Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Rant About Cops Who Think I Don't Have "Street Cred"

I've spent a lifetime masking my emotions. Cops are good at that. Fear, loathing, rage, disgust all percolate behind our professional mask. But, I confess, I have an ego. When I get an article published online I check back to see the feedback and comments. . So when I get a comment from some critic that says I don't have "street cred" to talk about anything I write about, I grit my teeth, bite my tongue, take a deep breath, write them off as misinformed, and move on.

But I kept ruminating (oh crap, a four syllable word - there goes more street cred) and now I wonder just what is the perfect cop these curbside critics want to hear from on PoliceOne? I’m guessing first they have to be big city cops. Yeah, big city. Big city and bad neighborhoods. I’ll give you that, bro. If you’re on the front lines in a gang infested, shots fired, nobody got a daddy world you have my ear. But we all can’t work in East St. Louis, the east end of Baltimore, or the east side of LA.

I guess since I haven’t had bodies dropping in fetid urban projects that the blood and guts I waded in just don’t give me the proper street cred. Some super cops might be shocked to know that even us small town Barney Fifes have seen the wrong end of a gun, oozing brain matter, and slice-n-diced appendages too. But I lose street cred points having never worked for a department of over thirty cops. I guess growing up in the country, remembering when we got running water inside and finally a gas furnace so I could stop chopping wood all the time I just wanted to stay small town (yeah, I was white trash not middle class). Shameful.

My small town brethren know that we don’t have the luxury of manning an outer perimeter while the CSI team does our work for us. No air support. Enough officers on a zero budget SWAT team to go one operational cycle if we’re lucky. And if you’re it and the fight call goes out you don’t wait for non-existent backup. You just go. Lost street cred for not waiting for a cover car I suppose. Most real veterans are reluctant to spill their guts about every battered face that haunts them, every death smell, every withheld tear, every cheek-clenching pursuit, every high-noon moment, every tough decision that got second-guessed. But since the critics think I wouldn’t have had any of those experiences I’ll spare the reader the details.

Another liability some of us have is that we haven’t worked midnights all of our career. Of my thirty plus years I took reserve positions for half that time to teach criminal justice in college. Damn. I said college. Not sure how to measure that huge loss of street cred - one point for every year would be twelve points unless you count how long it actually took to get my college education while working full time. And - with all due respect to the distance learners - mine was butt in the classroom education getting off shift at 7am for an 8am class. I don’t suppose I get to cash in any cred for the former college and police academy students who have said thanks for saving their neck or their soul or their sanity either.

At the risk of my credibility as a street cop I made a startling discovery about education: booksmarts didn’t whittle my common sense down one little bit. Turns out writing all those papers and doing research actually makes a person better than he was before! Not better than you or the next guy, just a better me. It also didn’t make me lose respect for some of the amazing cops I learned from who may not have even finished high school. Turns out you don’t have to be just one kind of smart. College degrees don’t cancel out what the streets and veteran cops will teach you.

But now this research thing - goodness! I confess when I was doing research on officer victimization and giving presentations about officer assaults across the country, I could have been doing some good police work back in the ‘hood somewhere. But I can’t be everywhere. There are some battles that really do take place on spreadsheets and in surveys and in wrestling with statistics. Those battles save lives too. Do we take the chemist who developed Kevlar and put him on patrol? Do put the professors back on the block? If we want to continue to do police work like they did in the 1900s then sure - don’t listen to anybody without that precious in-your-face street cred.

The worst blow to my credibility is that I hold the title of Chief. You can smell the cred leaving the body with every promotion. I wish I could say I slept my way to the top but the reality is I worked my rear off to earn it. The irony is that I still have a small department. When I was reading the critique of my last article by one of the detractors I was trying to chill out after a 20 hour day investigating a sexual assault and I already had a domestic violence report overdue. Of course, to my cred detriment, those crimes happened on a college campus. When a nine year old boy is forced to fellate his father, one of my officers shoots an intruder, a kid goes berserk on acid, it’s just not the same when these crimes happen within the sweet, ivy covered walls of my college campus. Housing cops, transit cops, campus cops - all step-children of the guys with real street cred.

Bottom line is for those Jurassic Cops who think that somebody that’s over fifty, wears some brass, keeps a diploma on their wall, and works in Mayberry can’t give you something to learn that might save your sorry ass the least you could do is find a less pathetic phrase than “street cred” to use to cover your own poverty.

I’ll confess one more thing - whatever smarts I have I got from listening and learning from others. I didn’t invent any of it. I’ve learned from Feds, state cops, county cops, wildlife cops, traffic cops, Army cops, big city cops and small town cops. I’ve even learned some things from cops who I thought were fundamentally stupid. I’ve never learned by writing somebody off or labeling them as inferior to me. I don’t know who the perfectly credible cop is. I certainly wouldn’t claim it to be me. I have way too much still to learn.

Police officer deaths: What does the increase in attacks on cops mean?

June 02, 2011

Officers may be having more violent encounters because they are having more of all kinds of encounters

We expect more casualties when we engage the enemy more aggressively. Could it be that the increase in officer murders this year means that we are doing our job better than ever? Much of the speculation about officer deaths assumes that all other factors remain equal. But surely the number of fallen heroes is not the only factor changing in the equation. We tend to measure officer deaths against the statistics of previous years, or as a ratio of officers to population, or in comparison to other crime categories. These measures may fail to give us what we are looking for.

Potentially lethal assaults are mitigated by ballistics vests and better trauma care, so the raw data of dead police officers may yield less life-saving information than we might wish. Are police-suspect encounters fundamentally different than in the past, or are officers simply more engaged than ever before? Officers may be having more violent encounters because they are having more of all kinds of encounters. Here are some hypotheses:

The Technology of Response Time
Cell phones are ubiquitous — they have become cheap and accessible — which means there is a marked increase in the chances that a witness or victim will have the means to immediately call the police. More cell phones, more reporting of crimes in progress, more police contact with active suspects.

Police Efficiency
There may have been a time when a criminal would take a chance on lying his or her way out of a police contact. Due partly to fact and partly to fiction-fuelled perception, there may be a sense of inevitability of capture that makes bad guys more inclined to fight it out. The fact that we do our job as well as we do may put more people in the system, in a sense “creating” more criminals to deal with.

It’s the Economy, Stupid
Theories that good boys go bad to feed their family when no job is available are weak. What is true is that during times of low tax revenues, governments tend to try to house fewer criminals. That likely means more leniency, more parolees and probationers, and fewer bad actors behind bars. The result more people on the street who are at risk of prison with police contact — another reason to resist and assault the police.

Crime Analysis
Crime mapping, although not practiced everywhere, has brought renewed attention to wise deployment of police officers. If we are successful in that deployment the expected result is more officers near criminal activity. If we take the fight to the criminal, we have to expect the fight.

Victim Empowerment
More services and advocacy for victims, if successful, will result in empowering more people to report criminal behavior. Increases in protection orders and other brushes with the criminal justice system may not show up in traditional crime statistics while still impacting police contacts.

Cop Hate or Cop Love?
Higher trust of police officers will likely translate into more information shared by citizens. If we have become a more trusted profession we will get more tips, leads, and reports than before. More information will translate into more intervention and more contacts with suspects.

Lack of Training or Better Training?
Some trainers fear that a rise in officer deaths is due to poor training. A contrary theory is that the profession has more confident, better trained officers who are more assertive. This would result in more contacts and necessarily increases the probability of resistive encounters.

None of these possibilities excuse, rationalize, or make any officer death acceptable. The best hope for reducing mortality is mining data to construct our training and response to deal with the causes. The immediate reality is that when we engage the enemy there will be casualties, not all of which are preventable except by failing to engage at all. If there is any consolation in examining these sacrifices it may be that we are a more confident, trusted, and efficient profession than ever before.