“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson, MO

I don't have anything magical to add in analysis of the situation or the following events, so move on if that's your concern.

However, as a law enforcement officer, I do have two observations which have resurfaced from the whole thing:

- #1 - yet again, this is why I see the need for cameras in every patrol vehicle (if not body mounted). While they will never be 100%, it certainly provides an irrefutable and open image of events such as this. Having been involved in a false excessive force allegation myself, I can certainly say I WISHED that I had video of the event - it would have solved things much more quickly. Yes, video is subject to interpretation, but much less so than the current "he said/he said" situation.

Furthermore, as police in this nation we SHOULD be open and accountable. I cannot think of a single police use of force (particularly lethal force) situation where I wouldn't be willing to have the event exposed and explained and subject to public scrutiny - we are charged by society with the trust to do such acts, so we owe it to the same society to openly display when such force is used. Now, before anyone gets on the "tactics and officer safety" bandwagon - I've done enough entries and other things in my time to feel confident in saying that we can certainly provide the community and the government oversight with video, audio, etc of lethal force events without displaying any sensitive tactics or procedures that got us there.

And, quite frankly, call me jaded - but any officer arguing against such is probably one who I have questions about anyway.

#2 - the other observation has to stem from my experiences, and thus being able to relate to what the officer involved is dealing with now. Things like this hit the press and take on a life of their own. And, due to department policies, and more importantly sound legal advice, we have to stay quiet. Should you be involved in an incident as an officer (or a civilian in a deadly force situation) any competent lawyer will immediately tell you to keep your mouth shut. Not saying you don't cooperate with the investigation, or deal with any internal affairs or other issues - but you DO NOT make press statements as to what happened, why you did/did not do certain things or in any way respond to the allegations. If anything is done regarding that it is through media statements by the department, or by a private attorney who will use a lot of words but say very little. Because they realize that anything said will be pre-interpreted prior to any court case which adjudicates based on facts.

Meanwhile, the other side has no such burden - they will freely impugn your character, the events in question, your motivations, and everything else. And, emboldened by your silence, the accusations become then that "they must know it's true" or "they're hiding something."  Every press conference tailor-made to highlight the "suffering" of the other side, and the lack of a response viewed as "the thin blue line standing firm to protect their own."

It sucks. There's no other way to put it.

And, that's not even counting the civil risk - even if everything is clear criminally, you can bet on a lawsuit. Meaning once again you and your family are under the pressure. You can't apply for a house or other loan with any success. You have even more attorney and court appearances, and they are FAR more hostile and accusatory. Facing the risk of your employer choosing not to fight it, leaving you potentially liable to lose everything you own based on a jury's sympathies. Not that I'm saying you shouldn't be responsible if you use force wrongly (I advocate harsh and permanent sanctions for such) - but even if you are in the right and cleared you will get sued, I can say from personal experience.

And no matter what, it changes you, and your relationship with the community and your profession and your peers. Because, no matter what happens in court, no matter how you may be vindicated, how your actions are shown as appropriate and just and reasonable, it doesn't change things. There isn't a press conference to say "Ooops, we jumped to conclusions."  If anything, it is a news release implying that someone "got off" on the allegations, or the system was rigged - because that all fits the narrative. But 99% of the time it isn't even that - the media storm blows over, court comes and goes, and you're left with knowing that you were in the right, but you can never reclaim that little bit of your dignity from the public circus. Knowing that forever after some attorney can bring up the "weren't you accused of XYZ before officer????"

I honestly don't know what happened in Missouri. I don't know which side is "more" right in the case, because I wasn't there and right now the media monster on either side is spinning like a top.

But, I do know that two lives will never ever be the same because of it - one is dead, and one has effectively ended any chance of living in that community again. And that we, as a society and a profession, can figure out a better way to manage the aftermath of such events. We owe it to ourselves as professionals to be accountable and open and fair in our dealings. We owe it to our citizens to show we are worthy of the trust placed in us, and exercising it appropriately. And, most importantly, we owe it to the people involved, so that lives and reputations are not destroyed on hearsay and allegations, and instead face only the light of truth as to what occurred.


lelnet said...

"We owe it to our citizens to show we are worthy of the trust placed in us, and exercising it appropriately."

Thank you. If only more police officers felt as you do, we might not have quite so many problems.

Old NFO said...

Well said. Thank you! First shred of sanity I've seen on this whole mess...

Phelps said...

Ferguson PD is sick. The initial shooting smells like a bad shoot, mainly from the lack of information (information that the PD has complete control of, and the inference is that if they aren't releasing info, the info is bad). Beyond that, though, the entire response has been bungled.

The entire department looks badge heavy. There's no reason for a police department to even own camo. Cops don't hide. Cops that are hiding are probably bad cops. Bad cops collect cameras and shoot tear gas at the press. Good cops notice the press, and just make a mental note to be extra cautious about how you look.

Ferguson PD and St Louis County are sick, sick sick, and it's iffy whether or not a strong dose of antibiotics will be enough. They could be too far gone to redeem. You know better than anyone that a few bad apples ruin the barrel, because they run the good apples off to other departments.

Jeff said...

As always your Police experience and sound opinions are highly valued and sobering. It is just a shame that more people don't engage the brain before the mouth.

Jeff said...

As always your Police experience and sound opinions are highly valued and sobering. It is just a shame that more people don't engage the brain before the mouth.

Captain Tightpants said...

Phelps -
Two important bits I will disagree with you on, from my experience:

#1 - Police departments routinely do not release many details from an officer involved shooting, much the same as for any other crime - because of the fact the investigation is ongoing, and to do so would jeopardize the process. It does not necessarily mean they are hiding something, rather that they are attempting to preserve the integrity of the process. Do I know that is what occurred here? Of course not, but jumping to the conclusion it's a bad shoot because the case file hasn't been opened for public scrutiny is wrong. Furthermore, given the CSI-influence on public knowledge, everyone expects things like ballistics, toxicology and other lab analysis to be done in a matter of hours, and it just doesn't work that way.

#2 - There are legitimate tactical reasons for departments to own and utilize camouflage uniforms and such at the appropriate times. No, that doesn't mean cops walking the beat in full heavy armor, helmets and Multicam - but when the situation calls for it, to keep personnel safer and more effectively defeat criminals it is perfectly legitimate. Saying there is no reason for cops to "hide" is like saying there is no justification for undercover or plainclothes operations, which is an obvious fallacy. Sometimes you have to work covertly in order to fight crime. Again, am I saying it was appropriately applied here - no, I'm not arguing either side. But don't paint it into a corner of black hats and white hats with no room in the middle.

Phelps said...

I'm not a fan of undercover operations, either, because they are generally only required for victimless crimes (because the state is creating crime where no one is claiming injury.)

Camo is a corrosive mindset, like unmarked/stealth traffic cars. It blows the Peelian principles out of the water and turns the cops into the enemy of their constituents, rather than a part of them.

Police work has gotten too safe. "Everyone goes home" has the unwritten "even if everyone not in a badge dies to make it happen." What happened to the Peelian principle of "individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life"? It's withering on the vine. Now the sacrifice is the unfortunate citizen who dies while a nice, safe cordon is established and a command center is brought in.

Jeff said...

CT you tried but some people are a lost cause. He's in his own world best to leave him there.

Phelps said...

That's the thing -- I'm NOT a lost cause. I'm a lost cause to people like YOU, who think that I have to be 100% "rah rah cops are always fantastic" or I'm with the criminals.

I'm not an anarchist. I WANT the cops to be on my side. If I were in Ferguson, I would not feel like those cops are on my side. They aren't on the side of the criminals OR the law-abiding. They don't see good guys and bad guys in society. They see THEMSELVES as good guys and everyone else as bad guys and "bad guys we haven't caught yet."

Any seasoned cop can tell within about 20 seconds of a contact if he's dealing with a Good Guy or a Bad Guy. I'm one of the good guys, and I can be a great asset to the police, because I'm observant and law abiding. If that cop is still treating me like a suspect after 20 seconds? I'm shutting the door and telling him to come back with a warrant.

Good shoots happen. Bad shoots that come from good intentions happen. Dallas PD (where I live) has had both. They've bungled some like Ferguson, and some of the latest ones (read about the Dixon Circle shooting) they've handled very, very well.

So yeah, write me off. Because as soon as the cops write off people like me, you get Ferguson, over and over and over. Writing off people like me CAUSED Ferguson.

Phelps said...

I don't consider the cops a lost cause, either, or I wouldn't bother commenting. I would just put my head down and wait.


Jeff said...

Phelps I doubt your honesty. Your preaching is full of bias. You have no balance of opinion even though you declare otherwise. You're angry, you're blind and you are a lost cause. I hope one day your life sorts itself out.
If you want to rant away at another reply then go for it, I really don't care.

Phelps said...

I think it is more reasonable to doubt the honesty of anyone who claims to not be angry at this point.

Everyone is angry one way or the other. That doesn't make anyone a liar.

Swoop42 said...
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Phelps said...

Why doesn't the media cover the stories of officers getting shot and killed over and over again, day in and day out?

On this one, it just doesn't happen much. There were only 33 cops shot to death last year, compared to at least 400 suspects killed by police each year (which is hard to pin down, because departments won't cooperate on compiling accurate numbers.) Cops absolutely are not getting killed "day in and day out", they are getting killed about once every couple of weeks, across the entire country -- less than 1 per state, each year.

I would say that cops get way more than 10x the media coverage when they get killed vs your average suspect.

Captain Tightpants said...

I will ask that all keep it civil here.

Phelps - I certainly don't agree with all of your conclusions, but THAT'S FINE. At no point did I say anywhere in my blog that you must 100% follow my observations - that's the point of rational debate.
I feel that some of your outlooks on law enforcement are rather naive or unrealistic in how the real world works. But you also fairly observe that I have a bias from my outlook - fair on both sides.

I will definitely state that as a society and a profession we have painted ourselves into this perception - and the "us/them" mentality is far from new. Just look at NYPD, Boston or any of the older departments and events in the late 1800s and early 1900s for examples. Is there a perfect fix? Of course not - but a return to a more community involved perception from BOTH sides would be a big step. Because, just as you view many cops as seeing citizens as "the enemy", I can provide countless examples of citizens doing the same. Things as simple as going through a store and parents going "Behave or that policeman will put you in jail!" instill that sense of separation from an early age just as one demonstration.

As for "numbers of deaths" - is there supposed to be some magic equality here? Each death, police or suspect is an individual event the last time I checked. And the point being made is that, just like the Treyvon Martin case in Florida, there has been an extreme jump to conclusions, excessive media coverage, and manufactured outcry over this one incident.

But, if you'd prefer a better comparison - where is the outcry over the epidemic of inner city violence amongst young, black males? Those statistics far outweigh police shootings, despite a half-century long war on poverty, war on drugs, and every other social program - but somehow that doesn't seem to be a subject anyone wants to bring up as a factor in any of this?

Swoop42 said...
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Swoop42 said...
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Phelps said...

If people weren't committing crimes, they probably wouldn't think of us as their enemies.

This the only part I take issue with. It's a dangerous mindset for a cop to have -- "anyone who doesn't trust me probably did something." It's an anathema to civil rights and it is what directly leads to the "us vs the enemies" mindset.

Remember that the only contact most people have with the police is traffic stops. If there was a group of people who's only contact you had with them is them costing you money (for things that they won't charge each other for) wouldn't you start to distrust them? Ferguson was collecting some $2.6 million a year from a municipality of just over 21K people in Ferguson.

There's no way you get to those numbers with a lot of chickenshit tickets. That is a police force that has been sent by its command to prey on the population, not protect them.

The people have lots of legitimate reasons to think of the police as enemies without being criminals, especially when the cops are writing chickenshit tickets. I don't think of the cops like enemies -- I think of you like wild dogs. Most don't want to have anything to do with me, some are friendly and will let you pet them -- but you will never know when you will run into a vicious one that will attack you, and there's nothing you can do about it but get mauled.

You -- the police -- are NOT policing your own. The bad apples are ruining the barrel, and there's nothing the People can do about it other than riot, because you have set yourself apart and above us.

That can't go on forever, and it won't. One way or the other, that will change, and the only non-violent way it can change is from within the police.

Swoop42 said...
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Swoop42 said...

I posted this on 8/22/14, just changed my name:
I agree with all he has to say. I am willing to have a camera on me at all times. What people don't understand is that the media jumps to conclusions often times or goes off what an "eye witness" says and throws it into a media frenzy. (I say"eye witness" because people will say what they perceived the incident to be at the moment, but they may not have actually seen what EXACTLY happened, or they just haven't had time to process it) Then these false allegations get thrown out there and keep getting thrown out there, so that's all the citizens hear. They miss the parts that may exonerate the shooter/so-called offender. Also, departments will attempt to let the public know what happen without too much information - they are protecting the evidence for court. A lot of the "evidence" out there already is unproven, but it contaminates the whole case! Police departments do not want negative publicity, so they will not cover (for the most part) crooked officers. I would not cover for a crooked fellow officer! We take enough heat from the public for just doing our job.....correctly and within the realm of people's constitutional rights! We need the media to help keep the integrity of these cases, but they just want a story and ratings!
But why are we not seeing the stories of black Griffin, Ga officer, Kevin Jordan, getting shot by a white man every day for a week? Why are we not hearing about the white suspect in Utah getting shot by a black officer over and over again, day in and day out? Why doesn't the media cover the stories of officers getting shot and killed over and over again, day in and day out?

Swoop42 said...

I posted this one on 08/23/14:
OK, Phelps. Sure, not all people who hate cops (or think cops are the enemy) are criminals. There are a-hole cops out there. However, officers are supposed to enforce traffic laws and that enforcement leads to a fine, if found guilty. That's the way the system works. And, yes, there are some agencies out there that want a lot of tickets ("productivity", they call it). I like to educate, rather than just issue a ticket. However, if someone doesn't learn from the past and they keep doing the same ol' thing, it's hard to just let it go.
Then there are the ones who violate people's civil rights, use excessive force, etc, etc (the "bad apples"). They definitely have to be dealt with. But it you are jumping to conclusions about the incident in Ferguson and saying this officer is a bad apple, hold on for a second. You're already finding him guilty so, therefore, the people have the right to riot in the streets and demand justice, which would be nothing less than hanging him.
I'm not trying to get nasty hear. I was trying to point out in my last post that, for the most part, police departments don't want those "bad apples". They hire people on good faith and they later turn out to be "bad apples". You're exactly right. It must happen from within. I've worked for two different agencies and have seen the "bad apples" in both. I also saw the first one harp on officers for their "Productivity". I have also worked with some great officers, mostly. I am lucky to be a part of a division that is all about getting out there in the community and helping people, providing information to people, teaching D.A.R.E., etc. I get to be more hands-on with people. They mostly see me in a different light. But, strap on a Sam Browne and gear for a day and see what patrol officers have to deal with on a daily basis - murder, spouse beating, child abuse, rape, etc. It's hard not to become at least a little cynical after a while. They don't all have to be a-holes, but who knows what they've had to go through or what crime they've had to report that day? It's also difficult when you have to work a fatality crash because someone ran a red light.
Just as you said you never know what kind of officer you will run into one day, we never know what kind of person we will be running into during our shift. We always have to be on guard. Which one of those people might want to kill us? You just never know. {It still doesn't give anyone the right to kill someone for no reason. Reasonable fear that your life is in immediate danger justifies lethal force, though}.
Like I said: this is not being ugly. Just give officers a break.

Swoop42 said...

I posted this one on 08/22/14:
Phelps, I wasn't saying that cops get shot day in and day out. I was saying that when they get shot, they don't cover it in the news day in and day out for weeks. But, then again, officers and their families and communities don't protest and draw attention to themselves. They wait for the conclusion of the investigation and don't usually jump to conclusions as to what happened. And, true regarding average suspects, but not when it is a black suspect/person and a white officer/person - they drive it into the ground! Drives me crazy! But it also drives me crazy that the protesters are looting and damaging their own community's (maybe neighbors) property over another person's actions that have nothing to do with the property/business! It's dumb! Anyway.....this is not an argument. It's merely a statement and observation.

Swoop42 said...


I know exactly what you are saying. The citizens have seen all kinds of stuff on television that isn't true about police. For example, they think that an officer has to read them their rights when they get arrested. True, but only if the officer is going to question a suspect further regarding the offense. It has nothing to do with arresting someone for a warrant because the crime has already been committed and the evidence has already been submitted. That's just one point.
No. There is no magic equality in the number of deaths. And a death of a suspect, a citizen, an officer, anyone is tragic. People are losing family members and friends. But people also don't realize that we are not the enemy. We are merely doing our job and most of us (99%+, probably) want to do it well. If we weren't doing our job everything would be complete mayhem! Anyway....I realize that some offices think of them as enemies, as well as vice versa. If people weren't committing crimes, they probably wouldn't think of us as their enemies.
I know that there are horrible, corrupt officers out there who need to be fired, charged with crimes, etc. However, 99% or more of us out there are honest people just trying to make a living. It's the media and the bad officers who make us look bad. We just need to be diligent in our efforts even if it doesn't make sense sometimes.

Swoop42 said...

Reality is that we come into contact with rude people numerous times in our lives. They may have merely had a bad day. They may just hate the world. Someone who deals with the public on a daily basis (say, even a telemarketer or customer service rep) see it often. We also experience those days ourselves and may not act ourselves. We merely (sometimes not so easily) have to check ourselves and try to move forward with an open mind for the next experience/encounter. We can't always live in fear, but maybe live with caution. However, I don't know if I can, in 20 seconds, decide I can let my guard down with just anyone.

Phelps said...

I don't put very much stock in eyewitnesses -- just from the way human memory works, they are going to get it wrong more often than they get it right. In aggregate, though, you can start to get an accurate picture, and we have lots of witnesses to this event who give a clear -broad strokes- story.

I'm not willing to convict Wilson on that. I think that given what we know, it is more likely than not a bad shoot, but certainly don't know beyond a reasonable doubt.

What I do know is what I've seen with my own eyes in the video. I've seen police commit assault with a deadly weapon on random members of the public by pointing weapon at them without justification. I've seen police shoot tear gas directly at an isolated news team, away from any sort of dangerous crowd.

There is no "context" that justifies these actions. They are serious crimes that there should be no qualified immunity from, and not a single goddamned cop is ever going to answer for them.

So yeah, I'm angry. Are cops ever going to follow the law at least as well as they demand from the public?

Momma Fargo said...

Great post! Ferguson is fractured for sure. When we first had cameras implemented, I was not keen on them, but learned to appreciate their value later.