Friday, November 27, 2009

Ooops I Said It

by Joel Shults

I pride myself on guarding my words and feelings. I'm not unemotional but
I don't need the world to know that. I practiced for years to get my face
frozen in that authoritative "don't f*** with me" look. Sure I get chills
anytime I sing the National Anthem and I get misty eyed at most old hymns.
I get plain silly and giddy around my little granddaughter and at the half
century mark I have plenty of stories about how things were back in the
day. My wife and kids will tell you I don't say "I love you" very often,
and certainly not automatically at the end of phone calls or with any
frequency that would wear out the phrase. Every decade or so seems to get
the point across.

And yet, there I was, at a job interview no less (don't worry, my boss
doesn't read PoliceOne), answering a routine question about priorities. I
was telling them that my first customers are my officers. I explained that
if I don't serve them with the same care that I expect them to serve the
public then I can't hold them accountable for the way they treat their
customers. I rambled on and then dropped the L word just a easy as you
please. I said I love and respect my officers. Yes - love. Dang. What
happened to my tough guy persona?

I didn't get the job. But I did realize that I really do love my troops.
The ones I send out everyday. Cut the melodrama, but the reality is
there's no guarantee they'll finish their shift and get to go home to
untie their own shoelaces. If they call I'll come running and I know that
the same is true if I need anything from them. Maybe the boyscouts and
green berets and surenos have the same thing going for them, but I
wouldn't trade mine for anybody's.

But don't tell them I said that. I don't want them to think I'm getting soft.

Rules of Engagement

I've been gathering helpful hints from news accounts so here are the rules of engagement according to the media:
Never shoot anyone over 60.
Never shoot anyone under 18.
Never shoot anyone who has a disability.
Never shoot anyone on their birthday or the night before their wedding.
Never shoot anyone who likes children, was going to make something of themselves, or had an interesting hobby.
Never shoot anyone of a different race, gender, or culture than you.
Never shoot anyone unless they have a bigger, closer, and more visible weapon than you.
Always try to figure out why somebody wants to kill you; it's obviously something you said or did that provokes them.
Always give the person at least one chance to shoot or beat you first.
Tasers are evil but you may use them if the person has a gun.
Since you have unlimited back-up immediately at all times, two big strong police officers can always easily subdue another person due to your special training and other superpowers without harming them.
How hard can it be?

Five Ways to Listen to Your Brain

By Dr. Joel F. Shults
The problem with talking to cops about stress is that there’s a little too much touchy-feely going on in some of those discussions. So let’s talk biology. Our brain soup is not a hot tub with little bubbles of hearts and balloons percolating around just waiting to be nurtured. It’s a complicated but primitive mess of chemistry and tissue. Much of what we interpret and label as “feelings” are biological processes over which we may have limited control.
No tough cops want to think they have lost control of their feelings. I sure don’t want to think that. My job and identity are defined by self-control. I need it, I like it, I’m proud of it, and I’m not giving it up. But if I break a leg and it hurts and makes me limp, that has nothing to do with self-control. It’s just a limitation of biology caused by the stress of somebody’s bumper hitting me at 35mph (been there, done that!). The same is true with my brain being thumped by stress. I can deal with it now, or limp with it later.
Basically your brain is operating in two different worlds: the rational and the primitive. When it comes to stress there’s a part of your brain that is sneaking around like a naughty teenager. Nestled comfortably somewhere behind your forehead is your parent-brain sitting in the den placidly smoking a pipe and reading Plato. The brain in the back of your skull is the teenager down in the basement bedroom doing God knows what. Like any parent of a teenager, the calm, rational brain relaxing in the den and analyzing life with a cool, experienced hand doesn’t necessarily want to know what’s going on in the basement. Like any teenager, the primitive basement brain doesn’t think the rational brain needs to know all of its business, but still needs attention and sometimes acts up just to see of the parent gives a darn.
So congratulations on that teen brain of yours. There it sits, nestled in the brain stem, probably thinking about sex. Even if you’re an old duffer like me that impulsive, adrenaline fueled, hormone charged bundle of nerves still wants to run things and doesn’t know when to shut up and behave.
Chances are your goofy youngster is doing what it thinks is best to help us survive, but making us miserable in the process. Basement brain is selfishly worried about surviving right this moment; it has no sense of the future. It doesn’t care about digestion or fighting off disease or starting a family. It only cares about keeping nerves at attention to recognize threats and getting blood to large muscle groups to be ready to fight. Teen brain doesn’t realize that putting the body in a state of hyper-alertness damages the parent’s ability to relax, engage in emotional closeness, sleep well, digest food, have fulfilling sex, or concentrate on small details. The parent brain is too busy compensating for these icky feelings to pay attention to the stuff in the basement even though that’s really where the problem is.
Are you getting the analogy? Is it time for you to get in touch with your inner 14 year old – the one that’s stressing you out and you don’t even know it? Consider one or more of these suggestions:
1) Ask the people who know you best “Do you think police work has changed me?” Don’t be defensive. Listen and let them answer honestly. Ask at least three people and compare their answers. Your self-awareness will impress them.
2) Be a watcher and listener. Cut the bravado and big talk. If there’s a tough case a fellow officer just handled you don’t have to get your puppy dog face on and say “How did that make you feel?” Just listen. What you hear may tell you as much about yourself as it does about the other person.
3) Ask a younger version of yourself if you’re sadder, more tired, less connected than you used to be. Think about who you were a few years ago. We all toughen up – that’s a good thing; but when we grew our thick skin did we trap a cold heart in there too?
4) Casually ask your doctor about stress – both traumatic and cumulative – and see where you are on the checklist of warning signs. If you can’t manage to ask a professional then start Googling and find some good information about PTSD, stress, and healthy lifestyles.
5) Email me. I want to hear you. I might even talk some sense into that teenaged brain of yours.

Friday, November 20, 2009

LEOK – What The Studies Don’t Tell Us

By Dr. Joel F. Shults
As the 1992 FBI publication Killed in the Line of Duty states: “The specific factors that contribute to a particular law enforcement officer being placed in a particular situation that leads to his or her slaying remain unclear”. How helpful then, are the FBI’s publications on law officer assaults and line of duty deaths? Law Enforcement Officers Killed (LEOK) seminars are being presented throughout the country and are in high demand. These programs are made available by the FBI and are a chilling reminder of the savagery of attacks on police officers.
Scientific research always includes the researchers’ assessment of the limitations of the project both in terms of methodology and interpretation of the results. This article addresses concerns about the limitations of the LEOK research and seminars. The observations stated here is not a critique, but rather an objective exploration of where the value of these studies lies.
Data sets are not predictive of outcomes
Analyzing the past is challenging enough, predicting a future encounter and its outcome is much like predicting the weather – the perfect storm may somehow be related to the unseen flap of butterfly wings that swirl a set of molecules into motion. LEOK studies examine historical occurrences and while valuable in examining trends they should be used with great caution for establishing paradigms for predicting future assaults. There is some danger that officers will trade old inaccurate preconceptions of how they will be attacked for new inaccurate preconceptions.
Statistics and charts show what percentage of officers were engaged in certain activities, where attacks occurred relative to offenders’ homes, and the most prevalent season, day, and hour of officer murders. But the preeminent risk is that there is no hour, no season, no day, and no assignment which is unrepresented in officer murders. Will I behave differently when working day shift knowing that my chances of being murdered between breakfast and lunch are half that of being murdered between lunch and supper? Am I then to be half as cautious? Does a finding that the .45 ACP caliber of bullet killed the same percentage of lawmen as the .22 magnum determine how cautiously I deal with an armed offender?
Interviews with offenders offer only subjective assessments
No claim is made by the FBI or LEOK trainers that there is a singular profile of a cop-killer. Profiles are composites; an average of characteristics that seem to appear with some frequency. The psychopathic ramblings and life observations of caged cop killers make for interesting case studies, but there are limitations to the generalization of their comments to all or most deadly encounters.
Limitations include possible distortions in the offender’s recall of the deadly interchange. Sensory distortion in a violent incident is not limited to the victim officer; an offender is undergoing a traumatic event as well. Interviews are necessarily conducted years after the event, during which offenders may have reconstructed the entire sequence of events as well as their rationale and feelings at the time. Only consenting inmates were interviewed, which may have created a self-selecting research sample that differs in some way from a more inclusive sample. In other words talkers may construct their view of the world and themselves differently than the non-talkers whose tales are not told.
Statistical averages have no mathematical predictive value
Remember the difference between mean and mode from you statistics class? A mean is an average. If you have a study sample of a killers that consists of a twenty year old male, a thirty year old woman, and an seventy year old female the average age of your group is forty even though no actual 40 year old exists. The mode is the most frequently occurring number or category. In our group, the gender mode is female. Neither of those statistics would explain nor predict an officer death at the hands of the 60 year old male. Averages and modalities make for interesting reading but do not provided an analytical tool for a given set of circumstances that may occur. Therefore average ages, average years of experience, average distances from the attacker are all of interest but do not provide answers for officers in their unique confrontations.
Officer profiles offer no predictive value
One of the most often cited results of the LEOK study is that the victim officers are characterized as friendly, well-liked, hard working, service oriented, less likely to use force, breaks some officer safety and policy rules, feels he can “read” people, looks for the good in others, and is easy going. This set of characteristics was found in the Violent Encounters study released in 2006 as well as the 1992 study. Trainers should be very cautious in the application of this finding. One problem is that if we assume that these traits are somehow causative or contributory factors to officer deaths then to be safe an officer should be unfriendly, disliked, avoid hard work and public service, use forces frequently, follow every procedure to the letter every time, make no assumptions about a person, assume the worst in everyone, and be constantly uptight.
We simply could not police this way. A second limitation is that these descriptive terms are too general to be useful and there is no study that indicates that these traits don’t describe most of the 700,000 police officers who survive every year. Police officers must be chameleon by habit and adapt to individual situations. We cannot know from these studies if the behavior characteristics of the victim officers were at play during the violent encounters studies, nor if those same behavior characteristics were actually very successful in previous encounters in preventing violence.
The 2007 FBI LEOK publication cites 57 officers feloniously killed in 51 separate incidents. Of these: 16 officers died in 2007 from felonious attacks during arrest situations, 16 officers died as results of ambush situations, 11 officers died during traffic pursuits/stops, 5 officers died while responding to disturbance calls, 4 officers died while investigating suspicious persons/circumstances, 3 officers died during tactical situations. We have no indication that the officers who died by ambush, and therefore had no way to prevent the attack, are profiled any differently than those who may have had a chance to avoid their own death with tactical or perceptual improvements. We can certainly believe that officers who die in tactical situations are among the highest trained, best equipped, and most aware of the circumstances into which they are called. Nearly half of the killers interviewed said that there was nothing the officer could have done after the initial contact to save their lives.
Regarding the trait of reluctance to use force we must question the scale used to measure such a trait. Rapid decisions about application of policy and procedure result in officers’ technically straying from guidelines on a daily basis. The contrast between the dead officers’ actions and the second guessing of officers reviewing the event is predictable and not instructive of any actual contrast between victim officers and the general police population in terms of use of force decisions. In addition, although failing to wait for back up is cited as a fault, almost half of the assaults on officers studied in the 2006 report occurred where more than one officer was present and it is not known to what degree back up was available in the remaining cases.
An aspect of survival that is noted in the analysis of selected assaults on officers in the 1997 FBI publication In The Line of Fire is the officers’ will to live. This condition, frequently alluded to in officer survival literature, is difficult to define and is often reverently regarded as essential to surviving. Without critiquing the fact that this characteristic is not quantifiable, an objective examination of this aspect – whether it is by nature biological, metaphysical, or psychological – suggests that it has a mythical quality about it. Anecdotal evidence of the value of the survival mindset is very strong, and has been acculturated in a generation of police officers. To imply that some officers die because they lacked a will to live is not a conclusion based on defensible logic.
These factors create a great deal of doubt as to the usefulness of officer victim profiles. It is probable that knowing the victim profile is of no particular value since it may simply be saying that police officers who are killed are like every other police officer in general. We have no balancing data relative to officers not included in the studies to assume otherwise.
Offender profiles offer no predictive value
The analysis of offenders provides no predictive tools to assess an officer’s risk in a particular set of circumstances, as attested in the 1992 report. We also have little data to show whether, among the relatively small sample of police killers among the vast number of criminals imprisoned (and the even larger sample of unidentified violent criminals), the characteristics of police killers are significantly different than other criminals or even the population at large. Even if we could predict with some accuracy the likelihood of a person killing a police officer the victim officer would not normally know this at the time of the encounter. We also know that offenders typically have had numerous non-lethal encounters with law enforcement prior the fatal one, making a contact as unpredictable with the profile knowledge as without.
Offenders interviewed apparently often mention that they sized the officer up and decided to resist or not based on those calculations. Commentators may be overemphasizing the role of the offender’s view of the officer as professional or unprofessional as a principle contributing factor to the felons’ decisions to attack. The fact that this element is mentioned by several offenders does not imbue their comments with credibility given these killers’ skewed sense of their world. Nor does it really instruct an officer how to give off that aura of confidence and competence to a person whose values are contrary to those of law enforcement. It is ironic that we give credence to an offender who “reads” an officer’s ability to handle a situation yet we contend that that same characteristic in officers is faulty and may contribute to their death.
Some of the most important data exists in that which is not studied
A major gap in research on use of force is an analysis of successful encounters to compare and contrast with the kinds of violent resistance that generates reports and documentation. In other words we study the failures and not the successes. Compliant police encounters offer up no data. A recent survey indicates that 60-80% of officers will make a deadly force decision in their career and yet we know that a small number of officers actually discharge their weapon during a career at a suspect. We do not systematically study the successful outcomes - the unpulled trigger, the holstered nightstick, the uninjured officer. While the Violent Encounters study interviewed surviving officers of serious attacks, we don’t fully know why similar situations vary in their outcomes, as is acknowledged in the preface to In The Line of Fire. We don’t know how many offenders wanted to or had the opportunity to kill an officer and decided against murder for whatever reason.
Despite good faith efforts to dissect the anatomy of a police officer’s line of duty death, these tragic events represent a sample size within the universe of all suspect resistance and police contacts. Police officers engage in hundreds of thousands of contacts every day. A tiny number of those contacts results in an officer death or in any use of lethal force. We don’t really know what is different about all those compliant outcomes compared to the deadly ones, other than the latter are highly investigated and the former are not. We can’t simply say that a peaceful arrest was when the officer did everything right and a fatal encounter is where the officer erred in some deadly way.
Another limitation of the flagship 1992 report is that it is based on incidents chosen for study that occurred between 1975 and 1985. As we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century we realize that much about technology, society at large and the police profession in particular has changed since those events took place. The conclusions from those events may be different than the aggregate of police killings in recent years.
The FBI and other scholarly studies on officer deaths and assaults must continue. The value of these studies may be seen in an increased awareness by officers of the dangers they face. The limitations of these studies in their methodology and in the assumptions and applications that are drawn from them must be carefully measured by users of the information. None of these studies makes a claim that any resulting information will be a predictor of a specific future event or prescribe specific responses to an extremely dynamic violent event. This important research must certainly continue but at present the predictive value of these studies provides only a dramatic reminder that murderous assaults can occur anytime, anywhere.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking a Beating in the Press

With a chilling coldness the man sank his knife into the woman’s belly and sliced her open. I wanted to rush over and help her as she locked her eyes straight up at the ceiling in fear, but she was surrounded by his people and I knew it would be foolish to intervene. He lay aside his bloody instrument, reached in to the gaping wound and, with a little tug, pulled out a small bundle of flesh and asked me if I wanted to come over now and see my new son as he clamped the umbilical. The way a story is told makes all the difference in the world, doesn’t it? It’s a good thing that doctors still have a decent amount of credibility with the press otherwise the headline would read “Doctor cuts woman, removes fetus, slices lifeline”. Police officers seldom get the same professional courtesy. Instead of the headline “Officers Justified in Arrest of Suspected Shooters”, the reports from Philadelphia proclaimed “Grand Jury Clears Officers in Taped Beating Case” (Associated Press, August 6, 2009).
The grand jury report said "… the design of the force applied by the police was helpful rather than hurtful…The kicks and blows were aimed not to inflict injury, but to facilitate quick and safe arrests. We found that the kind of force administered was completely consistent with police training and guidelines and the laws of the commonwealth." In other words, despite the fact that the officers involved were summarily fired, there was no beating. There was an arrest of three men suspected of shooting into a crowd.
Despite common perceptions even among police officers, the infamous case of Rodney King was not a beating, but an arrest. After two trials it was determined that one or two blows seen on that dramatic video were deemed unnecessary, yet 17 years later the word “beating” is inseparable from the case. Headlines imply that beatings are rampant as though every cop has some kind of Tourette’s Syndrome that causes them to randomly smack people for no reason. While cops and their bosses remain silent while the case is under investigation, politicos and irate hate-baiters have free reign to get their hostile verbiage into headlines. The vast majority of investigative outcomes vindicating the officers are unreported, underreported, or make new headlines only when the objective findings outrage the haters afresh.
The apparently pervasive attitude reflected in the media that the cops are guilty until proven innocent may on the one hand be an important social control on state sanctioned force, but it also may increasingly hamstring our profession in ways that could spiral into a tragic reluctance to engage the bad guys in safe and effective ways. The ACLU and Amnesty International continue propaganda against Tasers despite their life-saving benefit. Nervous administrators seem quick on the draw to dismiss accused officers before they can be exonerated. Race-baiting opportunists continue to ignore the quantum leaps of progress in unbiased crime fighting while ignoring deeper, more entrenched problems of inequality. Long term risks include an increase in defiance and non-compliance, intrusive and hostile political oversight of police investigations, and calls for more federalization of law enforcement.
We can complain about the unfairness but on a personal level we must be mentally prepared to deal with a controversial use of force event. We give lip service to preparing for an officer involved shooting, but lesser affairs can be just as devastating in their after effects. Are you establishing professional credentials to help you weather accusations of poor training or poor attitude? Are you documenting your reputation for being reasonable and cool headed? If you don’t have concrete evidence of your agency’s likelihood of support and objectiveness do you have an advocate who will stand with you? Will your prosecutor drop the case like a hot rock regardless of its merit if it becomes a public relations liability? Like any aspect of police work, planning ahead and mitigating the threat is always wise. We need to survive every encounter with our bodies, minds, and careers intact.

Modern policing: The New Vietnam?

The Iraq war has evidenced a culture shift in America’s perception of its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. For the generation that watched the bitterness of the Vietnam war extend to a hatred of the soldiers who fought in it, there is a great relief that we have learned to respect the troops regardless of our agreement about the politics that lead to war. In the Vietnam era, as those in uniform during the time will attest, those who marched for peace were associated with anarchy at home that extended to bombing of ROTC offices on college campuses, and to greeting returning combat veterans with chants of “baby killer”. Vietnam veterans were scorned for their maladjustment upon returning to the states where dysfunctional vets made the news on a regular basis, compared to the stoic WWII vets of the “greatest generation”.
The Carter administration’s Iran Hostage Crisis with its yellow ribbon campaign supporting the release of the captive servicemen and others heralded a new patriotism that flowered during the Reagan years and continued with our “good” Gulf War under George H. W. Bush. These events restored national pride in our armed services. A national repentance over the mean spirited treatment of our Vietnam era solders seemed to take place so that by the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks our military was in such high regard that even the eventual loss of public support of the Iraq War did not diminish our desire to “support our troops”.
The police profession should learn about this cycle of contempt and respect because we are entering, or have entered, an era where the conditions are ripe for a long season of public contempt for our police. If we fail as a profession to recognize the origins of anti-police sentiment and fail to conduct ourselves wisely in response to it we risk, as a nation, a descent into the same kinds of violence that marked the decades of the Vietnam, Watergate, and civil rights riots of the 60s and 70s.
So who is hating the cops and why? Based on my analysis of news reports and blogs the primary instigators are clustered among five groups: anarchists, activists, attorneys, academicians, and arrested persons’ relatives.
Anarchists are comprised of extremists associated with the environmental movement, those who oppose drug prohibition, and may include other anti-government groups who are discontented and advocate revolution. While there are certainly moderate thinkers who share some philosophical roots, the anti-government ideologues believe that current governance violates principles of individual liberty or are so corruptly influenced by big corporations and institutionalized racism that its police power is illegitimate and should be resisted and even preemptively attacked.
Activists are opportunistic individuals or groups who attach themselves parasitically to sensational news reporting of alleged police misconduct. The typical response is an extended tirade that generalizes the allegations to all police officers. They leverage the reported event against all previously reported events and tend to cite the Rodney King arrest as illustrative of all police activity.
Attorneys have a pecuniary interest in fostering claims of police misconduct because doing so attracts plaintiffs, indoctrinates potential jurors, and creates settlement revenue in cases where litigation would likely exonerate the officer but would be too exhausting for a defendant to contest. Many attorneys have blogs or websites disguised as expert commentary but designed to advertise their services. The commentary is typically over-generalized, biased, predicated on broad presumptions and unsupported by facts.
Academicians with leftist leanings are inclined to cite theoretical suppositions about police culture, state sanctioned violence; and historical use of law enforcement to break strikes, capture escaped slaves, harass civil rights workers, and violently attack protesters. They extend those historical abuses to an assumption that today’s police officers are part of an inherently brutal system. They are often sought out as media commentators and cite unreliable research, such as the contention that police officers are grossly over-represented as domestic violence perpetrators.
Another common face seen on television is the relative of the arrested person. The emotional appeal of the crying mother, girlfriend, or brother wondering “why they had to shoot him” can often diminish the impact of the actual facts. Indeed an arrest or other use of force is always an occasion that represents a sad failure of individuals and society. The impact of the pathos generated by upset advocates of the “victim” are multiplied if the person had a mental health problem, was young or old, or was celebrating his or her birthday or wedding; or if the person had a sympathetic background story as an animal lover or loving big brother, etc.
Additionally a chilling component of articles and blogs regarding police matters is the cluster of typically anti-police vitriol in the comment sections. Certainly it can be claimed that the malcontents are a self-selected group opportunistically attracted to the subject matter, but if those rantings reflect an undercurrent of popular opinion the implications are frightening. Because a dramatic police event “caught on tape” (the suggestion is that our secret activities have been discovered!) is media front-loaded, the public police response is always either in the defensive mode or the lawyer’s “no comment”. This kind of professional objectivity and patience does little to counter the rabid media coverage and the resulting “expert” commentators that guess at circumstances and get edited to sound bites.
With nearly twenty thousand police agencies across the country it will be a challenge to develop a unified strategy to deal with what appears to be an increasing backlash against law enforcement. Typical responses of line officers and police advocates voice a need for sympathy for the police. The talk is of the dangerous streets, laying lives on the line everyday, and heroism. These emotional arguments mean nothing to the five categories of critic identified here. Administrators, supervisors, and line officers need to be aware that passive silence in the face of attacks on professional integrity is not an effective response.

The Moral Imperative of Forgiveness

Look in the self-help or religion section of the bookstore and you’ll find a number of books dealing with forgiveness. They will all agree that forgiving is essential to mental, spiritual, and physical well being, but they aren’t talking about cops are they?
Policing is a business of dealing with wrongs. We deal with victims of misdeeds, negligence, ignorance, and downright evil as the bread and butter of our existence. It would be unthinkable if at every call we said “Aw that’s OK, I forgive you” and left all the parties with a hug and song. The default conclusion is that forgiveness is just not a component of law enforcement. Is there no place for forgiveness with offenders or with our fellow officers, especially those whom we may supervise?
I believe everyone can benefit from a forgiveness management plan. Here are some myths about forgiveness that might keep police officers from engaging in the important life skill of forgiveness.
1. You have to forgive and forget. Many folks mistakenly believe this is a Biblical imperative but it is found no place in the Good Book. Those of you familiar with other sacred writings might enlighten me about its presence in other guides, but the Judeo-Christian ethic makes no such requirement. Our brains are very good at remembering threats whether they are a menace to our physical well-being or our emotional well-being. Remembering is how we avoid danger and respond effectively to warnings. Sometimes we can get stuck in those responses and generalize our anger or avoidance to situations that subconsciously remind us of the unpleasantness. It is this overgeneralization that we must take care to manage.
2. If I forgive I’m excusing bad behavior. I was knocked unconscious by a perpetrator on a car stop. When I filled out the victim impact statement from the prosecutor’s office I was clear about the importance of jail time for the offender. I had already forgiven him personally (in fact he apologized a few years later), but that didn’t mean I felt he should be off the hook. It’s true with subordinates as well. We can be empathetic with those who have erred and failed, but it doesn’t keep us from imposing discipline or even firing them. The practice of forgiveness is about how the forgiver processes the impact of the offense, not how the system processes it or how the offender processes it.
3. If I forgive I’m cheating the other people who were hurt. You can’t forgive what someone did to someone else. My brother’s son was murdered and when people ask if he’s forgiven the killer he responds “He didn’t kill me, so I can’t forgive him for that”. What he can struggle with is forgiveness for what the killer did to his life and heart. We have no obligation to forgive on behalf of others. When I was assaulted on duty, I believe everyone who wears the badge was assaulted as were the citizens who entrust me with my job. I couldn’t forgive him on behalf of the law or my colleagues; I can only settle the affairs of my own mind.
4. Forgiveness must be immediate and complete. Forgiveness is a process during which we learn much about ourselves and the world around us. If we wait until we can achieve the perfect package of soul-cleansing forgiveness we may never get around to it. Start where you can even if it’s only the realization that it might be possible. Remember that forgiveness is separate from other consequences. You might still be preparing a law suit, preparing for trial, filing for divorce or getting a restraining order, or suffering pain from the offense. It’s OK to forgive from a distance. You don’t have to embrace, love, or re-engage with the offender although that might be a great thing. It could take several years of work so take whatever small steps you can.
5. I can’t forgive unless they apologize. Forgiveness, in the most merciful degree, absolves a person of their obligation to repent or make up for their offense. We might not be able to achieve that level of forgiveness. We may be merciful as a matter of a greater social good. That is, if someone asks for forgiveness, we grant it knowing that this may be in society’s best interest and important for the reformation and restoration of the individual. If neither of these altruistic motives evokes an attitude of forgiveness a very practical level of forgiveness is to say that you expect nothing in the way of revenge; that some natural justice will occur and that carrying a grudge will only give the offender a continued controlling presence in your life.
Forgiveness is a deliberate matter of the will and has practical consequences. You can be a forgiving person and still hold people accountable, still be an authority figure, and still keep yourself physically and emotionally safe from people who have offended or hurt you. Forgiveness may have great significance in your religious belief, or it may simply be an essential for your emotional health and survival. At the very least forgiveness is forgiving yourself from the need to hold a vengeful place in your life where an offender still holds power over you.
My guess is there is somebody you can start forgiving right now.

The Moral Imperative of Self-Care

“In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure oxygen masks will drop from the area above your seat. If you are caring for another person, please put your own mask on first then assist the other person”. This advice from the flight attendant might be some of the best life counsel a police officer can get.

Our culture values life and therefore honors a life sacrificed. The biblical observation often quoted at police and military funerals is that there is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for another. It is onto this altar of sacrifice each of us who are called into policing must take their place. It is not melodramatic to say that we face the specter of mortality in a way unlike other professions. It is this sacrificial dedication along with the occasional adrenaline infusion that creates the mysterious appeal of policing. Residing within this curious milieu lurks the dangerous aspect of implied privilege. By this I mean the formula that starts with “I’m out there every day laying my life on the line” (IOTEDLMLOTL) and therefore I deserve (fill in the blank).

This sense of entitlement has ethical peril swimming all around it. What explains the bravado of a police officer who takes wildly unnecessary risks? How do we explain the officer who routinely disregards using available safety and defense gear? How do we resolve the image of the warrior with the overweight, out of shape jelly bellies we see stuffed into police uniforms? The answer may simply be sloth, the moral implication of which is clear. But perhaps the answer lies in the IOTEDLMLOTL formula.

Where is the Moral Imperative?
Officers may believe that since IOTEDLMLOTL there are two corollaries: a) I’m bound to suffer so why not; and b) I’m too brave and important for anything bad to happen to me. Both of these mindsets do a tremendous disservice to the profession.

The first idea that suffering is inevitable is a fatalistic world view that opens the door to all kinds of dysfunction. We all know people whose relationships have fallen apart, who have become addicted to a vice, or who have ignored their own health and fitness by blaming it on the job. There are some serious mental health issues surrounding the traumas and stresses of law enforcement. Those who suffer from these maladies should not be diminished by those of us who simply make bad choices with the convenient mantra of IOTEDLMLOTL to justify our failures. Do you get the implication? “I deserve this donut because IOTEDLMLOTL.” “I deserve to mope around the house and ignore my spouse because IOTEDLMLOTL” “I’m going to have these five beers because IOTEDLMLOTL”.

The second idea is that because IOTEDLMLOTL the Universe owes me something. Many police officers think they’ve struck an automatic deal with God. Having faith in something is an important part of our over-all well being. We may have faith in our training, our own strength and character, the teachings of our youth, our own spiritual journey and experience, angelic protection, or the prayers of our mother. These beliefs are functional and have proven value in our lives. What is not rational or morally defensible is the idea that we can operate with supernatural protection merely because IOTEDLMLOTL. This differs from faith and wanders into the realm of assuming some god-like characteristics for ourselves – an obvious moral sinkhole.

When we default our well-being to someone or something outside of ourselves we are ultimately shirking responsibility. Therein lies the moral imperative of self-care. Although many of us, myself included, could testify to miraculous circumstances in which our own heroism seemed to be elevated by something supernatural, if we casually rely on miracles we abdicate our own responsibility. The result of such an arrangement is that we put others at risk.

No Right to Risk - An Obligation to be Safe
John Donne’s classic thoughts inform us here. “No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” This poetry reminds us that what we do affects others. Applying this to our daily routine compels us to consider others when we consider taking on risk. If we crash on the way to a call, we have imperiled others by failing to best care for ourselves. If we cannot run and jump in the course of a rescue because we have failed to keep in reasonable physical condition, we have imposed a risk on others by our failure. If we take a risk (no seatbelt, no ballistics vest, not waiting for available back up or failing to coordinate with our back up officers) that may keep us from being successful at our mission we have taken risk not only upon ourselves, but have imposed it upon those whom we are sworn to serve.

The independence of action that is a cultural ethic in law enforcement often values risk-taking. I am an advocate of courage. Risk is integral to our daily work. Nevertheless, routinely taking unnecessary risk by foregoing care and safety for ourselves is a disservice to our highest purpose.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Deep Thinking: The Moral Origin of Police Power

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” – do these words from the Declaration of Independence haunt us when we are tackling a suspect? Perhaps they should.

Police power in the United States is derived, designed, and purposed differently from most other countries. We cannot imagine the absence of some mechanism in place to enforce protections for life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness envisioned by the Founders, but they could not have foreseen our powerful ubiquitous modern police departments. There are a variety of internal and external controls on human behaviors that worked with some success prior to the arrival of today’s organized police. Our 21st century culture suffers the weakening of some of those controls such as religion, extended family, and strong long-lasting local community ties. The sheer volume of human interaction, cultural influences, and unprecedented anonymity add to criminal opportunity against which our police forces are now embattled.

We must be honest in recognizing that police power is the power of force and coercion. A glance at your equipment belt will verify this fact. A societal value associated with the capacity to force compliance is that this power must be held in reserve and used only in the most extreme circumstances. Understand that our practical application of this philosophy is not so clear and certain, but the general public views force in this way and it is good that it is so viewed, lest the baser nature of those holding that power perpetrate the diabolical abuses seen today in the streets of China, Iran, and Korea.

A sad and common mistake in interpreting the Constitution is that this grand document gives us rights. It does not. It recognizes rights that naturally exist – “God given” as our deist forefather Jefferson recognized them – and that the only thing government can do is to repress those rights or protect them. Therefore, our power is derived from the people and granted to us for the purpose of ensuring the rights of all. That power is to be exercised only in the interests of a greater peace and equality. Every citizen has the power and responsibility to intervene and be a peacekeeper, but we often stand in their stead to protect the weak and unawares. Our power is the equalizer against the opposing forces of disorder. It is this rationale that provides the only moral basis for use of force in gaining compliance with the law.

Power exercised in violation of our national design necessarily diminishes the goals of freedom, peace, and equality. When a police officer uses his or her power to exact vengeance or when a politician uses police power to create favor of one over another, then our treasured values are betrayed.

Deep Thinking: The Moral Imperative of Loyalty

The dyed fabric from the famous mills of Coventry, England in the 17th century kept its blue color so well that it was known as true blue. The color you bought was the color that stayed, without fading or changing. Is that you? Do you honor your highest and original values by remaining true blue? Can you state your most basic values that guide your daily behavior?

Loyalty is often expressed as if it were purely an emotion; the misting of eyes at the national anthem or a breathless vow of love in a moment of passion. I believe we need to understand loyalty as an act of will and intellect. It is this firmness of thought that will sustain our behavior within a solid ethical framework through a law enforcement career.

Our real loyalties are exposed in the grist mill of life experiences. In their book Theory in Practice, Chris Argyris and Donald Schon state “When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use.” This perspective on the contrast between espoused theory (our stated life principles) and our theory-in-use (what we really look like as we behave in the world) is an enlightening one for self-examination. For example, if we say that we are loyal to Constitutional principles, to a high morality, to the espoused values of our department, and yet falsify a use of force report for ourselves or a co-worker then we have established that our highest loyalty is to convenience and self-interest. Our true colors show, and they are faded and not true blue.

Without a clear reminder of what you really believe and live for, the expediency of the moment may prevail and betray your higher aspirations. A loss of focus that allows us to drift from our highest ideals can contribute to burnout and misconduct. A visible cornerstone for your primary, ethics-defining loyalty can have refreshing preservative value to the soul. Your cornerstone might be a cross or wedding ring worn daily. For others that reminder might be a family photo on the visor in the patrol car. For some it might be a daily ritual or reading. I recommend a written personal mission motto.

A personal mission motto articulates your values so that you are compelled to define them. A motto or mission statement is the central measure for your life’s work and provides a standard against which to measure your decisions. My father was a WWII veteran who gave a lot of effort to the American Legion whose motto was “For God and Country”. All that he lived for, even the mundane tasks of work and family, was embodied by that phrase. Others might say “Family First” or “Remember Your Mission” or “Liberty and Justice”. Finding your cornerstone can help you through the day, and perhaps help you survive the worst days of all. What is your motto?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Be The Advocate These Invisible Victims Need

Another repeat victim. Voluntarily going back into a situation where violence is virtually assured to repeat itself. Why do they do it, why don’t they just leave? Do they really love everything else about their lives that they willingly accept the brutality they risk every day? Is it a sense of moral obligation? Can it be, as some experts say, that they are addicted to the drama and trauma of it all? Is it for the kids? Do they think they deserve to be treated with contempt and disrespect? And yet there they all go, suiting up for their shifts, climbing back into their marked patrol cars, making themselves a target for the next assault.

Supervisors and other police leaders need to be leading the way toward a new awareness and attention to police officers as victims of crime. Every state in the union requires compliance with a lawful arrest therefore resisting arrest is a crime. Assaults against police officers are, in theory, punished more harshly because of the great risk to social order symbolized by such crimes. Every state has victim’s rights laws and as far as I know being a police officer is not an exemption to their provisions. How can you help your officers?

1. Affirm their right to be free from assault. Yes, it’s going to happen – no, it’s not just part of the job that you have to suffer though with no recourse. According to a recent survey, fewer than 10% of officers believe that getting assaulted is “just part of the job” with no expectation of prosecution. However, over 15% of those same officers thought that their supervisors expected them to take hits, kicks, punches, and pushes without complaint. Over 40% thought their prosecutor thought very little about prosecuting assaults on officers.

2. Be a strong advocate with your supervisors and prosecutors for criminal charges against assaults on officers. Only 18% of officers surveyed thought that prosecution for assaults on officers was aggressive. Officers perceived that assaults against officers were among the first charges dropped when a defendant faced multiple charges. Almost half of officers felt that felony charges were prosecuted as misdemeanors.

3. Know your victim’s rights laws and make sure police officers are afforded the same rights as other assault victims. Nearly half of officers who saw charges filed were not told of the disposition of the case by the prosecutor. Three quarters of officers were not asked for a victim impact statement or consulted on sentencing. Officers have legal rights to victim notification, victim compensation, and the right to sue offenders. Officers should be guided on accurately describing their victimization on the victim impact statement including the effect the crime had on secondary victims such as family and co-workers.

4. Consider the long-term affects of repeated victimization. Over 80% of officers reported having injuries they did not report and over half stated they had been assaulted but did not consider themselves “victims”. Fifteen percent of officers did not report because of fear of peers thinking they were “wimps”, and the same percentage of officers reported seriously considering leaving police work because of the dangers. One third of officers report having personal property vandalized because of their job. Most officers have been threatened with off-duty assaults, threats of lawsuits, or with threats to make the officer lose his or her job.

5. Investigate the assault on the officer. When we respond to a report of an assault on a citizen we don’t hand the victim a camera and clipboard and tell them to investigate on their own. Why do we do it with police officers? A quarter of officers were investigated as suspects in a use of force violation when that officer felt that they were the victim. It is unconscionable that the officers who are victims of assault must investigate their own victimization with the likelihood that the report may be used against them in a criminal, internal, or tort investigation. They deserve an objective inquiry just like any other assault victim.

It is not possible to know how the lack of criminal justice response to victim officers affects the daily life of each officer. We need more research on the part this deficit of attention to victimization affects the careers, health, and ethics of police officers. Offenders should not get a free pass from the police or the courts to resist, threaten, and assault our nation’s protectors.

Stupid Mission Statements

The AllThingsToAllPeople Police Department’s mission is to enhance the blah blah provide blah blah blah and to blah blah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Who cares? Mission statements and guiding values were the thing to do a few years back. They still have value and a place in our policy, websites, and in our hearts. However, if you want to read some good fiction and wonder what the heck some departments think their purpose is, check out random websites and look at some mission statements. This is an editorial piece so you can disagree if you want, but here are a few things I hate about some of your mission statements:

1. If you have the phrase “enhance the quality of life” in your mission statement that’s just wrong. What are you doing? Planting flowers? Imagine your community without the police. Is it “disenhanced”? No – It would be crime infested and chaotic. No watch commander stands before the troops at briefing and barks out “Awright coppers – get out there and do some enhancing”. Let’s stop the poetic language and just crush some crime.

2. Your own officers don’t know the mission statement. If they can’t quote or at least paraphrase the mission statement, then it’s not really your department’s core mission is it? Or is it your “mystery mission”, the one that’s on paper in your policy but is not written on the hearts of your officers? If the cops don’t know the mission, something’s missin’ – like a realistic mission statement.

3. By the way – did you mention anything at all about the fact that you are armed government agents with the power over life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that you arrest bad guys and hope they go to prison? I don’t expect any mission statements that read “cuff ‘em and stuff ‘em”, but can we be a little more realistic? I miss the old “to protect and to serve”.

4. Stating the obvious implies that it’s not so obvious after all. Do you really have to say that you’ll have high ethical conduct? That you’ll enforce the law with integrity? That you’ll respect Constitutional rights? Did your officers and the public see that in your mission statement one day and say “Gee that’s a good idea!-Who woulda thunk it!” as though these things aren’t foundational values that go without saying? Me thinks thou protest too much!

5. Do you have a mission statement or an rambling essay on all things good? Some departments have a mission statement along with the vision statement along with the guiding principles statement and values statement that is longer than Constitution itself. If it’s longer than the Pledge of Allegiance or doesn’t fit on your business card, ditch it before somebody actually reads the whole thing.

Police work is a wonderful mix of services and expertise. We are heroes doing a thousand different jobs. But the one thing we do best that no one else can do is to bring the rule of law to criminals by use of force. We can enhance and empower and collaborate all day long, but in the end it’s our badges and guns and guts that make the difference. If that’s not in your mission statement you might consider sneaking it in someplace when nobody’s looking.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The V.A.L.O.R. Project

One of the most overlooked groups of people victimized by violent crime is a population estimated at over 700,000 Americans. This group spans all ages and genders but the one thing they have in common is that they are police officers. Nobody in police work wants to call themselves a victim. After all, it’s part of a police officer’s job to take a kick or punch isn’t it? The V.A.L.O.R. (Violence Against Law Officer Research) Project is designed to discover how police officers are treated when they are a victim of a crime in the line of duty. The first effort of V.A.L.O.R. was an online survey taken by police officers all across the nation invited to participate by the researcher via emails and posts in police online forums.

The survey asked the question: “Who do you believe has the opinion that getting
assaulted (pushed, hit, kicked, spit on, etc) is just part of your job and that you shouldn't expect that these offenders should always be arrested, charged, or prosecuted”? Forty percent of officers said that their prosecuting attorneys felt that police officers should accept assaults as part of the job. Within police ranks, 17% of the officers thought their supervisors felt that way. Only 7% of officers agreed with the statement that offenders shouldn’t always be charged with assault and resisting; twice the number who believed their peers felt that way. This may reveal an aspect of police culture that makes officers perceive a greater sense of self-sacrifice than is necessary for effective policing. Over half of the officers surveyed (55%) reported that they had been assaulted but had not considered themselves a crime victim. Fourteen percent of officers surveyed felt that they were a victim but didn’t pursue victim services because of perceived peer pressure. The vast majority of officers are not getting compensation for injures or other victim advocacy services.

It is no surprise then, that over 80% of police officers have been painfully injured in the line of duty without reporting it or even seeking treatment. If officers believe that their victimization will not be taken seriously there is no incentive to document offenses against them. More than one in ten officers surveyed had silently seriously considered quitting police work because of the dangers of the job. Police officers surveyed had generally low confidence in prosecution of offenses involving resisting arrest or assaults on officers. Over 60% said that those charges are the first to be dropped by prosecutors in cases where multiple charges exist on an offender. Nearly half of officers saw felony cases prosecuted as only misdemeanors and 70% were not consulted on prosecution decisions or sentencing. Nearly 60% said cases were disposed of completely without the officer’s knowledge.

Unlike other crime victims police officers must conduct their own investigations into crimes in which they are victims. Few than one in three cases had an uninvolved officer investigating a crime committed against them. Only 3% of officers surveyed had sought their own compensation from perpetrators by filing civil suit for damages.

The lack of prosecution and victim services afforded to police officers who are victims of crimes perpetrated against them in the line of duty is not an indication of the infrequency of such offenses. Over half of the officers answering the survey report having been injured in an assault to the extent that they had to seek medical care. About one in four had lost time off from work due to injuries from an assault. Six in ten officers have, in the course of their career, been in a position to make the choice to use deadly force and over half had been assaulted with a deadly weapon themselves. One quarter of officers were investigated as a suspect when they were in fact a victim of an offender’s violence. As previously noted, over 80% of officers reported suffering painful injuries that they did not report or seek medical care for.

Police officers carry their risk for victimization off duty as well. Nearly a third reported that personal property had been vandalized because of their police officer status. Almost all officers have been threatened with lawsuits or job loss, and over 80% have been threatened by an offender that the officer would be attacked off duty. Two of ten officers have been assaulted or confronted off duty by offenders with whom they had previous on-duty encounters.

How frequently victimization of police officers occurs is poorly researched. The affects of those crimes is also currently unknown. If police officers seldom get services as crime victims, how does this shape their empathy for other crime victims? If those who should support the police – administrators, political leaders, and prosecutors – seem not to care when officers are injured, threatened, or resisted, how does this influence an officer’s mental health and physical well being? Are police officers less likely to refrain from using excessive force if they believe that crimes against them will go unpunished by the criminal justice system? How does victimization affect recruiting, retention, and performance of officers?

Based on the V.A.L.O.R. Project’s initial research the following recommendations should be pursued:

Police officers who are victims of assault should be offered all of the victim advocacy services that any other citizen would get. Police officers are not excluded from victim services and, in most states, failing to provide such services is a violation of law.

Police officers who are victims of assault or other offenses should have their case investigated by another officer or agency. No other victim of violence is asked to be their own investigator. If an officer is involved in a crash with his or her patrol car, no one would expect them to do the investigation, why is being assaulted so different? Police officers are often accused of misuse of force and may become suspects by accusations of offenders seeking legal or monetary gain from such allegations.

Police officers should have access to legal services to recover damages incurred from line of duty actions with offenders. There should be no legal barriers to police officers to exercise their rights to make a full tort action to recover all legally allowable losses.

Crimes against police officers should be prosecuted vigorously. Police officers should be encouraged to file appropriate charges and not let offenses go unpunished. Offenders should not be given tacit permission to resist and assault those who are appointed to protect and defend us. Citizen support groups, political leaders, and police professional organizations should be at the forefront in supporting prosecution of crimes against police officers.

Citizens must go beyond a general recognition that police work is dangerous. We must all be diligent to protect those who protect us, for we will all be better served as a result.

Remember the Midnight Shift

Just remember me. I may not have my name engraved on a memorial wall or be saluted once a year with misty eyes and trumpets played. I don’t want to compete for glory or take away anything from those whose last heart beat was beneath a badge stilled at their last breath or lovingly adorned before they are laid to rest. Remember me in the glow of the patrol car’s console as I bumped through alleys on a quiet midnight shift, balancing a cup of coffee. Part of me is glad for the quiet respite from the back-to-back demands of dispatch. Part of me wishes something would happen because I’m wired for those adrenaline infusions that keep my soul alive. From some subliminal habit my mind balances a practiced calm against the constant scanning of my senses. A thousand cues are processed as sounds or silence, shades of shadow and reflections of light keep every atom at attention. I am ready to chase, ready to retreat, ready to rescue. To the happily ignorant observer I’m a dulled door shaker just waiting for the donut shop to open. But remember me as the warrior who, while my family and yours slept warmly, shared the darkness with the evil I was quietly hunting.

Just remember me. I may not have a war story of dodging a hail of bullets. Not many of us do. Remember that I was willing; why else would I wrap my torso in Kevlar every day? My life is a walk among weapons. Guns and knives are plenty, but I see the ball point pen, the cell phone, the ashtray, the boot, the mini-van all poised for a kill. Just to go to work requires attaching tools of destruction to my body, itself a weapon and shield. An officer of peace adorned with a half dozen ways to kill, inflict pain, and subdue. This same one who proudly assured those who hired him that he wanted to be a police officer to help people now heavy hearted that victory often means another man in chains. Remember me as a tormented crusader for all that is good, tainted by all that is not.

Just remember me. I may not show you my scars. I may not be among the many of my fellow warriors disabled by distress, but I am touched by their early deaths, their PTSD, their failed families, their addictions, and their bitterness. Remember that I could still smile and be quick with a joke and enjoy a good conversation. But know that I was always fighting pain. I cannot have pure grief for a fallen comrade at a police officer’s funeral without weeping for my own mortality. I cannot shake the reality that death is my constant companion. I cannot enjoy the luxury of looking at my own delightful children without thinking of the dead and broken ones. It is a discipline to sit down and eat a meal soon after binding up the wounds that left skin and blood on the asphalt, to touch a loved one in a loving way after you’ve touched the dead. Remember me as one who carried on with life surrounded by reminders of its brevity.

Just remember me. I may not have as many enemies as I imagined, but it was not because I watched too many cop shows that I always had my eye on the door in the restaurant and I never carried anything in my gun hand. Nobody knew that I was calculating my odds on being able to take on anybody in the room, that I was looking for snipers and pickpockets at the ball game, that I was always a little disappointed that there was not a robbery in progress when I went to the bank to cash a check, and that while I was singing hymns in church I was scouting trajectories to minimize crossfire just in case. Remember that I was 24/7 even when I didn’t want to be.

Just remember. It is what I tell myself. If I don’t celebrate my walk in this life I may, in my current comfort, forget the others still on the front lines of the ongoing battle. I mostly sit at a desk now. I have finally aged into my premature gray hair. My fingers are on business cards and laptop keyboards much more often than on Miranda cards and handcuffs these days. But I must remember the midnights. God forbid that I lay my head on my pillow and forget the men and women watching over the night to own it for me. Shame to me if I drive the highways and fail to remember why they are smooth and safe, or go to the voting booth and fail to appreciate why it is such an easy exercise in this nation. May I never leave a prayer unsaid for a siren sounding in the distance. I must not forget that nearly every block and section of the land tells a story of when a hero was there. They are my brothers and sisters whose hearts have beat beneath a badge. I am proud of them.

I remember.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Civilian Soldier - Today's Police Officer

There are often comparisons made between the cops and those in the armed services. Uniforms, guns, public service, danger, discipline, all are characteristics commonly shared. Those who have and are serving in the ground, air, and sea services are to be commended and deserve honor befitting their service.

As I think about how our nation was able to restore the veterans' honor after the despicable manner in which our Vietnam era servicemen and servicewomen were treated during their time of service and the ensuing anti-war and anti-government, I ponder if we can restore a similar level of honor to those in police service.

Isolated cases of excessive force by police officers, as well as other police misconduct, have reinforced the already disturbing level of disrespect for our law enforcement officers. Having been out of active police work while I was teaching criminal justice in college, I have a little more objective view of policing than some who have been swimming in the world of police patrol for a while. My re-entry into law enforcement, even as an administrator, has made me recall some of the reasons I was drawn to the work as a young man. I have also been reminded of the craziness of this business and what it can do to the human pysche.

Soldiers train for combat and some of them experience it. There are a number of soldiers who have served in more than one field of combat and in more than one war.

Police officers suit up for combat every day. Not just every work day - every day. I was visiting with my adult son some weeks ago and I met him at a sports bar to watch a game. As is my habit I stopped just inside the entrance and stood to the side for a moment scanning the place. I looked to see where the doors were, where the cash register was, where everyone was sitting, the moods and body language and expressions of everyone within my sight, the places that were hidden from my view. I sized up everyone in the place and convinced myself that if I had to I could take them down. I looked for escape routes if I had to retreat, and calculated what I would say to my wife and son if I had to spring into action. This is the life of a police officer whose field of combat never goes away. The process of vigilence continues constantly and everywhere.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Make Your Cell Phone Your Crime Prevention Partner

Being alone is an oddity in American life today. I mean alone in the sense that you are out of touch with others. The cell phone, with the exception of a few areas of poor reception, puts us a few taps away from others. Here are a few things to consider regarding your safety and your cell phone.

1) 911! Even cell phones that no longer have subscriber service can be used for making 911 calls. As long as the phone has power it will be able to reach 911. That means old cell phones can still be used. Keep a spare in your car, or give one to a friend without a cell phone. Those in fear of a stalker can keep a spare hidden to use in emergencies! Just remember that not all emergency dispatch services have the technology to automatically locate you using GPS. Be ready to tell where you are. If you can't, leave the line open and talk to the dispatcher even if you can't hear them or if you are making the call secretly with an attacker present. You might be able to give verbal clues to where you are or give time for the dispatchers to try to find your location through other tracking methods. Cell phone 911 calls will usually be directed to the nearest emergency service, but might get pulled to a tower in a different jurisdication. If you can talk to the dispatcher, make sure to give them your state, county and city information.

2) Sign up with . It's a free service that allows you to send a text, or photo from your cell phone that is then stored for retrieval by police if they need the information. The greatest value of the service is its preventive effect. Telling a potential attacker that his or her picture is now remotely stored in a police file might make them behave. For example if a repairman comes to your house you can take a picture. If he get's weird on you, just tell him his picture is already on file with the police. Even if he takes your cell phone he's still already identified. Although this will be an investigative aid to law enforcement the real value is the probability that the bad guy will realize you're not a good victim.

3) Use audio, video, and pictures to record your valuables. It's easy to do a running narrative and description, including serial numbers and unique markings, of your laptop, DVD player, game systems, etc.

4) Take pictures of your rental car before you leave the lot. If you are in a minor accident, photograph the damage, the other cars' license plate, and even the driver. Take pictures up and down the street to get a sense of traffic conditions, signs, lighting, and weather. You can even make a quick video of witness statements.

5) If you are getting threatening or harassing text messages, have the police use to get copies of your incoming messages. You can use the pay service of watchdog if you have a teen you need to keep watch on, too.

Cell phones can be a lifesaver if you can keep your wits and remember all the great things you can do besides chat, tweek, and text.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Use of Force Contuum

I have written that the Use of Force Continuum (UOFC) must be replaced in police policy with something more utilitarian. The UOFC might be a good theoretical teaching tool but is not a good guide for field use in determining the reasonableness of force. At the very least, those who continue to use the unwieldy UOFC need to truncate the lower tier of the model by removing "officer presence" as a part of the force model.

For those who are not familiar with the UOFC the premise is that a) police need to use the least amount of force possible and b) that police officers use one level higher than the person they are arresting and escalate according to the resisting party's use of force and c) police officers must de-escalate as soon as possible and in concordance with the resisting party's own use of force in resisting.

Traditional models look like stair steps and place different control techniques on different tiers according to their potential for injury to the suspect. The lower tier is typically labelled "officer presence" and refers to the officer's "command presence" in which, theoretically, the stalwart, confident police officer intimidates the citizen into compliance. The higher tiers move through joint locks, night sticks, electronic control devices, guns, tear gas, etc. There is often a description of suspect action that corresponds to the allowable officer action.

The problem with the UOFC is that people who resist arrest don't use it. They don't start out using minimal resistance and gradually use more severe force in the order that the police academy charts indicate. Another problem is that the minimally necessary force may not be the most effective force. If the force applied is not effective then the resistance of the suspect could lead to a rapid escalation of force and an even worse outcome. Part of the reason for this is that if the officer fails to gain control of the suspect immediately, the suspect's adrenaline is kicking in while the officer's is beginning to wane, resulting in a longer, more dangerous encounter for both the officer and the suspect.

Another issue with the UOFC is that it is not what the courts require. The Supreme Court has consistently used "reasonableness" as its standard for determining if a police officer used excessive force or not. This is consistent with the US Constitution's fourth amendment that governs how persons can be seized.

Now that we've had a quick lesson in the UOFC, I'll make my main point of today's commentary: Citing "officer presence" as a "use of force" is not accurate or helpful. Officers who merely show up are not engaged in a use of force. Although a suspect or other citizen might consider the officer's mere presence menacing and intimidating, that's their perception in view of the context of the contact and not something entirely within the control of the police officer. Labeling a police officer's existence at a certain time and place as force creates an implication that police officers are all about force, that force is at their essence, that brutality sulks in the britches of every uniform just waiting to pounce. This perception is part of the undercurrent of suspicion and hatred of the police so prevalent in police encounters in recent days when focus should be on the person in non-compliance with the law.

What the officer's presence indicates is that the suspect must be mindful of the law. The law requires a person to submit to the police officer's lawful commands and requests, and submit to a lawful detention or arrest. In fact, while some state laws allow a citizen to resist an unlawful arrest, most state laws do not; and a citizen resists at their peril because the subjective knowledge of the police officer is the guide for the reasonableness of the contact based on facts that officer knows. If I happen to look just like the guy that just robbed the bank down the block I can't resist the officer's arrest since from his perspective that arrest is perfectly reasonable and the courts will quickly agree.

Therefore, if a policy insists on using the out of date UOFC , that policy should reflect that the first tier of the continuum is the citizen's knowledge that he or she must submit to the officer according to the law.

The whole paradigm of police use of force in this ordered democracy under the rule of law must change to focus on the citizens' responsibility to lawfully submit to the police.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Whole Country is Suffering from Stockholm Syndrome

After viewing a sample of cellphone and amateur videos of arrests by police officers, including the horrific BART shooting, I am noting that nowhere is there any public commentary on the hostility of bystanders and their sympathy with persons resisting the police. The kinds of hate speech and abuse to which officers are subjected is astonishing. It appears that the universal assumption of bystanders during an arrest is that the officers involved a) have no right to arrest the person and b) have no right to use force against the person.

Police work is sometimes brutal. It looks rough and harsh and mean. The average citizen does not comprehend the violence police officers meet when a person resists. The citizen does not know what it takes to subdue a human being who does not want to be subdued. A non-police citizen cannot bear to know what police officers know about the capacity for others to be wicked.

The average citizen also does not know that data show that force is used in a small fraction of encounters and force other than handcuffing is used in a small fraction of arrests. Bystanders forget that officers are injected into an already violent or tense situation not of the officers' making, and that the legal obligation of citizens is to peacefully submit to an arrest. Except in those exceedingly rare cases of officer misuse of force, the singular prevention strategy for police use of force is for citizens in contact with police to obey the lawful commands of police officers. Period.

What has become to be known as the Stockholm Syndrome is a victim's identification, empathy, and positive regard for captors that is manifested in a lack of cooperation or disdain for their rescuers. In the videos where crowds are gathered to video police use of force, one might wonder why there are not cheers for the officers who are bravely stepping into disorder to capture those suspected of criminal activity. Instead it appears that they identify with the "bad guy" to the extent that they materially interfere with the officers' attempts to contain and control a criminal event.

It will be left to the sociologists and psychologists to examine this phenomenon for possible answers, but in the interim, police officers must constantly watch their backs for attacks from bystanders.

Here is an article I have written for review for publication:

Public Hostility and the Police
By Dr. Joel F. Shults

Fight in progress. The police arrive. The crowd gathers. A BART transit police officer is caught on video sending a bullet into a man in police custody. A storm of protest begins. There are two chilling aspects to video captured at the scene of this terrible event: one is the sound of gunfire; the other is the frightful sound of mocking and hate-filled voices of the crowd toward the police officers before the shooting. We can’t do or say anything about the shot fired but do we understand the significance of the crowd’s anger?

Police officers take calamity as their norm. We forget what our encounters with disorder look like to civilians who expect their world, including their transit platforms, to be orderly. In my world police officers don’t randomly grab people and make them sit shackled on the concrete or face down on the pavement. That only happens when somebody calls 911 and reports that people are doing bad things. I only go where I’m invited or needed. In my world I don’t fight anybody that doesn’t ask to be fought. In my world I represent and enforce the law and the law says that others have to peaceably obey my lawful order. I can’t choose to allow someone to refuse to comply; if I do the orderly world in which my citizens live will begin to unravel into chaos.

Therefore it is difficult for me to view the world through the perspective of those who are quick to digitally capture police encounters, hoping to be the next famous viral video, who leap to conclude that police officers are acting illegally and brutally? Is it the psychological distress of witnessing a fight that creates an onlooker’s identification with the suspect and revulsion toward the officer? Has the hateful rhetoric of music and race-baiting activism found a permanent place in the psyche of our population? Has our profession failed to reach out and educate the public to help them rationally asses these events?

Regardless of the cause it appears that the police in the U.S. are dealing with a chronic national case of Stockholm Syndrome, where victims identify with the bad guys and resist their rescuers. How can police officers and administrators deal with anti-police bias? Here are five things to consider:

Assume YouTube: You will be on film whether it’s your own car or mic cam or one of the 3 zillion cell phone vids. The video is as likely to be interpreted in a way that harms your case as it is to vindicate. If you accept that you’re being digitally documented then it won’t freak you out when you turn and see all the cell phones flipped open and pointed at you. Consider filming back: have an officer at the scene who can start panning the crowd with his or her own cell phone cam. Suddenly the crowd may not feel so anonymous.

Go Zen: Focus on your objective. While you assess the danger of a hostile crowd you don’t try to make your case arguing with them, make meaningless threats, or grab their cameras because they offend you by questioning your authority. Find some inner peace about what you’re doing.

Lawyer up: It is essential that every police officer have an advocate of their own. It is possible that nobody is going to be on your side unless you’re paying them to be. Find that person or organization now, before the crisis. Surviving until an objective fact-finding proceeding can sort through the smoke and mirrors may depend on it.

Be proactive: Are you helping to educate the political powers about the realities of police work? Are you documenting how rarely physical force is used? Is your department winning friends and influencing people with community outreach and collaboration? Does your use of force policy still use the unwieldy and unrealistic use of force continuum and insist on the minimum force possible to meet non-compliance? Does your Chief or public information officer apologize every time somebody is offended instead of laying out facts and calling for objectivity?

Gather Intel: Check the internet video, social networking, and blog sites for anti-police rhetoric toward your agency or the police in general from persons or cases in your area. Once you tap into the sordid web of anarchist rants, disaffected malcontents, and anti-police activists your paranoia will ratchet up a few notches. I use a variety of search terms that include my agency and organization name along with any kind of malevolent threat or language I can imagine to see who’s talking about me. Hint: turn off the family friendly search engine filter! You might even find groups to which you can reach out and repair misinformation.

As a profession we must assertively confront the issues of hostility against our most dedicated front line public servants to preserve our personal safety as well as the larger social order. Unquestionably we must purge the rude and brutal from our ranks, but we must also play an active role in understanding and molding public opinion.

Friday, January 2, 2009

It's a Curse, I Swear

Police officers are subject to a double and even triple standard in many respects. We are expected to catch bad guys without hurting them, solve problems in a few minutes that existed for years before we got called, get to emergencies instantly without driving too fast, and stop crime without making contacts with minority groups or rich white people.

I remember listening to a citizen make a complaint on one of my officers for using foul language on a contact. I don't remember her exact words but it was something on the order of "Your (*&^^(*{ cop (&Y^$#W used some &*&_$#@ language around my *&$)_@% son and I think it was &)*%#$ uncalled for and you should *&$%+#$ reprimand his *(*%#$." Her point, although not well articulated, was that she could cuss but my officer couldn't. I actually agreed with her.

Naturally if I begin a diatribe against the use of swearing the first offended person will say "Oh, like you never cussed in uniform!", and I confess I have. My use of foul language has been very rare and it was used for linguistic effect given the context, and with a purpose to achieve a specific communicative effect. Have I ever said other inappropriate things or acted out of emotion? - yes. As Sgt. Friday famously said "The only problem with police work is that you have to recruit from the human race" (as quoted in my excellent book "Is The Line Ready" available at my web site ).

Words have meaning. I used to have morning coffee with a cranky retired physics professor who would get a pained look on his face during holidays and sunny weather. On one particular morning he was talking about the silliness of thinly disguised euphemistic language in a sitcom he had watched in which the word "boinking" was used to refer to sex. His final assessment was that words are meaningless so you might as well use the "real" words. As I thought about his foolish assumption that words are meaningless I considered looking him in the eye and saying "You know, you old bastard, that's really true" as a means to test his theory.

The words and phrases that we use to describe this kind of language are meaningful as well. We talk about "cussing" which is a slang derivative of "cursing", associated with "swearing". Before language was easily reduced to writing for contracts and pledges, a person's word truly was a bond. History was passed down orally and naming a child often had a determinant effect on a life. Spoken words were powerful. False speaking was condemned in both legal and social discourse by ancient codes including the Ten Commandments and the Code of Hammurabi. Mystics believed - and still do I suppose - that you could speak a curse on someone and change their life course. Jesus taught that calling someone a disrespectful name was tantamount to murder in motive and heart.

I once led a study by a group of middle schoolers from my church and talked about this very subject. I asked them to write down every cuss word they knew. Although they were hesitant at first, they quickly began, obviously, to enjoy the exercise. I wrote all the words and phrases on the blackboard (which I carefully and fastidiously erased at the end of the session) and began to reveal the hurtfulness behind each word or phrase. The sexual references often were demeaning to women, spoke of violence and adultery, or human waste and worthlessness. Other words spoke of disrespect to the Creator or expressing the desire for someone to be condemned to a life or eternity of suffering. The heaviness of the reality of what is meant by the words we so easily throw around became evident to the young people.

One theory of aggression blames violence on our liberal use of foul language - not that bad words cause violence (although what fight starts without them?) - but that if cussing becomes meaningless by overuse then what's the next level of venting but punching somebody? Growing up in a home where my Dad was a religiously disciplined man I never heard him swear except when he was working on the car or telling the banker who came to repossess the farm to get off our land. He taught by example that cussing was reserved for special occasions.

There is an evolution of language that makes some words and phrases harsher or softer over time. When I was in high school if something "sucked" the reference was to a demeaning, forced sex act. Today the word connotes a vacuum, emptiness, or worthlessness and most people have little objection to it. The epithet of calling someone a bastard has lost its sting in today's America where babies born out of wedlock is the norm. Other examples come to mind but I feel like a little boy behind the barn practicing my curse words if I ponder it too much.

The most ubiquitous and harsh word is the word that originates as a reference to rape. Referred to as the F-word, eff, f***, or other recognizable codes for public print. There are plenty of arguments for avoiding this word in addition to its potential moral revulsion. In most cases the word is just a space filler and makes no grammatical sense whatsoeffingever. Since police officers in emotionally charged situations tend to revert to what they practice, the word pops up on video tapes of crisis situations too frequently. If I never hear "Get on the f***ing ground and show me your f***ing hands now!" on I'd be grateful. The word has no communicative purpose and, in fact, obscures the flow of the language and the conciseness of compliance commands. It can also be prejudicial to juries and attorneys even though they are quite content using the language themselves or at least enjoying movies and HBO without the slightest flinch at the word.

As for the argument that this is the language of the streets and people need to know how serious we are, I just have to say that avoiding that language in my experience has never kept somebody from responding to my commands. We're not "one of them" and pretending that using gutter language bonds us to our rough communities is disingenuous. None of this is to say that total foul language abstinence is necessary any more than to say that we never do anything in the course of our jobs that is not also proper in normal social intercourse. We do use harsh language, we do use force, and we do use deception, all of which involve ethical calculations of ends justifying means and that, in a perfect world, would never be necessary tools of the trade.

Avoiding swearing in public requires the discipline of avoiding it in private. The exercise might be a good self-improvement project for this year. What the heck - it couldn't hurt.