The Chicago Police Department was forced to release a video today—one that they went to court to keep from publicly releasing—of the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He was shot last October by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Despite the fact that Mr. McDonald fell to the ground after being shot once by Officer Van Dyke, Van Dyke proceeded to shoot Mr. McDonald 15 more times as he lay on the ground, then proceeded to reload his pistol, apparently to shoot some more, until stopped by his fellow officers. Thanks to this video, Officer Van Dyke is now under charge for 1st Degree Murder, which as far as I can tell from the video, is entirely appropriate. As I write this, protests are happening on the streets of Chicago.
This video has prompted further thought.
On 14 September, 1984, I graduated from the USAF Security Police Academy at Lackland AFB, in San Antonio, TX. On that day, I was issued Security Police badge number H3329. For the next decade I wore that badge while working as a security specialist, patrolman, police supervisor, desk sergeant and, somewhat to my surprise, as an Air Base Ground Defense Specialist—an infantry grunt—since Security Police were tasked with providing defense of air bases against ground forces.
The recruiter failed to mention that last bit when I signed up.
I learned a lot during that time, like how to de-escalate conflict and use verbal judo to disarm hostility. I learned about use of force, and to always use the absolute minimum of force necessary to effect an arrest. You’d think that military police would have a more leeway than civilians to knock heads, and deliver a little street justice, but that’s not true. We were held to high standards, on duty and off, and were expected to meet those standards. And we knew, without question, that any use of force on our part would be thoroughly investigated to ensure that it was justified, and that we would be severely punished if it was judged excessive.
We’d go to work every day decked out in crisply starched shirts, razor-creased pants, mirror-shiny shoes, carrying a loaded pistol or rifle and given the authority to use those weapons, if necessary, to arrest or detain anyone of any rank. In return, we’d adhere to rigorous standards of appearance, behavior, and conduct in exercising that authority. That was the deal. I can remember a number of fellows who couldn’t keep their end of that deal, and finished their short careers handing out ping-pong balls at the rec hall as Recreational Service Specialists.
After I left the service, I worked part-time for a number of years in Orange County, doing armed, high-risk security in gang areas. Again, we were required to wear sharp uniforms, and maintain high standards of professionalism. Even though we regularly had to detain gang-bangers, druggies, and other riffraff, not once did we engage in any excessive use of force, perforce being more limited to persuasion and advice than head-knocking.
That’s me, second from the left. All of us were either ex-military police, or graduates of a California POST academy, except for the fellow in the middle, who was attending the Academy at Golden West at the time this photo was taken. A few months later, he graduated, and started with Westminster PD.
That Sig-Sauer P229 I’m carrying, by the way, is the best duty pistol I ever carried. Loved that pistol. Great trigger pull.
But, that was long ago, and much has changed.
I was at the shopping mall in my little suburb of San Diego recently, and a local police officer was walking through the mall on patrol. He was decked out in combat boots, black BDUs, full body armor and SAPI plate, and a Molle vest covered with flex-cuffs, extra magazines, and other gear. His uniform was far more appropriate for a patrol in Fallujah than a suburban shopping mall in a community where the rate of crime has declined by half over the past 20 years.
That change is, I think, symbolic of a deeper, more fundamental change to policing that has occurred.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, many police departments participated in the “Officer Friendly” program, whereby elementary school children were introduced to amiable police officers, given coloring books that contained exhortations to remember that police officers were their friends, and were generally given to understand what wonderful fellows the local constables were. Now, of course, “Officer Friendly” is the sarcastic name given to abusive police officers.
I get the sense that police today are quicker to use force, less interested in de-escalating conflict, and far quicker to take offense to any suspected questioning of their authority. There seems to be a new class of crime today, one that isn’t actually the subject of any legislation. I call this offense “Insufficient Servility.”
There is a web site that you should read regularly. It’s called Photography is Not a Crime, and it catalogs, on a daily basis, the darker underside of policing in America today. It contains interesting stories on a regular basis. For instance, just culling from today:
- There are the NYPD cops who, after making some aggressive arrests at a restaurant, returned a bit later to delete the restaurant’s surveillance video.
- Or the homeless fellow who was beaten to death by the Fullerton, CA, police.
- Or the Delaware State Police, who decided they needed to use a SWAT team to serve a warrant on a home that was occupied only by a dog, which, of course, they shot.
- Perhaps you’d be interested in the story of the San Antonio man who was taking photos of his wife’s business, when he was jumped by three SAPD officers without warning, and left paralyzed from the beating they gave him, thinking he was someone else.
Even more amazing is how often the police escape all but the most minimal of punishments—if they are punished at all—for incidents like this. Sure, you’ll be in serious trouble if you’re videotaped unloading an entire magazine into a suspect on the ground. Absent that, however, you have an excellent chance of not being charged with any crime at all, usually because the fellow you shot started to “reach for his waistband”.
We are told of course, that there are bad apples in any basket, and most officers are very professional. In other words, the bad cops are a tiny minority of police officers. Much like Jihadists are a tiny minority of Muslims, presumably.
But now that video cameras have become ubiquitous, we sure are seeing a lot of video of this tiny minority, and as far as I can tell, the vast majority of the good officers don’t seem to be falling all over themselves to report and discipline the bad apples. In other contexts, that lack of enthusiasm might be referred to as “being an accessory”.
And I wonder, if there hadn’t been video of chunks of pavement and Mr. McDonald’s tissue being flung into the air from the impact of Officer Van Dyke’s bullets, if Officer Van Dyke would ever have been charged with anything. I wonder why we’re routinely using SWAT teams and no-knock entry for warrant service. I wonder why the new term “puppycide” has entered the lexicon. And, I wonder why, when violent crime has declined by 50% since 1993, police officers are shooting as many people today as they did when violent crime was at its height.
Policing, we are told, is a tough and dangerous job. Not as dangerous as, say, being a taxi driver or construction worker, but, still, dangerous, and they need to be proactive to protect themselves. Maybe so, but, frankly, I have little sympathy with that argument. No one is holding a gun to their head, so to speak, to remain a police officer. And in return for that danger, they are among the most highly-paid blue-collar workers, and certainly have among the most generous benefits and retirement.
In short, if the job is too dangerous for you to do in a courteous, professional manner…do something else. Otherwise, I suggest you find the physical courage to do the job properly, and deal respectfully with the public, rather than acting as if you were an armed overlord who is due whatever level of servility you judge acceptable, and empowered to punish those who refuse to offer it.
Certainly, it’s unacceptable to disguise cowardice as aggression, which is, I suspect, what Officer Van Dyke is guilty of. In addition to, you know, the murder. Allegedly.
What we should demand—indeed, the minimum we should demand in a free society—are police forces that live and work by the principles of policing laid down by Sir Robert Peel, nearly two hundred years ago, in 1829, when he created the modern police force:
1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.
4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
6. The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.
8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
If the police want to make their jobs less dangerous, then they need to pay particular attention to Principle #2, because if they lose public respect—which I submit they are moving awfully close to losing—their job will become effectively impossible.
The police are given wide authority, and the authorization to use deadly force, when necessary. They owe us, at minimum, 1) a commitment to uphold the very highest standards of professional behavior, including using the absolute minimum of force necessary, and 2) to ruthlessly extirpate from their ranks those who fail to meet those standards. Anything else creates, to a greater or lesser degree, a police state.
In the interim, however, my advice to you is to avoid committing the crime of Insufficient Servility, and to never, ever, “reach for your waistband”. Because we all know how that will turn out.
We’re back! The first podcast of 2015 is up at the podcast page.
I got a taste of what modern policing has become today—which is to say, an absolute unwillingness to allow anything but complete, unquestioning obedience. Officer Friendly has long since retired, apparently.
For the past fifteen years, I have worked every day on the same very small military installation as a contractor. This morning, as I was approaching the main gate, when I started off after the stoplight, I didn’t shift upshift. So, the Goat was just wailing that sweet V8 growl as I approached the gate. About fifty yards from the gate, I slowed down, rolled down my window, and had my ID outside the car as I approached. Usually, there are civilian DoD police at the gate, but this morning, it was manned by a reservist, a 2nd Class Master at Arms—the Navy’s equivalent to Military Police. We had a brief conversation that went, as nearly as I can remember it like this:
PO2: (Snippy) Are you running late this morning?
(At this point, I could instantly see that my answer displeased him.)
PO2: (Scowling) You need to keep your speed down.
Me: I always observe the speed limits when I’m on the installation.
PO2: (Waving me through) You need to keep your speed down off-base, too.
Me: (Starting to drive away) What happens off-base isn’t your jurisdiction.
I got to my office, turned on my computer, and went into the break area to warm up a couple of delicious whole-wheat Eggos. While I was standing in the kitchen, a uniformed DoD police officer walked in and asked me if I owned the Red GTO. When I said I did, he then asked for my driver’s license. I asked, since I wasn’t operating a motor vehicle, if I was required to show it to him. (In CA, you are not required to do so when not operating a vehicle, nor are you required to show an ID otherwise. It’s different on military bases, of course, in that you are required to show an ID).
When I gave it to him, he then began to tell me how bad my attitude was, and how I should be more respectful of the police, what with them having such a hard job and all. I said that, when it came to respect, maybe the gate guard should’ve been a little less snippy. He said they didn’t need me making smart remarks about their jurisdiction, because they have a close relationship with civilian law enforcement, and he himself, had worked for Atlanta PD for fifteen years. I denied driving at an excessive speed when I approached the gate, said that my comment about jurisdiction was completely valid and that did not have the authority to issue traffic citations off-base, and that if they felt they needed to call CHP to give me a citation, they should do so. Otherwise, he should present me with a citation or arrest me for a military-related offense. Failing that, I was uninterested in further conversation. He seemed a bit upset when he left.
About twenty minutes later, two more DoD policemen came into my office. One of them was the major who serves as the installation’s police chief. They asked to talk to me outside. I told them that, since it appeared that I was the target of some sort of investigation I would refuse to answer any questions without consulting legal council. They asked me to step outside the building and I complied. The major then asked me where I was getting my legal knowledge from, and I replied that I had been an active-duty military policeman for 10 years. They asked for my license, registration and insurance card, and workcenter supervisors. While one officer began to write down my information, the major then told me that as a military policeman I should have a better attitude and be more cooperative. He then presented a hypothetical situation about approaching the gate at a high rate of speed. I said, "Hypothetically, I would categorically deny any such allegations". He began to ask me more questions, and I stopped him, saying:
Me: Don’t I have the right to remain silent?
Major: Well, if you are a former MP you should know that Miranda only applies to custodial interviews, not voluntary ones."
Me: So, is this a voluntary interview?
Me: So, I’m free to go?
(The major hesitated at this point, probably because both he and I knew what the only correct answer was.)
Major: Yes, you’re free to go.
Me: Then, I think we’re done here.
I retrieved my documentation from the other officer, put it my car, and walked back into the building.
Another twenty minutes passed when two different officers showed up at my office and asked me to come outside. When I did, they presented me with a base traffic ticket for not having my car registered on base. Quite honestly, I didn’t know I was required to, since the Navy no longer issues vehicle decals. We were told that registration was no longer necessary, but apparently the registration regulation is still on the books. The ticket had already been written before the officers approached me. One of them—the officer who had been sent over to speak with me the first time—said, "By direction of the base police chief, I am issuing you a citation for failure to register your vehicle within ten days. You can call the base traffic office if you have any questions." I said, "Wait a second, I haven’t even had my plates for ten days. I just bought the car." He said, "Your registration is dated more than 10 days ago. That’s the date we go by." Then they left.
So, I went to Pass & ID register my car—as well as my motorcycle, which has never been registered either—and they tore up my ticket. Then when I got back to my office, I called to the regional headquarters, and spoke directly with the GS-15 who runs all the local Navy police operations. I explained that I had a brief, snippy conversation with the gate guard, and since then, had been pulled out of my workcenter three separate times by five DoD police officers, and that I felt it was a little excessive, especially considering the chief of police himself had been one of the officers. He said he would take care of it, which, I hope, means he will tell the local police to turn it down from 11.
So, that was my contact with the DoD police today. At every confrontation, they clearly expected me to respond with the appropriate degree of subservience, and were baffled and angered that I refused to do so. So, they couldn’t let it go. They just kept coming back to my office, as if repeated confrontations would make me more, rather than less, servile. And all this for something that wasn’t any sort of criminal offense.
It says a lot—none of it good—that the police seem to have the expectation of unquestioning obedience. It also says a lot that they seem used to getting it, which is our fault, not theirs.
This is the story of 20 year-old Tiawanda Moore. It seems she was dissatisfied with a contact she’d had with a Chicago police officer.
Moore, of Hammond, Ind., was being interviewed at police headquarters about her complaint that a patrol officer had grabbed her breast and given her his phone number when he came to her boyfriend’s South Side apartment on a domestic disturbance call.
No doubt the officer, having Moore’s best interests in mind, thought he would be a much better boyfriend. Sadly, Moore took this concern for her well-being amiss, and decided to file a complaint against the officer. At police headquarters, the investigating officers—who similarly appeared to have only Moore’s best interests at heart—suggested an alternate method of dispute resolution, that is to say, to drop her complaint entirely, as they preferred not to conduct a formal investigation, which would, really, just be an inconvenience to everyone involved. At that time, Moore decided to record the remainder of the conversation.
On the muffled recording, which was played for the jury Tuesday, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo can be heard explaining to Moore that if she dropped the complaint, they could “almost guarantee” that the harassment would not happen again. He also suggested that going that route might save her the time and aggravation of a full investigation.
Ah. You see, if she decided not to demand a formal investigation, the IA investigators could "almost guarantee" that the breast-grabbing officer would get the word to cool his jets. And, isn’t an "almost guarantee" good enough? Not for Moore, apparently, who decided to use her Blackberry to record the conversation, because she felt, for some incomprehensible reason, that the Chicago Police Department might be downplaying her complaint.
And that’s why this case is being heard by a jury, as the quote above indicates.
The officers, of course, are not being tried for corruption or dereliction of duty, of course. Tiawanda Moore is the defendant, on two counts of—I kid you not—eavesdropping on a public official. In response to questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh, Moore said:
“I was sure about what I wanted to do –I wanted him (the officer) to be at least fired from his job,” Moore testified. “I wanted justice, I wanted to be protected.”
But this is not the Chicago Way. The Chicago Way is to slap down hard any civilian peasant who presumes to record their politically-protected betters in a possible wrongdoing.
On the one hand, of course, we all know what the eventual result of an internal affairs investigation would be. The police would carefully investigate the police, and after due course would conclude that the police had done nothing wrong. And recording public officials without their knowledge when they are engaged in corrupt behavior might actually endanger their ability to engage in corruption.
On the other hand, all this could have been avoided by dropping her complaint in return for almost a guarantee that she won’t be bothered in the future.
But in Chicago, public officials, engaged in public duties on the public’s dime, have an expectation of privacy, and cannot be recorded without their consent. You, as a member of the public, can be recorded by the police at any time, with or without your consent, but you can never record them unless they graciously allow it.
The only possible reason for such a law, as far as I’m concerned, is to protect corrupt officials, and to prevent the public from exposing it.
We don’t drag public officials naked and screaming out of their offices to tar and feather them any more. Indeed, we can barely muster up the will to toss out incumbents who vote for such laws. But in a just world, , the Illinos Legislature, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo and Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh would, even now, be sporting the sleek plumage of an Albatross from the Exxon Valdez.
UPDATE: A commenter informs me the jury appears to have done the right thing and acquitted Moore. Still, none of the other players are sporting a heavy layer of fine down, so the glass is only half full.
In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the controversy over the Obama presser on Monday, and the state of health care reform’s passage in the Congress.
The direct link to the podcast is unavailable this week due to technical problems, so you’ll need to listen to it at BTR.
The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.
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