Archive for the ‘Crime control’ Category
What do police officers think about how the police department in Ferguson, MO is handling the aftermath of the Brown shooting? no comments
Answer by Tim Dees:
I think this is a classic example of what happens when a law enforcement agency isn’t trained or prepared for an unexpected or exceptionally large event.
Ferguson is a city of 21,000 people. It’s police department has 52 sworn officers. Only three are black, when about 68% of the city’s population are black. This imbalance affects the current situation tangentially, but I doubt that it’s a problem that the City of Ferguson is unaware of or that they haven’t tried to fix it. Anytime a white police officer kills or seriously injures a minority citizen in a predominately minority community, there will be an outcry. Accusations of racism follow immediately and certainly, and the precipitating conduct that led to the incident is lost in the conversation.
There is something of a litmus test one can do to evaluate whether the motive behind an action is motivated by racism: change the ethnicities of the players. So, instead of Michael Brown, we have Michael White, a 6-5, 265 lb. Caucasian, 18 years of age. He enters a convenience store in his small community and takes a package of cigars. When the clerk tries to stop him, White grabs him and tosses him around in order to leave unencumbered. A few minutes later, White and at least one companion of the same ethnicity are walking down the middle of a public street, eschewing the sidewalk provided for pedestrians.
A uniformed police officer (he can be whatever race you want him to be–I don’t think it matters) who is of inferior physical size to White sees him and asks him and his friend to move to the sidewalk. The pair refuse. The police officer may or may not know about the strongarm robbery at the convenience store; if he knows, he is unaware that White or his companion are the perpetrators. The officer stops his car and starts to get out to confront the pair. White attacks him as he tries to exit the vehicle, and attempts to disarm the officer. The officer retains control of his firearm and shoots White, who is unarmed. Would the white citizens–or, for that matter, the black, brown, or green citizens–demonstrate, hold rallies and vigils, and ultimately burn and loot the town in protest? I’m unaware of this ever happening.
Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, is described as “tall and slender” in the stories I’ve read. He looks to be about six feet tall and around 180 lbs., although this is only a gross estimate based on a few photos of him I have seen on the web. I’m a fairly big guy. When I was working the street, I was 6-2 and around 210 lbs. Had I been attacked by an 18-year-old of Brown’s size who tried to get control of my sidearm, I would probably have shot him, or tried, too.
When you’re fighting with someone who outmatches you physically and has moved in too close for a TASER or impact weapon, you don’t have many options left if you want to go home that day. Race is irrelevant, at least from the perspective of the officer. I’ve heard the argument that walking down the middle of the street, or even doing a robbery of a store, doesn’t justify the use of deadly force. No, it doesn’t. But attacking a police officer and trying to disarm him does quite possibly justify the use of deadly force. The decision to do that was solely Michael Brown’s. Had he paid for his cigars and walked on the sidewalk (not especially arduous requirements, IMHO), he would likely still be going to technical school next month, and most of us would still have never heard of Ferguson.
The Ferguson PD now has to contend with civil unrest, the likes of which they have never seen before. If they are like most PDs of that size, they have little training in public order incidents. Still, they don’t have the option of boarding up the police station and hiding inside while people are gathering in a hostile way. They responded the only way they knew how, in tactical gear that offered the best protection for their officers. The basic police uniform doesn’t provide all that much protection from threats to the wearer. Most cops wear body armor that will stop a handgun bullet, but it doesn’t help if you get hit in the roughly 70% of the body that is not protected by the armor. It will offer some very limited protection against thrown missiles like rocks and bottles, but none against Molotov cocktails. If you get hit with a rock in your head, knee, or elbow, you’re likely going down.
Tactical gear often includes knee and elbow pads, more coverage with body armor, a helmet, and possibly goggles. If I had been going out to police a hostile crowd, I’d have every piece of gear like that I could carry. Some officers–most of the ones I saw were from the county police department–were armed with rifles. One photo I’ve seen run repeatedly shows a helmeted officer with a sniper rifle on a bipod, and the officer appears to be perched on top of a tactical vehicle. People may find this offensive, but there is sound tactical doctrine for this. If someone fires a gun from inside or around a crowd, they are very difficult to identify. Pursuit, if you know who to pursue, is even more difficult, as the members of the crowd will likely be panicking and stampeding.
The sniper, with his high observation point, the protection of the tactical vehicle, a magnifying scope, and a rifle capable of placing a bullet far away with precision, can spot and eliminate such a shooter far more effectively than an officer on the ground can.
The tactical vehicles may also be off-putting, but they offer the occupants protection from bullets, thrown objects, and improvised fire bombs, all of which were a factor in this situation. If the tires are shot out or flattened by nails, they often have run-flat tires that will allow the vehicle to keep moving. A patrol car offers far less protection, and anti-police crowds seem to delight in setting fire to and overturning police cars that are vacant or abandoned. A 52-man police department isn’t going to have a lot of spare cars.
The PD stepped up their posture when there was arson and looting of city businesses the night after the shooting. Burning down and stealing from the businesses that serve your community does absolutely nothing to advance whatever cause of justice you’re allegedly seeking to achieve. The people who do this are thieves and hoodlums, plain and simple. They take advantage of overwhelmed law enforcement services to commit their crimes unimpeded. Some people seem to like to describe the actions of these criminals as a morally justified response to the racist genocide of their own by the ruling class. Bullshit. These are just cowardly criminals who are going to steal or destroy anything they can get their hands on because they like to steal and destroy things. If they could get away with it at any other time, they would do it, then, too.
When the Missouri governor ordered the Ferguson PD to stand down and turned over handling of the incident to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, critics of the FPD noted that the more relaxed approach was reducing the level of violence and confrontation in the wake of the more fascist tactics of the FPD. This lovefest lasted less than 24 hours, until the sun went down and the looting and arson resumed. There would have been a lot more of this, but by then many business owners were standing guard with personally-owned firearms. I don’t blame them a bit for doing this (in their situation, I would be doing the same thing), but do you think a looter or arsonist is going to get a better shake from a personally-invested businessman whose expertise is with selling hardware or cutting meat, or a trained police officer?
The arrests of journalists and people who were doing no more than recording what they saw on a public street were wrong, plain and simple. The cops should and probably do know better. I don’t excuse their behavior, but I do understand it in part. When you’re seeing the town you’re supposed to police coming down around you, you feel like you need to do something, even if the “something” is ill-advised. It’s a siege mentality brought about by stress and frustration. Better and more intensive supervision would have deterred this sort of behavior, but my guess is that FPD had every cop they could find deployed on the street, and there weren’t enough effective supervisors to keep track of them all. My friend, risk management expert and retired CHP captain Gordon Graham, likes to say that most police misconduct cases can be traced to ineffective supervision.
Once again, the FPD was overwhelmed. So, if this situation was so out of their depth, why didn’t the FPD just call for help from the start? Because tradition and standard practice say you try and handle what comes to you before you call for help. This got out of control faster than the FPD could recognize and react to it. They did have the assistance of the St. Louis County Police Department and some state troopers drawn from local stations, but wasn’t able to coordinate and control those bodies sufficiently to keep this situation from growing more serious. I don’t know if they had ever trained or planned for this kind of coordinated operation before. If they’re like most police agencies in the United States, they haven’t. There is a limited amount of time and money for training, and you tend to address the problems you already have, not the ones you might have someday.
Would this situation have taken place if the racial makeup of the FPD more closely reflected that of the community? Maybe, but that’s a difficult goal. Police departments around the country are having difficulty recruiting new officers of any race. Only about 20% of Americans ages 18-25 are eligible for military service. The rest are rejected for reasons of obesity or just poor physical conditioning, criminal records, driving history, recent drug use, or poor credit. Police service is more restrictive than the military, but someone who can’t qualify for the military isn’t likely to qualify to be a police officer, either. By age 30-34, 3.2% of white men have been in prison, where 22.4% of black men have (). In Missouri, 56% of black men graduate from high school, where 81% of white men do ( ). 27% of white Americans have poor credit records, where 48% of blacks do ( ). The reasons for this are an entirely separate debate, but it boils down to there being substantially fewer black men than white men who are qualified to be police officers. Of the black applicants who are qualified for police service, they usually have many better and more lucrative options. Many businesses and colleges actively recruit high-achieving minorities, enticing them with management training programs and full-ride scholarships. If I was a young man offered a choice of a professional career in engineering, medicine, or business or being a police officer, both with all training and education costs paid, it would be pretty tough to take the cop route.
Now and then, law enforcement agencies decide their need for minority officers or supervisors is so great that they lower the bar for minority applicants. This has had disastrous consequences in every instance of which I am aware. You need the best person you can get, not just the best [race or ethnicity] you can get, to be your cops and supervisors. To summarize: I think the Ferguson PD just got slammed with an event that was beyond their capacity to handle. The people of Ferguson could have responded to the shooting with peaceful protests and demonstrations, and I suspect most of them intended to do exactly that. But a relatively small number decided to respond with violence, and the FPD wasn’t trained or equipped to deal with it.
Answer by Tim Dees:
I believe it will eventually be abolished, but not anytime soon.
There is still an ethos of retribution in our justice system. People don’t just want lawbreakers to be stopped–they want them to pay, eye for an eye style. The efficacy of this philosophy as a crime deterrent is ignored. Increasing the penalty for a crime has a negligible effect. If the penalty is a long or lifetime prison sentence and that is raised to capital punishment, I’m not convinced it has any effect at all.
States are highly reluctant to allow examination of evidence in cases where someone has been found responsible and executed. The primary reason given is that it is a waste of public resources with no benefit, but I think a larger reason is that it would eventually be shown that an innocent person was executed. People on death row have already been exonerated of the crimes for which they were convicted. I think it’s all but certain we have already executed someone who really didn’t do it.
Anti-capital punishment advocates would hang their hat on such as case as a rationale for abolishing the death penalty, and the pro-death penalty advocates are not going to give them that tool if they can do anything about it.
I don’t know of a single bit of research on capital punishment that shows that it works any better than any other method, except that it satisfies the public’s need for vengeance. Many would support more a grisly means of execution in place of a painless death from an overdose of anesthetic. I find it instructional that most people who have taken part in the execution of a prisoner are thereafter reluctant to do it again, and many change their minds about the morality of the death penalty. It’s one thing to read about an execution in the newspaper or see it as a 90-second spot on the 6 o’clock news, but very much another to watch such a thing up close and personal.
This editorial originally appeared on Officer.com on March 24, 2007.
It’s not a secret that I am no big fan of Al Sharpton. In my view, he’s made a career of championing any cause that would get him in front of a camera, especially if he could blame the police for another injustice rendered to a black man or woman. Sharpton is, in my view, a mean-spirited, narcisisstic opportunist who cares far less about the ideology he spouts as his own celebrity. If he was truly interested in saving the lives of black people, there is another issue he could take up where he could prevent more killings of black people than the police will ever do. And to boot, he is far more well-equipped to address the problem than most anyone else.
Most recently, Al has been trying to orchestrate the prosecution of three NYPD detectives who were involved in the shooting of Sean Bell outside of a New York City nightclub in November. Al has to be a little conflicted about that one, as two of the detectives who have been indicted for manslaughter are black themselves. He had a choice between siding with two gentlemen of color who had no criminal record and a great history of honorable service to their community, or another with a substantial criminal history who had recently made a narcotics purchase from an undercover officer. Every one of us is judged in part by the company we keep.
Note that I don’t refer to Al as “Reverend Sharpton.” Al was “ordained” as a minister at the age of ten, which tells me that any seminary he attended probably included graham crackers and milk, recess, and crossing guards. By Al’s standard, I should probably include my status as a Junior Forest Ranger and card-carrying member of the Huckleberry Hound Fan Club on my vita. But unless someone can produce evidence that chicks dig that stuff, I’ll take a pass.
I can’t speak to the rightness or wrongness of the indictments. I wasn’t there, and the media accounts of the incident are my sole source of information about it. I do believe that it will be close to impossible for the detectives to get a fair trial in New York City, mainly because Al’s grandstanding has hopelessly tainted the jury pool. Al has been quoted as saying, “We will not participate in a trial outside Queens County.” That works for me, not to mention that he has no more to contribute to the trial than I do.
But the Sean Bell matter is only part of the reason I am writing today. I have another project for Al to consider, and that is the matter of homicides of black people. According to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, blacks are six times more likely to be homicide victims than are whites. Half of the homicides in the United States over the last thirty years have involved black victims, even though blacks comprised only 12-13% of the population over that time. And, of those criminal killings of black people, 94% were done by other black people.
Murder is a crime that mostly doesn’t cut across racial lines. During this same 30 years, 86% of the homicides of whites were by other whites, and you’re far more likely to be killed by someone you know than someone you don’t. White people tend to hang out with white people, and black people with black people, so it stands to reason that the person that kills you will be the same color that you are.
Blacks are also overrepresented in the criminal justice system, but I’m not going to try to either defend that or explain it. I learned a long time ago that complex problems are seldom resolved with simple solutions. Crime is affected by economics, education, environment and a long list of other factors, and fixing any one of them, especially by an outsider, is unlikely to achieve much of a difference. I don’t want to get too Zen here, but this kind of change has to come from within.
Al has the ear of the black community. He has credibility there, although after his faux pas with the Tawana Bradley case and serving as a huckster for a loan company with predatory practices toward blacks, I don’t understand why. Why isn’t Al in the trenches, urging his followers to commit themselves to an education, forsake drugs and alcohol, maintain strong nuclear families, and (since he does claim to be a minister) get more involved with their churches? Why does Al not condemn the “Stop Snitching” campaigns that empower gangs, pimps and drug merchants to victimize the community and keep its members from improving their lot in life? How come Sharpton doesn’t tell the kids at his rallies that they would be a lot better off if they diverted the money they’re spending on bling, basketball shoes and Sean John to buying books and saving for college? This wouldn’t be a new approach. Bill Cosby, who dropped out of high school to join the Navy but later earned a doctorate in education, and who has been very generous in his gifts to traditionally black colleges, has been saying it for years.
It’s not like I have a mission in life to stem the tide of black crime. I do what I can to reduce the incidence of any crime, without regard to the colors of the victims or the perpetrators. I could take my show to the projects and appeal to the hearts and minds there, but I doubt that my pasty white Irish shtick is going to go over real well in that venue. Al has a much better shot at improving this situation than most of us will ever have, but he might not get on TV as often.
This is the Age of Irresponsibility. Nothing is your fault; there is always someone else to blame. Al’s favorite whipping boy is the police, and while I would love to see him change, I’m not going to hold my breath.