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.