Saturday, December 27, 2008

Is The Line Ready

Today's blog is a blatant self-promotion of my POD book (POD = publish on demand) which I titled "Is The Line Ready - A police perspective on worldly wisdom" and available from a link on my website or from It's also a little bit of thinking out loud about being a writer.

The book has been well received by those who have read it. It consists of a quick read that can be savored one page a day for a year or can be consumed in an afternoon. The format is simple and consists of a quotation from a notable source followed by my brief commentary, then a challenge for the day.

I hesitate to call myself a "writer". A writer is someone who has suffered for years of rejection from publishing houses then finally gets a big break, goes on a whirlwind publicity tour, buys his dream house, and sits in front of the fireplace with his old typewriter trying to write the next best seller before falling into a desperate slump that leads to his suicide and everlasting fame as a tortured artist. Nevertheless, I would recommend that anyone who thinks they might have a story to tell take the opportunity to do it with the magic of internet publishing.

I don't know what the mind of a "real" writer is like. I'm not sure if there are lots of ideas and stories deep within me fighting for a voice. I will say it was quite a relief to see my first work in print, and a self-indulgent thrill to sign a book for a friend. The idea for a book of daily readings was actually one of my more recent thoughts. It took about two or three years to go from conception to print on this particular project. The inspiration for the book was 1) I saw other similar projects by persons whom I considered to be of no greater ability, 2) I hadn't seen any law enforcement specific books of this kind, 3) it was a project that seemed possible to accomplish, and 4) it seemed ideally suited for my first self-publishing project.

Before completing my doctoral dissertation my writing had been limited to letters to the editor, a weekly column while I was Chief of Police a dozen years ago, and one article in The Missouri Police Chief magazine. The dissertation process was grueling and a great training experience for writing. Of course for the most part a dissertation does not carry the burden of marketing, but the research and editing was like boot camp.

What really made me think I could write a book is the existence of self publishing and publish-on-demand services. After a little bit of internet research I chose It was amazingly simple - not without glitches but still relatively simple - to upload my manuscript on a template they provided, then create a simple cover, and order my first copy. I completed the manuscript while on a week's vacation. Since finding the quotations to use was fairly simple, albeit time consuming, half my work was done after selecting the quotes. The quotations provoked some thoughts that I used for my commentary and my daily challenges. The work flowed pretty seamlessly during the writing stage.

Editing was a challenge since there is a phenomenon where the brain does all the short cut editing for me. In other words, the flaws on the page are fixed in my brain's interpretation and therefore masks errors to my own work. In fact, the brain operates that way for other readers as well. It wasn't until after my 4th revision to the book that a friend pointed out an error on the title page! Lack of editing services is the most serious drawback to self publishing. Those services are available for a fee but most of us who are vain enough to push a book through a self publishing site are too vain to allow or impose on others a reading of their work before publishing.

The advantage of using a site like is that there is no cost to the writer at all. If you order a book you pay for the book that is printed. This particular company inflates the shipping costs but since I don't own a printing press it has been a good deal for me. I am not deluded in my expectations. If I sell a hundred books I'll be delighted. The great advantage in addition to my ego is that I can now claim "published author" on my resume and lets me cross off one of the items on my bucket list. Now I just need to get my helicopter pilot license....

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hate Crimes

Before looking at this commentary the reader should do some deep breathing, relax, and keep an open mind. I'm not going to say anything explosive, but I am going to argue against having hate crime laws and that in itself will cause some to assume that I am racist. Being opposed to hate crime laws doesn't mean that one is in favor of hate crime behavior. The argument against hate crime laws is centered not on condoning a type of individual behavior, but rather on fearing the eventual result of government abuse of power.

Outcries for hate crime laws will be heard whenever there is a high profile crime against a member of a minority or protected group. There is still a movement for hate crime legislation echoing from the Matthew Shephard murder. (Shepard, gay University of Wyoming student was found badly beaten, tied to a rural-area fence post and left for dead on the morning of Oct. 7, 1998. Police charge that Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney pretended to be homosexuals, lured Shepard out of the Fireside Lounge and took him to a remote area east of Laramie, Wyo. He died five days later in a Fort Collins hospital. ).

The first question one might ask is what practical effect a hate crime law would have had on the killers of Matthew Shephard. Wyoming has the death penalty for murder and the four suspects were arrested and brought to justice. The threat of an additional slap on the hand would hardly have entered their calculus at the time of their crime.

The second question one might ask is what the hate crime legislation is actually punishing. Since the behavior which was spawned by their reported disgust with Shephard's perceived homosexual advances was already illegal (beating and murder), the hate law would only apply to a crime of having a certain thought or attitude while committing the other crimes. We have to take a short lesson in the elements of crimes before I explain why the premise of hate crimes is anathema to American jurisprudence.

Crimes consist not only of a certain behavior such as punching or shooting someone, but that behavior must be accompanied by a criminal intent. It is absolutely critical to distinguish between intent and motive. Intent is the state of mind which drives the behavior. To pretend to shoot someone with an unloaded gun, only to find the gun has a bullet in it when the trigger is pulled is a different intent than aiming a loaded gun with the intent that a pull of the trigger kill the intended victim. To find oneself threatened by another and choosing to use a firearm to defend oneself from a deadly attack is different than accidentally pulling the trigger while cleaning a gun. In all four of these cases a person on the receiving end of the bullet will be just as dead, but the crimes charged, if any, and the legal defenses available are all different, as would be any subsequently imposed punishment.

Motive is simply the reason that was used by the offender to justify a subsequent behavior. If bank robber A planned to rob First National Bank because his mother needed cash for a life saving medical procedure and bank robber B planned to rob the same bank to feed his own cocaine addiction, both A and B would be prosecuted for robbing the bank with the intent of stealing money. Motive, while of interest to investigators and jurors, is not required to be proven or even addressed in the prosecution. It is not an element of the criminal offense charged.

To prosecute for motive in hate crimes, as opposed to intent, would require a juror to know what set of attitudes an offender had and for the juror to be willing to punish a person for their thoughts. A thought or attitude of prejudice toward a person of another race or religion or sexual preference may be unjustified, immoral, improper, ignorant, despicable, and vile but it should not be illegal. Speech that expresses hate or prejudice is protected speech under the Constitution. As unpleasant as it may be to hear a NeoNazi parade with White Supremacists shouting racial epithets along Main Street, their thoughts and expressions are not only legal but enjoy a special level of protection by virtue of their unpopularity. In any discourse about the merits of the supremacists' position on race relations, the give and take of ideas will eventually serve the public much more fully than completely suppressing the rights of the hate mongers to spew.

The line is obviously drawn where riotous intent exists or where disturbance or assault or property damage ensues. In those cases where a criminal violation occurs those violations will be prosecuted for the illegal behavior that was intended and not for their notions of racism. Persons subject to victimization by virtue of their race, religion, sexual orientation or other minority or protected status still enjoy the protection of law. Burning crosses in someones yard, beating somebody up, refusing housing accommodations - all this BEHAVIOR remains illegal.

The peril of prosecuting thought should be obvious to any student of history or literature. The slippery slope is that certain beliefs will become illegal. Once those beliefs are unlawful, the expression of them will be unlawful and labelled as hate speech. This has already happened in other western cultures, notably our neighbor Canada. While moral absolutes such as murder, rape, robbery, assault, theft, etc will remain steady over the centuries the topics subject to hate speech will be blown with the winds of those in power. The risk to our freedoms that would occur from policing thought crimes vastly outweighs the risk of disorder from open discourse and debate, including hateful words. We must continue to define behaviors and criminal intentions as unlawful, and not motives, attitudes, or beliefs as illegal.

ER Docs Surveyed Claim Excessive Force by Police

A recent article ( ) shows that a huge majority of emergency room physicians report that patients who had been treated after being subject to use of force by police officers were subjected to excessive force. Within the same article is discussion about whether ER docs should begin mandatory reporting of suspected excessive force by police. I cannot describe adequately how much damage this report will cause to the police profession, nor can I adequately express how utterly worthless the research is to the issue of police use of force.

The opinion of anyone - regardless of whether they are a well educated, well respected professional -about an event which they have not witnessed and about which they have no objective information is worthless and irrelevant. They may be experts in assessing injury but they are not experts in assessing whether that injury was justifiably and legally incurred. It would be no surprise to find that patients who were the subject of such force would almost universally claim that the force was excessive. "Thanks for using the Taser on me Officer I sure had that coming" is not a phrase you're going to hear very often.

There is no comparison between a domestic violence victim or child abuse victim and the person who has been injured by the police. A law or policy requiring medical personnel to report suspected excessive force by police is entirely out of place. No family violence victim chooses to be the subject of an assault. Persons who disregard their statutorily mandated duty to submit to an arrest and obey police commands do make that choice. No abuser of a spouse or child has the right to commit an act of violence against their prey (other than lawful corporal punishment of a minor for disciplinary purposes). A police officer is specifically trained, equipped, and lawfully mandated to be the aggressor in contacting persons suspected of criminal behavior. They are given Constitutional guidelines, certain levels of immunity, and statutory authority to act on behalf of the people in the use of necessary means to gain compliance. Victims of relationship violence have few resources and weak recourse against their attackers. Citizens who claim excessive force have advocates waiting in the wings to help them file grievances, imperil an officer's job, sue the officer and his or her employing agency, or commence a state or federal civil rights investigation. There is no conceptual correlation between a victim of relationship violence for which there are mandatory reporting and protection laws, and the subject of a police use of force.

I urge people in the medical, research, and law enforcement professions to speak out at every opportunity when this research is cited as evidence of police misconduct.