Monday, April 16, 2018

A Quick Quiz on the Philadelphia Starbucks Arrest

Unless you have the self-discipline to ignore things on the news that are utterly un-newsworthy, you have probably heard that a couple of men were arrested by police officers for trespassing in a Starbucks in the city of brotherly love. Apparently, two gentlemen sat at the coffee place for a while then asked for access to the bathroom. Since they hadn’t purchased anything, the manager did not allow them to use the restroom and asked them to leave. When they did not leave the manager made a 911 call to ask the police to handle the matter. Now, let’s see how much you know about all that.

Q 1   The management is racist because non-minority persons are allowed to hang out without buying anything but these guys were black so no way was that going to be allowed.
            A. True
            B. False
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                                     attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe a                          violation had been committed.

Answer: C . For those of you who wished that there was a “D” choice, this is what it would have said : D. The officers should have called the CEO of the company and asked for a change in policy that would allow a person, regardless of race, color, or creed, to hang out at Starbucks like it was their living room for an indeterminate amount of time. If that had been an option on this multiple choice question, the answer would still have been C.

Q 2  A common cultural courtesy when sitting in a business is to:
            A. Keep looking at your watch to signal that you’re waiting for somebody
            B. Buy a pack of gum or something cheap as a good faith gesture
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                            attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to                                           believe a violation had been committed.
            D. Make yourself at home and make sure to take some napkins and sugar packets                              while you’re there

Answer: Yup, still C.

Q 3  Upon hearing of the incident, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross:
            A. Immediately appointed a task force made up of  one ACLU attorney, one                                  Black Lives Matter member, and a federal judge to investigate why officers are                             responding to 911 calls involving minorities
            B.  Placed the officers on unpaid leave until the investigation into the matter could                        be delayed long enough for the media to forget it ever happened
            C. Made a statement on social media explaining that the officers did nothing                                  wrong
            D. Implemented a policy prohibiting officers from drinking coffee with cream or                           sugar in it

Answer: Aha! Trick question! The answer is C. Support of line officers by an administration in politically charged environments does seem to be the exception to the rule, but Commissioner Ross decided to take the unique course of sticking with the facts and the law.

Q 4  In what ways did Starbucks back-pedal to keep its customers?
            A. Apologized for allowing its manager to follow its policy
            B. Denied the tweets that compared this incident to the Woolworth lunch
            counter arrests of the 1950s   
            C. Doesn’t matter to the responding officers since they got a call, had a witness,                            attempted to resolve the matter without an arrest, and had probable cause to believe                              a violation had been committed.
            D. Passively took a verbal beating from Philadelphia’s mayor, who accused them                          of racism

Answer: Again, for our purposes, the answer is C – although I would score “all of the above” as correct.

Commissioner Ross is quoted as saying “These officers had legal standing to make this arrest. These officers did absolutely nothing wrong. They followed policy, they did what they were supposed to do, they were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen — and instead, they got the opposite back. I will say that as an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias. We are committed to fair and unbiased policing, and anything less than that will not be tolerated in this department.”

Commissioner, I will be sending you a personal note of congratulations. And it will include my usual appreciation gift – a Starbucks gift card. Just make sure and order quickly when you do go in. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

David French on Why Cops are Like Soldiers and Shouldn’t Be Killing People

This is one of those discussion pieces that I try to leave alone because I have a chip on my shoulder and I try to keep my brain from running away and keeping me awake at night. My defensiveness comes from forty years of immersion in the world of law enforcement as an officer and leader and as an academic and trainer. Besides being a police academy trainer, I was immersed in deadly force studies after an officer-involved shooting of one of my officers when I was a police chief. I also work, in my capacity as a chaplain, with officers wounded in the line of duty that are so terribly ignored and disposable. My heart is with the cops, and I have trod there.

During that intense study and the years that have followed, I have become aware of the physics and biology involved in an officer’s decision to use deadly force. We pay more attention to the skill of a quarterback playing football than we do on the dynamics of an officer’s use of force. When those factors arise in court and presented to judges and juries rational decisions are made by the courts to find that the officer’s actions were reasonable and justifiable, despite ugly critique and disturbing videos.

Mr. French – and yes, thank you for your service – makes an attempt to credibly compare his military unit’s success in killing few civilians during wartime to the controversial killings by police officers. He fails and here’s why.

The theater of war is not the streets of America. “I walked the streets of local towns and villages. I experienced tense situations where you didn’t know whether to shoot or hold fire I walked the streets of local towns and villages. I experienced tense situations where you didn’t know whether to shoot or hold fire.”  Right. You were at war. You didn’t want to kill a good guy or let a bad guy live to fight another day, but the consequences, though grave, are not the consequences that a police officer faces. There are allowances in war. Collateral damage is a pre-calculated cost. Allowing anonymous forces to get away to do anonymous damage in another battle lays differently at the combatants’ feet than the police officers.

French explains “our troopers faced constant attacks. IEDs claimed lives. Men died to ambushes. Indirect fire was a frequent threat to our combat outposts. Our troopers fought pitched battles in the streets, called in air strikes, fired thousands of artillery rounds, and killed, wounded, and captured dozens of terrorists.”  Exactly. For the police officer, while having to make a deadly force decision is quite common (police officers are amazingly restrained in that regard – I know, the reader will not believe that the studies are quite clear on that matter), the exercise of that power is quite rare and, in the context of all the police/citizen contacts that occur, a statistical anomaly.

French states that “Good officers, like good soldiers, know that each encounter takes place against the background of a much larger context, with multiple factors influencing the outcome” and does so in the context of probabilities. He denies that officers should think that a deadly encounter is as likely in one situation as in another, that they should play the odds. 

This thinking, which I understand is reasonable from the non-police citizen’s base of experience, does not reflect the police officer’s reality. When we hear that a suspect shot by police was mentally ill, only had a cell phone, was just a trespasser, etc, that belies the totality of circumstances faced by the officer. A barking dog complaint can be an indicator of a burglary in progress. A 911 hang-up can be a prelude to a murder. Worse case scenario thinking? Yes. When you buy a lottery ticket you have a one in a million chance of making the big score, but you have the same chance as anybody else.

Anecdotally I know a trooper who was shot by a man who he had contacted for urinating in public. I was knocked unconscious by a traffic violator, and struck by a vehicle whose driver was fleeing a vandalism. When 911 callers say they see a man with a gun, is the officer supposed to think “Ahh, it’s probably just a toy?” Making a deadly force decision is predicated on the circumstances at the moment of the fatal shot, not on whether your suspect is a misdemeanant or felon. French’s statement “Pursuit of an armed robber is different from the pursuit of a vandal, and both are dramatically different from rolling up on an actual firefight” isn’t true as it plays out in the real world of murky and fluid changes.

So, Mr. French, we don’t have the license that war allows. Our mission, as you point out, is largely service and investigation oriented. But the old Marine concept of being polite to everyone you meet and have a plan to kill them is not as ridiculous as you imply. It might be a good time to visit my article posted recently here, regarding California’s proposal to redefine the rules of engagement for deadly force:

Now, Mr. French reminds us “it’s important to understand that the mission must come before personal safety.” Are we then to conclude that when the question of “is that person trying to kill me?” comes to an officer’s mind that her response should be “well, let’s see if he shoots me or not?” I won’t go into all of the micro-facts that go through the brain – many of them at a less than conscious awareness level – that telegraph a lethal intent, but those can be articulated and, when juries understand them, deadly force decisions that seem outrageous become quite rational. Of course, there are “bad” shootings, but not very many. And the list of shootings spouted by the average commentator always includes cases that have been critically examined and found lawful.

The idea that officers are set free from responsibility because they claim they were afraid isn’t as cowardly as French makes it sound. First of all there is a high ethical call for survival that includes the ability to continue to serve, continue to intervene, avoid being an impediment to other first responders, and completing the mission in which they were engaged. Secondly, the fear standard is not subjective, it is objective. The fear must be reasonable and articulated to meet the legal standard, not merely claimed.  French disingenuously misappropriated an officer’s statement that French quoted in speaking about the Castile shooting to conclude that the officer shot a man because the man was exposing a child to second-hand smoke. Please, Mr. French, if you have to do those kinds of contortions, you reduce your credibility.

On a related note, French claims that “policing is far down on the list of the most dangerous jobs”. This is being recently challenged by closer studies of officer injury and death. And even if police work isn’t all that dangerous, as French implies and I vigorously reject, that’s not relevant to Officer A’s individual decision to employ deadly force in a given situation. French implies, in commenting on a recent shooting in Sacramento, California, that the fact no officer has been killed in the line of duty for a long time should somehow enter into the calculation of the officer who decided to shoot. (In a case that has not been fully examined forensically – but lack of facts never stopped an opinion).

French began on a weak premise and concluded with weak presumptions predicated on few facts. Being a soldier and being a police officer are not equivalents.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Hiring the disabled - how inclusive can we be?

Historically, American law enforcement began largely as a patronage job – something you got because you knew someone with political power who could appoint you. Law enforcement agencies were composed of people who looked like the people who were elected or gained office by political power – white males. This was the template for what a police officer looked like. Any deviation came with suspicions from within the police culture as well as the public. With the arrival of civil service in policing, candidates were chosen by merit. The screening process still managed to filter out almost all but white males.

But change was inevitable. According to the Office of Community Policing, the first black police officer was, surprisingly, in Selma, Alabama circa 1867. An article from the National Law Enforcement Museum chronicles New York City’s first black police officer, Samuel Battle, appointed in 1911. Alice Stebbins Wells is regarded as the first American female police officer, serving Los Angeles in 1910.

In mid-century America, government became the petri dish in the era of renewed interest in civil rights. More women and more minorities were hired by law enforcement, even if only to avoid lawsuits. The first police department that I served added its first female two years after I started. The police station, built in the early 1970s, had no locker room for females. In 1981, Patrolman Woody Tennant became the first openly gay police officer in San Francisco. Transgender cops used to make headlines and get interviews in the media. Not such a big deal now.

Added to race, gender, and sexual orientation, the most recent debates became about bodies and physical capacity. With the advent of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, the physical abilities required to pass an entrance exam or police academy came into question. Doing pull-ups, being a minimum height, and other standard physical tasks now generated lawsuits demanding proof that standards were relevant to actual law enforcement tasks. A 1993 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin debated vision requirements for recruits. Fast forward to March of last year when Matias Ferreira, a 28 year old double amputee, graduated as a police officer with the Suffolk County, NY police department. Also last year, Wendy Caldwell was sworn in as Houston Police Department’s oldest academy graduate at age 53.

This week we find this headline: “Texas PD hires first deaf female officer. Officer Erica Trevino became the first female deaf commissioned officer in the department’s history.” Dalhart, Texas, population 8,307, is stepping into the brave new world of non-discrimination by disability.

Where will it end? That’s not a slap-your-forehead with an exasperated sigh question. It’s legit. What are the outer limits of acceptability of police recruits? Given the concern about finding enough cops to fill our ranks now, the challenge is not just to obtain bodies, but what kinds of bodies can we – or must we – accept?

The human brain’s template is wired early on to respond with either acceptance or suspicion in determining what is normal and what is a threat. Our law enforcement culture is no different. A black cop in a police department that has always been all white is not normal. A college-educated cop in a blue-collar GED world is not normal. A female with a badge isn’t normal where it has never happened before.  Black officers historically were prohibited from arresting white offenders. Women officers had to wear skirts and could only arrest if a male officer were also present. Many were immediately assigned to juvenile work for the presumed maternal instincts.

Every mold-breaking first-generation of a new type of officer has faced the loneliness of proving themselves. It was not only sink or swim, it was often sink or swim with a weight around your neck. Waiting for back up when your shift has conspired to not give you any help is no fun.
Officer Trevino, I would have advised you as strongly as possible to find another profession. If  I were on patrol with you at DPD, I’d be nervous. And I give you the same advice I’d give a cross-fit ex-Seal Team Six recruit: When it’s not for you, get out when you can.

It seems that the only barrier to being a cop is intelligence. Yes, Robert Jordan tested so high on his application for the New London, Connecticut police department that his application was tossed out. He sued for discrimination, but a federal appeals court in 2000 said that being too smart is an allowable disqualifier.

But I’ve worked with obese cops, old cops, arthritic cops, dumb cops, and Coke bottle lens wearing cops, and I’ve worked myself when I was too sick and weak to put up a fight but I suited up anyway. I managed to retire in one piece. The profession owes you, Officer Trevino, your Chief, and your co-workers gratitude for being the Chuck Yeagar of deaf police officers. You may break the no sound barrier. If you don’t make it, it will have been a worthy experiment anyway. And we hope no one gets hurt because you couldn’t hear what you needed to hear.  Good luck, sister.