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.