what’s up with the high speed chase while your cuffed? In the front seat? Do tell.

  12. I’d been to a concert (Alvin Lee!) at the Vogue (a club in Indianapolis) with a friend – we were riding motorcycles back to another friend’s house near Carmel on a two lane road with houses set back about 50 yards from the pavement, basically a highway – speed limit was 30 mph and we were going 60. Police pulled me over, friend kept going. They decided they needed to breathalyze me (I was a smart ass and recited the alphabet backwards, then apologized that I was dyslexic during the field test). Breathalyzer was down town – so a second cruiser stayed with my bike while i was being transported, and because of the canine in the car I was handcuffed and belted in the front seat for the transport. officer saw another motorcycle while we were heading to HQ for the breathalyzer and decided he had to pursue – went over 80 mph on the same kind of road I’d been going 60… other bike got it away (It wasn’t my friend). I was breathalyzed and had a BAC of .05, transported back to my bike and road back home to Bloomington.

    Paid my speeding ticket and wrote a letter to the Chief of Police saying that there was a lot of potential for a lawsuit if anything went wrong while transporting a presumed innocent person – and that giving chase while transporting is bad procedure. Copied the city clerk and council on the letter.

  13. Consistent with training! What training manual are they using? The Marine Corps? I was curious about that, so I looked up some police manuals. Here, for instance, is the section on use of force in the Seattle police manual. Leaving aside the question of how closely they follow their own guidelines, they say all the right things.

    It is the policy of the Seattle Police Department to accomplish the police mission with the cooperation of the public and as effectively as possible, and with minimal reliance upon the use of physical force.

    Of course there are always some grey areas with regard to reasonable beliefs and so forth. Some people obviously think it’s reasonable to believe that your life is in danger whenever you’re in the presence of a black man. But this manual certainly isn’t saying to use maximal force until every conceivable threat is eliminated.

  14. wmd – kudos on how you handled the cops with a letter to the City Clerk and City Council. Here’s the deal. Stuff rolls downhill. If people let the City/county authorities (who hire the Chief of Police) know that ‘Protect and Serve’ isn’t just part of the paint job on the cruiser. It’s an attitude that starts at the top. In other words, the people who hire the top dog in the police department need to set the standard in the questions they ask about diversity and the use of force – it has to be clear that the top dog will answer to the Council for credible reports of excessive force, particularly if the same officer’s name(s) keep showing up. Apathy on the part of citizens leads to apathy and deliberate neglect by the City Council, which opens the door to excessive force.

    I have to think that Sheriff Andy Taylor had the right idea when he wouldn’t let Barney Fife have more than one bullet. Now Barney Fife is a full blown paranoid in real life running some of the largest and most infamous PD’s in the country. (LA and NYC, but they aren’t alone). Time to take away his bullets.

  15. “A police officer defended multiple kill shots as consistent with training, saying officers were trained to shoot till all danger/approach/movement was eliminated, not to just stop or deter, so 11 shots would be correct training response, thus legal. I think the training has problems. I do not belittle the dangers, but I do resent the overkill attitude.”

    So all a police officer has to do is say he/she felt threatened, and they have a license to kill. Apply that to the case of Brown: a person running away who turns and put their hands up is “threatening” thus the cop can shoot and continue to shoot “until the threat is eliminated.” And, BTW, how subjective is that? If a person has a knife, and you blow their legs out from under them, isn’t the the threat eliminated, vs. just outright killing them? But that’s the problem, its left to each individual officer to determine what elimination of the threat means, given circumstances, of course. But that just seems to be too much leeway for someone who just wants to kill for reasons having to do with other than threats as defined by police training, as it appears to may have been the case with Brown.

    And although it is a training issue, its become part of the culture. Used to be cops would only pull their weapons as a last resort; now it seems they look for any justification to not only pull the guns but to kill people.

    I don’t see this changing without a national approach.

  16. Signed and shared. We should put on a push for this on FB after the holiday, when more people are once again connected to this issue.

  17. The next step after the local legislative body is to inform their insurance carrier that procedures being used put the city at risk of lawsuits. Of course copy the council on those letters too, as the potential for higher premiums and budget cuts in other areas to pay for liability coverage will focus the council’s attention.

    Follow up with the council on how a small investment in training and attention to procedures that do not put citizens at risk could make a big difference. If nothing happens the next step is to bring in the press.

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