10 November 2015

Why police brutality is almost always the fault of the agency

The title of this blog post will not garner me any love from Chief's and
Sheriff's, but that is not my concern.  I was never a Chief or Sheriff. I was a street cop, and now I train street cops.

Long before the "war against' police there were bosses using general orders and SOP's to distance themselves from officers who used any type of force.  Now many bosses just shudder at the thought of their officers using violence to take a violent suspect into custody.

People that don't know me think that I am joking when I say that the first step in the interview process to become an officer should be to get punched in the face.  If you get up, we keep you.  If you become emotionally crippled and just shut down, go work for McDonald's.  There is not a decent cop reading this who would disagree.  The reason is that the old timers will all tell you that you only really need to do three things; come to work, answer your radio, and fight when you have to. Everything else can be taught.

What prompted this post was the murder of a child by two officers in Louisiana.  If you follow me, you know that I am not fast to condemn or exonerate an officers use of force without learning all I can.   After getting as much information as I can about the case so far, I don't feel that I am going too far out on a limb by calling it murder, and here's why.

A simple Google search will show you that these guys were two peas in a pod and have been charged in several law suits together.  In my career, I was named in plenty, but in the case of these guys all the allegations were during what seems to be situations that got way out of hand.  In all the cases, it seems these two were bullies with a badge.

Officer Derrick Stafford has also been previously charged with two counts of aggravated rape.  One occurred in 2004 and one in 2011 to two different victims.  Both cases were dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be brought up again.  To me this stinks of witness tampering.  How was this guy still wearing the badge?

Now back to why true police brutality, not just accusations of it, are the agency's fault.  The first reason is the people that are becoming police.  Basically, there are a lot of "weenies" getting the job. Any academy instructor will tell you that more and more of the recruits are absolute strangers to getting yelled at to "go fuck themselves" much less being punched in the face.  They are jumpy and easily flustered by aggression.  The police academy cannot take this out of someone.

Now, with it being harder than ever to recruit, with an increased emphasis on hiring minorities and women, in many cases just happy to get someone with no history of drug use, clean criminal record, and if they are lucky a few college credits.

For as long as there have been police, the go to for recruiters has been Veterans.  Even though it is not often spoken about in public, these days it is just the opposite.  Agency's, especially those without Veterans in leadership positions, are steering clear of Veterans because of possible PTSD.

At the very least, applicants should be put in some stressful role playing scenarios.  The person who loses it when yelled at is the same person that panics and shoots someone when another force option was available. This would weed people out.  That is not what agencies are doing now.  They are trying to keep people in.

As mentioned, background checks are geared towards ruling out a history of drug use or committing crimes.  An emphasis should also be placed on talking to family, friends, and previous coworkers about how they handle stress and whether or not they are in control of their emotions.

In true cases of brutality, the two most likely culprits are that the officer was a bully or the exact opposite; scared and emotional.  This brings me to the next reason that real brutality is usually the fault of the agency.

In each and every department in this country, any and all officers could draw three lines down a piece of paper and list every officer under three categories of bully, scared and emotional, and good cop. There is very little cross over.  If you are a cop and reading this, you are doing those mental lists right now.  The problem is that the bosses know the truth, but if they are a bully or scared and emotional they will not do anything about either group.  It is left to the good cops.  Contrary to what the media portrays, the percentage of bullies is incredibly low.  The majority of those that many would identify as bullies are actually scared and emotional.  The two in Louisiana are an example of bullies.  The bosses they worked for are scared and emotional because they knew what they had been doing and turned a blind eye to it.  The bullies protected by the scared and emotional are the core problem in law enforcement.  Bullies and the scared and emotional would be easily identified in just a few scenarios in the hiring process that I spoke about.

The funny thing is that it is the good cops that are ostracized by the bullies and the scared and emotional.   The reason is that they know the good cop will call them on their bullshit and generally treat them with disdain.

In law enforcement, you can basically follow one of three career paths: investigations, traffic, or tactical.  The tactical side is much more physical than the other two, including things like firearms, defensive tactics, and SWAT.  These pursuits put you in contact with other good cops from other agencies.  Of course there are good cops that don't have enough time on to do these things yet, or work for a small agency and take it upon themselves to keep up on these subjects.  Of course there is a crossover, but very little.

Of course like with anything else you have anomalies like the case of Lt. Joe Gleniwicz.   By all accounts...at first it seemed he was a good cop...now we know he was a scumbag that was protected by the scared and emotional bosses in his agency.

The last part of this is to take those that are found to have the solid foundation of not being prone to unwarranted aggression or becoming emotionally crippled, and during training inoculate them to the the extreme situations and violence that set the scene for excessive force incidents.

In his book Newhall Shooting, author Mike Wood dissects a watershed event in law enforcement that occurred on the night of 05APR15 1970 that left four officers dead at the hands of two suspects in just four minutes.  Over the last few months, I have been talking back and forth with Mike and here are my two main takeaways from the book and our conversations.  At the time of the shooting, the CHP was largely seen by community as AAA with a gun, in no small part due to the way they were marketed.  Partly due to this and the training of the time, their firearms training had absolutely nothing to do with the reality of facing two heavy armed career criminals, and it cost them their lives.

The other thing was that seldom is the book purchased by CHP recruits and in-service officers even though it is for sale at the academy.  Mike and I both agree it should be required reading for ALL police recruits.  The lessons learned in the book are timeless.

The reason I bring this up is that the issues during the Newhall Shooting were largely related to tactics and firearms, and firearms training is the thing that has changed the most since the 1970's.  But, even the training of today is largely done on the square range and fails to prepare the officer for the reality of a violent confrontation.

Agencies like firearms training because you can keep scores, but the truth is that the vast majority of excessive force claims are not related to firearms.  They are related to other physical or mechanical force.  In the cases that do involve firearms, many do not start out that way, but can often be attributed to either not using other force options effectively or early enough.  In other words, things spiraled out of control.

The solution to all of this is to pressure test recruits, have the good cops weed out the bullies and the scared and afraid, and make training realistic by inoculating  officers to violence and training with a concentration on open hand skills.  The failure to do so would be akin to training firefighters to drive firetrucks, answer false alarms, but never how to fight a real fire.

1 comment:

  1. My agency is fortunate that after a several year hiatus, (due to internal complaints and injuries at training), our Training Unit has brought back the RedMan suit for the yearly tactics training. I haven't done it yet this year, but, I've heard they are short, simple scenarios that require the officer to physically engage a resistant to assaultive bad guy.
    Our department is so young now. Over half have 6 years or less on the job, and many of them are under 3 years. We are doing us and them a disservice by not giving them FOF and H2H style training to better prepare them for patrol work.