Another month, another unlawful shooting / killing of an unarmed citizen in America. This is becoming too frequent, and I am not sure why. I am writing this, as a citizen of the country I love, the United States of America, but also, as a retired Law Enforcement Officer from the State of NJ. There is no excuse for the escalation of lawless killing of Americans; be it by gunfire, choke-holds, tasers or other "non-lethal" measures, as well as the unlawful killing of homeowner pets / dogs.
I can speak to this because of my background and experience. I had graduated from a NJ Police Academy in the early 1990's. I will never forget what our lead Drill Instructor (DI) had told us on the very first day of the Academy:
"You are the CLOSEST you will ever be to being a criminal today. You are the closest you will ever be to going to prison, today." His words weren't without merit... as there is a VERY thin line between "enforcing the law" and crossing the line where "excessive force," or worse, a wrongful death due to the actions of a Police Officer. Now maybe I come from a different time... maybe I am considered "Old-School"... I don't know, but what I see lately from police in nearly every state, is NOT representative of the type of policing I was trained in, and certainly not the type of policing I practiced.
You see, my Department was hard-core when it came to Community Policing. That meant we, as Police Officers were expected to know every business owner. We were expected to know and interact with home owners in our sectors. We were expected to use polite and professional language; that also included using the words "please," "thank you," "sir, "ma'am," and NEVER included the use of profanity or disrespect towards another person. And that professionalism was extended to each person we interacted with regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, social status, occupation or political affiliation. If we were ever caught being rude, unprofessional, or even suspected of abuse, you could expect a thoroughly painful investigation by your superiors. Let me tell you, getting a root canal on 3 teeth would be more fun than an internal investigation by our superior officers.
What I am seeing today, does not reflect anything I know about Law Enforcement. In fact, I am almost ashamed to be associated with it at this very moment. But I also realize that the root cause, is NOT each individual Police Officer. Sure, there will be some bad apples just like there are in every occupation or organization. But the actual cause, goes much deeper than one officer.
Police Officers, as a rule, do not do anything without a "directive" or "standard operating procedure" (SOP). It's how police know what to do and what not to do. There is an SOP for everything from examining your police cruiser before you start your shift, all the way through the use of force. Knowing this, how is it possible that we keep seeing citizens being shot, beaten, abused or otherwise talked to like pieces of trash over and over and over again? How is it possible that we keep seeing videos of traffic stops with officers that feel its appropriate to swear, violate people's civil liberties, unlawfully detain, search and seize personal property? Why is there an increase in what appears to be a shooting spree by police on people's pets, particularly dogs?
There's a simple reason. BECAUSE IT IS BEING ALLOWED TO HAPPEN.
As a Sergeant and as a Field Training Officer (FTO), it was my job to make sure that every new recruit that graduated the Academy was officially trained in our Department's SOP's. It was my job to make sure that every new Police Officer was trained on how to interact with people in our communities. It was my job to make sure that a new Police Officer got the necessary street-training to be a successful addition to our Department and was an asset, not a liability. If that new Police Officer was struggling, it was my job to make sure he/she got up to par quickly, before their "probationary period" was up; this way, they could be terminated quickly and easily before any real serious problems arose. This process continued for well over two years. A new officer in my department was NOT allowed to be "cut loose" on their own until myself and two other FTO's signed off on their progress. Even then, every Police Officer with less than 5 years experience was still tracked periodically to ensure they weren't running astray.
It is clear then, that the rise in Police Abuse, or at least what appears to be a rise in Police Abuse, has a cause (whether or not there is an actual rise, or a perceived rise doesn't matter.... appearances are reality... so even if the actual numbers aren't on the rise, the perception remains that it is... and that is all that matters). The cause is that senior officers, Police Directors, Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains and Police Chiefs are letting this behavior continue. There are no real ramifications to the officers that commit these acts. To be clear, even if an officer gets suspended one week (with or without pay), that is not a real consequence; if a civilian committed some of the acts we see Police Officers committing, they would be looking at some serious prison time.
It may be a bit painful, and difficult to do at first, but it must be done; Police Officers that commit crimes, unlawful actions, unprofessional conduct or even overall disrespect to the general public need to be dealt with harshly. That means more than a one-week rip. What it means is, if the officer commits a crime, they get tried immediately in court, by a Prosecutor, in a different jurisdiction than the officer resides/works. It means that if an Officer commits an act against SOP's, they receive discipline that is felt; and if that means the officer is suspended without pay for 2 months, or terminated, then that is what it means.
Police Officers, by the very nature of their job, need to be doing things cleaner, better, and more honorably than the average person. Because there is such an elevated level of trust that is built in to the occupation of a Police Officer, it shouldn't be a surprise to recruits that if they violate that trust, they should expect harsh punishment. Some may think that I am being unfair, or too harsh. I don't think so. Many other occupations have ethical boards, or hearings, for those who hold the public's trust. For example... you probably would never:
- Go to a Physician that abuses alcohol and drugs on a daily basis, or even on weekends;
- Use an Attorney that talks about his cases to strangers at a bar or party;
- Use an Accountant that takes pride in working with drug cartels or organized crime families;
- Allow your kids to attend a school with a known pedophile as a Principal;
Of course you wouldn't! So why to we, as Americans, allow the Police to continue with their INAPPROPRIATE and in certain cases ILLEGAL behaviors over and over again!? It's time to stop the madness and get off this ride!
The POLICE, don't exist without the general public. They are not the military. They are public servants the very same as Firefighters and EMS workers are. They are NOT above the law. In fact, they are expected, due to the level of inherent trust, to act not only in accordance with the law, but in a manner that should in no way be interpreted that they are breaking the law or taking advantage of others. The bar should be set so high, that the mere APPEARANCE of a Police Officer taking advantage of a situation for their own personal gain (that can be for money, to boost their own ego, free food/coffee, etc) should be terms for discharge from office; at the very least, a harsh suspension.
Now, some may say I am anti-police. THAT IS NOT TRUE.... remember, I WAS A POLICE OFFICER! I am all for good police... we need good police. A good police officer can do incredible amounts of good for their communities / state / county (depending on which agency they work for). But it's so incredibly important to remember, that the Police, work for the citizens. Not the other way around. I have seen very good Police Officers do some amazing acts of kindness; its those officers that suffer when we have unlawful shootings and other acts of violence committed by the police against their own community members. It makes it harder for GOOD POLICE to do their jobs. It places GOOD POLICE OFFICERS AT RISK every time they put on their uniform because of the trend of "Militarized Police" and "Police Brutality."
There is an answer however.... I have a feeling most police agencies won't like the answer... but it needs to be done... and it needs to be done NOW. First let me start with what the PUBLIC can do however, to de-escalate this crisis in America, because it is a two-way street:
- STOP using your cameras and videos as a means to ANTAGONIZE POLICE during roadside stops, open-carrying of firearms, and other means to otherwise "bait in" officers to react to this childish behavior! There is NOTHING constructive that comes from baiting an officer into a scenario where you, the video producer, tries to get the officer to react with anger. I am not saying don't record your interactions; I think video recording is an effective tool on BOTH sides of this equation. Many departments are requiring officers to record all personal interactions as well. I have simply watched too many videos where the creator of those videos are doing it to simply antagonize a police officer into doing something inappropriate. Remember, the officer has many rules to play by... and using tactics to purposefully draw attention to yourself, or to create a video simply for fun to prove abuse exists, discredits the efforts of those who are true victims of police brutality. If you are going to continue to do so, then why not post the dozen or more videos where the police actually acted appropriately? (Probably doesn't help get you views, but it would be the right thing to do)
- STOP baiting officers in stating you know your rights... the whole point to a Police-Citizen interaction is for the officer to do an initial investigation, and let you on your way as soon as possible. The VAST MAJORITY of police do NOT want to arrest you. There is a lot of work that follows an arrest. It is not as simple as many may think. They don't simply slap on cuffs, throw you in the back of a cruiser, haul you in to their lock-up then move on. No... there are documents to be written, affidavits to be signed, booking procedures to be followed... and all of this takes the officer off the street where they could be doing more productive things than carrying your sorry butt into the slammer when all you had to do was act like a human being.
THAT SAID.... HERE IS WHAT THE POLICE NEED TO DO NOW:
- STOP treating every person you meet as if they are a murderous criminal! You and I both know that the vast majority... 99.99% of the interactions you have, are NOT with criminals! You can't BS me... I know what you go through... so knock it off!
- GET BACK to COMMUNITY POLICING.... get out of your cars... get back on the streets... go talk to store owners, community leaders, church ministers, school teachers... any place where there are public areas... get out and talk to people! You would be surprised how many people will talk to you! And when they get to know you, and trust you, you will be pleasantly surprised just how many facts you can find out regarding crime trends, people you may need to watch a bit closer, etc. The truth is people want to like the police... but at present they can't. YOU CAN CHANGE THAT TODAY.
- STOP with the profanity. STOP with the disrespectful tone in your voice! You are not God. You are NOT perfect. And neither are the people you interact with. Get over it. You need to be doing it better, cleaner and sharper than the people you interact with. LEAD BY EXAMPLE! You will not get respect you haven't earned. No one likes to be cussed at. No one likes to be called derogatory names. And no one likes to be belittled in front of their friends, family or significant others. YOU ARE NOT WINNING BROWNIE POINTS with anyone by acting like a complete jerk. In fact, you are accomplishing the opposite. No one finds you funny. Not even the guys in the locker room after your shift. Sure they may laugh, but in the back of their minds, they are saying "WHAT AN A-HOLE!" If your brothers and sisters are thinking it, just think what the public is saying about you.
- UPHOLD YOUR OATH OF OFFICE... you took one when you were sworn in. Uphold it. You swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States... and the State of __________ (insert your State name there). Remember when you did that? Good... now start your next shift with that in mind. People in America have the right to Free Speech. They have the right to peaceful assembly. They have a lot of rights... as do you... so STOP abusing those rights! Just because you think you are getting away with it... it will catch up to you at some point! You will get caught... you always do.
- DITCH THE MILITARY VEHICLES / UNIFORMS: If you want to be a US Marine, join the Marines. NO ONE in America, wants a Militarized Police. NO ONE. Stop thinking you are "more protected" in an MRAP, Humvee, or BDU's. First, those offer no better protection than your standard vest and riot gear. There is no need for camouflage or other militarized uniforms. It looks horrible. If we need the National Guard, each Governor has their phone number to call them in. Get back into your Khaki or Blue Police uniforms. That's where you belong. After all, you are one of us... a member of the community... you are NOT above that status. You are NOT in a combat zone. You are NOT fighting a war. So STOP acting like you are. In doing so, you are only encouraging an "us vs. them" mentality... and that will not end well for either side in the long run.
- DO YOUR JOB.... and go home. You aren't going to save the world. You aren't going to catch every criminal. And no one expects you to. Be vigilant while on duty... then leave it at the job. Go home, act like a normal person. Again, if you want to be in the Marines, then join the Marines. Otherwise, get a grip, and be a normal functioning member of society like the majority of cops out there.
Hope this makes senses.... it will to some on the job right away, as I am sure we all know one or two of the "bad apples" out there. Police yourselves on the job, and get rid of the bad apples. They are making your job harder and harder to do every day.