Breonna Taylor’s Life Mattered

As a 25-year law enforcement veteran, I sit this morning with a familiar sadness seeing justice denied once again to a family and a community in this country. The criminal justice system denied Breonna Taylor’s family the justice they deserved.

Here is the thought I can’t shake today: Why can’t we–the police, the city leaders, the powers-that-be–ever apologize and admit we’re wrong? Breonna Taylor should not have been shot dead that night. Full stop. She should be alive today, working a shift as an EMT, living her life. But because of a poorly planned, badly executed, no-knock warrant, she is dead.

Her mother’s cries reverberate off the courthouse walls, where no justice was delivered on Wednesday. And the thing is, no one in charge has had the decency to apologize for all that went wrong. Instead of any kind of mea culpa, defensive walls immediately went up. Then, in short order, the character assassinations began, as they always do. Very quickly, too many police supporters suffused the narrative with an avalanche of unfounded and unproven misinformation, even blatant lies, to convince themselves that this young woman—a paramedic, a fellow first responder—was somehow responsible for her own death.

Why is this response so typical? In the aftermath of murdering a woman sleeping in her bed, would kindness and humanity be so terrible? Each time the message that Black lives don’t matter is reinforced, I ask any fellow officer: What would you do if your loved one were shot dead while in bed because of a botched raid based on questionable evidence? Would you demand justice? Would you rage against a system that denied it? I would. Why don’t you?

Even though most people both in and out of law enforcement rightly condemned the murderous actions of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd, within days, the same character assassination started. Again, too many of us decided to traffic in that same ugliness. Blame the victim for his own death because the mistakes he made in his life somehow invalidate his humanity.

Why do we do this? Nothing in George Floyd’s past justifies his murder by an employee of the people. Nothing about Breonna Taylor’s life makes it OK to kill her in her bed. If a police officer was killed, should his worth be diminished by prior discipline on the job? Of course not.

I think a lot of what makes an increasing number of marginalized people so angry, sad, and disgusted is the perception that they don’t matter. Injustice toward them doesn’t matter, regardless of how heinous it is. It just doesn’t matter. 

Police are the armed agents of state power. When these senseless, preventable killings occur, people take to the street for justice. People take to the street to say we matter. (Hint: That’s why they say, Black Lives Matter.) When you strip it all away, isn’t that the howl of pain at the heart of it all? It’s a cry by the marginalized, desperate to be seen in their full humanity. 

We hide behind excuses: They should have listened. They shouldn’t have run. They shouldn’t have questioned. She had the wrong boyfriend. George Floyd wasn’t fighting. Amhaud Abery was jogging. Philando Castile was taking out his driver’s license as asked. Emmit Till spoke to a white girl. Breonna Taylor was sleeping. These are just a fraction of the names whose lives our system has callously declared are collateral damage in a war waged on our own citizens we have Othered

The reaction to injustice starts out a cry that becomes that howl of rage and then erupts into violence when nothing else seems to work. Because the truth is, it happens and keeps happening because violence really does beget violence. The police officers shot the next night are proof of that. The perverse need to justify senseless violence to avoid our collective complicity is poisoning all of our souls. 

But we can be better. We have a choice. 

We can either see one another’s humanity and work for real solutions or retreat to our defensive positions and continue to degrade and dehumanize. Keep being thin-skinned and self-righteous, or be brave warriors for all human life and dignity. We can continue to filter the world through our own narrow lens, sharing toxic memes, in a misguided attempt to prove we are right. Or we can have the courage to open our hearts and minds, to see the humanity in another person in the same way we all wish to be seen.

We can continue to divide ourselves black/blue, gay/straight, left/right, on and on, in the twisted ways we imagine as justifying injustice. The violence will generate more violence. In the end, we are left with the irrefutable proof that our divisions and prejudice are a lie: The blood running in the streets will always be red.

Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. I don’t know why it’s so controversial for cops to say it. We don’t have to be perfect, but compassion goes a long way. If the Louisville PD had simply stated that truth all those months ago and taken responsibility for what went wrong, they would have sent a simple but powerful message to their community: Our police department cares about the citizens we serve. 

Breonna Taylor’s life mattered. It costs absolutely nothing to say so.

Sheriff’s anti-mask order risks lives for cheap headlines

Those who know me or have followed this blog know that I tend to have a slightly different viewpoint than the standard police thinking. This doesn’t mean I’m anti-police or that I have turned my back on the profession I love, or those I served with for twenty-five years. I’ve always had a slightly different perception of how to improve policing.

It’s not surprising, then, that I find myself at odds with many of my police friends and former colleagues over the many political arguments of the day.

This week’s example of my heresy involves a Florida Sheriff who doesn’t believe the media hoax that wearing a mask in public will help stop the spread of COVID-19. You’ve likely seen this story. However, the sheriff took his political beliefs into dangerous territory when he issued an order prohibiting his deputies and other employees from wearing a mask on duty. He does allow exceptions when a deputy is at a hospital, nursing home, or in the presence of a person known to be infected. The sheriff also prohibits visitors entering the sheriff’s office building from wearing masks. He cites officer safety for this rule.

The sheriff claims that for every professional who gives reasons to wear masks, he can find just as many other professionals who disagree. Not true. The vast majority of health experts agree that masks greatly help prevent spread of the virus. Are they 100% miracle cure? No. But, we could say the same for seatbelts and ballistic vests, right? What about putting on gloves when you search suspects or if you think someone might have HIV or Hepatitis? Commonsense safety precautions are good policy.

Sheriff Woods issued this anti-mask order on the same week that Florida recorded 542,000 cases and more than 8,600 deaths. The state added 277 more deaths on Tuesday and Marion County also set a record for daily deaths on Tuesday, with 13.

Here’s why this matters to you, my fellow cop: As of this writing, the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) lists COVID 19 as far and away the leading cause of law enforcement deaths so far in 2020. COVID-19 has claimed 80 law enforcement lives, while gunfire comes in a distant second at 29. In Sheriff Woods’ own department, 200 inmates have tested positive, along with 36 jail employees, including officers. A nurse at the jail has also died of COVID-19.

My friends, I know that the culture wars are hard to resist and cops are under a lot of stress right now. It’s tempting to fall into our information silos because we want to hear messages of support, but not if those same bubbles push conspiracies or junk science that threatens our health. We can see so clearly the need to have police expertise at the table in the debate for police reform. Why then would we reject the overwhelming body of scientific research on a contagious virus that is killing too many of us?

Sheriff Woods’ anti-mask order risks his own deputies’ safety for the sake of a cheap headline. That is shameful. Any law enforcement leader who puts his or her deputies, officers, and the public at risk, based upon rigid political views is not a leader at all. None of us should applaud this behavior.

Be safe.

When did protect & serve become with us or against us?

When I see former colleagues angrier at protestors than disgusted by the latest cops shaming their badge, I realize how far we’ve strayed from our oath. We have to do some honest soul-searching. To protect and serve has too often become you’re either with us or against us. How did we get here?

Policing is a profession of contradictions. Policing can be a thankless job and the most rewarding career. Policing demands great responsibility and affords great privilege. Here’s where I think we’ve gone wrong: Police enforce society’s laws, but police are not the law. It’s really easy to blur that line. This turns impartial enforcement into “because I said so.” That, my friends, is all about ego.

Cops tell other people what to do every day. Cops judge everyone every single day. Even when something’s not a crime, a cop is deciding who’s right in a dispute. My first week on the street, my training officer didn’t like a call the dispatcher gave us. He told me, “Your first lesson is this: There will be no tail wagging the dog. Civilians will not tell us what to do.”

Cops are told from the first day of the academy: Opposing you is a crime. Even if you are wrong, a citizen does not have the right to resist. Let that sink in.

Because communities do appreciate their police, many businesses give officers discounts or free stuff. The problem is, it’s become so common, even expected, that any business that doesn’t is automatically labeled “anti-cop.” Ask a fellow cop where to get a cup of coffee or a meal, and they will tell you which establishment “does the right thing.” The right thing means to give cops free stuff. Drive as fast as you want, even intoxicated, and it’s very likely another cop will not ticket or arrest you. If they do, the condemnation of the group will be severe. You don’t rat on another cop. That’s the definition of being a “cop’s cop.” You’re with us or against us.

You say cops are human? Quite right. Humans are extremely vulnerable to groupthink and the desire to belong. And basic human flaws are power, greed, and ego. What better ways to feed those human flaws?

We give young men & women, still in their immature 20s, the power to take a person’s freedom or life, with the tools to force compliance or death, tell them no one has the right to resist their judgment, when they overstep their authority, explain it away or provide immunity from consequence.

Lavish praise & gifts that need not be earned, except by pinning on the badge. Make them members of a closed fraternity of privilege where indoctrination starts on day one. You are different, better, more worthy. You are called to this elite profession. Focus on the dangers and oversell the fear. Outsiders don’t understand you; they despise you-when they should idolize you. They sell you the lie of us versus them like a cult leader, and soon you start thinking everyone outside the group is with you or against you. It’s no longer about service, it’s about survival. Before you know it, you believe it all, and the only thing that matters is blue.

But, before non-cops get too self-righteous, remember the contradictions of police mirror our own double standards and flaws. We want law & order, but we don’t like rules. We want that person to get a speeding ticket, but not us. We want that bad guy punished severely but want our child to receive mercy. We want help when we fall on hard times, but that person is scamming the system. If we drop a $100 bill, we hope someone returns it, but it’s finders keepers for us. We sympathize with the argument that cops are human and make mistakes because we are all prone to error. Put another way, we are all imperfect.

However, there are those who do return the money. There are those who do not cheat the system. Those who won’t steal, even if they’re hungry. Those who follow their internal moral compass no matter what. Everyday citizens help each other, sometimes risking their very lives for their fellow humans. Bravery, honesty, and decency have more to do with the character of the person than their occupation.

Those are the people we must seek for public safety work. There are many in policing right now who embody the character of true public servants. The kinds of people who give rather than take. Those who are innately kind. Those who understand compassion is strength. Those who reject racism, homophobia, and other biases. Those willing to stand in the gap to ensure equality for all. Those who believe justice is a verb.

These are the citizens we should call to become peace officers. We should search them out and give them the chance to transform our public safety. Seek out people with bigger hearts than biceps. Compassion, love, honesty, and honest selflessness must mean as much as marksmanship, physical strength, and toughness. There has never been a more perfect time to completely reimagine who we want to serve and protect our communities.

When I hear stories about cops who are leaving the profession at this critical moment, I’m not sad. Those who think they are victims and have decided to cut and run are the bad apples. They know in their hearts the real reason for the protests, but they cannot bear the thought of losing the privilege they’ve been told they have since the academy. With power comes great responsibility. That’s the part of the social contract they forgot or maybe they never intended to keep. So, let them go.

Now is not the time for self-pity or reactionary mode. Good police must be part of the solution. We need to reimagine policing, not eliminate it. Crimefighters can still be public servants, not just warriors on our streets. We can purge the status quo and welcome a system that prioritizes crime prevention instead of over-policing. Place more value on humanity than dehumanizing. The good cops will remain and recognize this as an opportunity for real, lasting change. Change that will make their job more rewarding and safer. Change that turns “with us or against us” into “we’re all in this together.”

I’ve said many times we can’t arrest or shoot our way out of the problems facing us. It’s time we stop pretending we can. Reimagine what is possible. There is a better way.

 

 

Police integrity is the challenge of our time

I started writing this blog a few years ago out of a sense that policing—the profession I love and spent 25 years serving—was losing its way. But, then, as I gained more perspective through time and distance of retirement, I realized we were always on shaky ground.

I entered the police academy in November of 1989 and hit the street three months later as a naïve, but energetic rookie, eager to save the world. Of course, I soon realized that idealism is difficult to maintain.

My first assignment was to a midnight squad that worked the largest public housing complex in the city. The housing projects on the east side got the most media attention, but we had our share of unrest. Almost every Friday and Saturday night in those days, our squad was met with angry crowds, and we’d gather beneath overhangs to keep the rocks and bottles from hitting our heads.

I had no idea why people were so angry. Later I learned that the squad prior to us had been disbanded for misconduct. Allegations included planting narcotics, false testimony, abusive behavior toward the residents of this community—mostly African Americans. It’s clear to me now that the behavior of those cops was why we were taking rocks and bottles every weekend.

In those first years, we didn’t have take-home cars, so we checked out a vehicle at the beginning of every shift. One morning, after my midnight shift, I forgot my new rechargeable flashlight when I unloaded the car. When I woke up, I realized. I called the station to ask if anyone had checked out the car. The desk officer couldn’t find a record. That night, when I got to work, it was clear someone had driven the car because it was parked in a different spot. My flashlight was gone. At first, I clung to the belief that the officer would find me and return it, but, as the days went by the truth was clear.

The realization hit me hard. Another cop stole my flashlight.

The next lesson was even worse. When I complained to other officers about the theft of my property, most weren’t angry or even surprised.  It was normal to have items stolen if left around the police station or in a patrol car. That’s right. There was no shock, they shrugged. They told me to get over it and be more careful about my stuff.

Not one person I talked to thought it was a good idea or proper to write a theft report. I was told, you’ll never be able to prove who had the car. Even if you found out who had driven it, they’ll only deny it. It will only cause problems, and, wait for it…people will be mad at you for reporting it.

The lesson was clear: You say nothing about a cop being a thief. Put another way: We accept that there are thieves walking around with guns and badges arresting other people for theft.

I have never quite gotten over that ugly lesson.

Here’s where I’m supposed to stop and assure you that most of the cops I knew were good, honorable public servants and the issues with policing are all about a few bad apples.

And if we talk about the hard numbers of complaints vs. the total number of cops on the force, or the hundreds of thousands of (documented) police contacts vs. the number of shootings, or any other way we love to work the statistics to our advantage, you might think the bad apple argument is a good one.

But, if we look more closely at the bad apples excuse, we can understand how much it damages policing. Law enforcement is a small microcosm of our society, good and bad roam among us. That means cops who are liars, thieves, racists, wife beaters, child abusers, sex offenders, bigots, and just plain a-holes, just like the rest of society.

Yes, I know there are also kind, decent, brave, honorable, men and women who serve their communities every day. I worked with and still call many friends. Good cops should be the standard so there’s no point in continuing to say, “Yes, but there are more good cops than bad.” I should hope so. The bad apple distraction only deflects from the problem. Let’s move forward.

The lesson I learned in my rookie year about tolerating unethical cops is important. I bring up my experience because of those who point to police discipline as proof we clean our own house. While we might do a little surface cleaning, I submit that the time has come for a deep system cleanse. Not everyone meets the standard or is cut out for the job. Cops are held to a higher standard and should be. That’s the social contract. With great power comes great responsibility.  That’s the job. There is no false equivalent to what “other people” do. We are the law enforcement professionals who swore an oath to uphold the law.

If a citizen called today and reported a theft, we would write it up, attempt to determine suspects, and do our best to find the thief. Why not the cop who was a thief? When I tell this story to fellow cops, before I even get to the end, they almost always say with a note of sadness, “I know. No one ever gets their shit back.” Every single one of us can probably come up with numerous examples of personal experiences or stories from peers about misdeeds around the precinct or the community. We’ve seen our fellow cops abuse their authority, degrade citizens, manufacture evidence, and commit other behaviors that tarnish our badges.

Why is this okay? Why do they get to hang around? Why get mad at me for saying this out loud, instead of the system tolerating such individuals in your profession? Can’t we all see that if Minneapolis would have rid themselves of Derick Chauvin several misconducts ago, they wouldn’t be in the mess they’re in now?

People are in the streets because of a system that has shielded misconduct far too long. You are currently enduring weeks of consistent civil unrest designed to force change because the entire criminal justice system has refused calls for actual justice. Citizens of color have been telling us about abuses for decades. We ignored their voices and pain. We dismissed their stories. We cared more about arrests and power than justice and fairness. The bill on our arrogance is now due and change will be forced.

The truth of the matter is this: the same cop that causes so much dissension might also run into a burning house to save a kid during the same shift. This reality blurs the lines. When your call goes to shit and you’re fighting for your life, you want to hear the sound of those police package V8’s, no matter who’s behind the wheel. I get it. I’ve been there, too.

But, my friends, we simply can not afford to allow unethical cops around us. The damage they do, left unchecked, is the most destructive to the credibility of policing. We owe it to ourselves to hold them accountable from day one. It doesn’t matter if they’re fun to go have a beer with, if they do not possess the character for the profession then they must go. Saying this should not be controversial.

Disgruntled, racist, incompetent, or criminal cops are cancers to our profession. The damage they inflict ripples through our agencies and our communities, widening ever outward. Allowing even a 5% rate of cancerous behaviors in an agency of say 1000, means 50 cops walking around with everything from a shitty attitude to a racist mindset to a criminal disposition. Imagine the ripple effect of 50 cops multiplied by dozens or more citizen interactions per day, multiplied by years or decades? That’s damage done by the tens of thousands, rippling throughout communities in this country.

Police integrity is the real challenge of our time. We must change the moral culture of policing once and for all. From top to bottom of our agencies. Public servants of high moral character shouldn’t need a law to tell them they should stop misconduct. It’s time to stop using the bad apple excuse as a way to minimize police misconduct and start living up to the code of conduct we swore to uphold. Eliminate the bad apples when we first notice the bruises, not wait until they have literally spoiled the entire profession.

The code of silence ends here

As outrage burns over the murder of George Floyd, my commitment to police reforms & accountability has never been stronger. I’m outraged because the actions of those officers do not represent our honorable profession. I’m outraged by the depravity shown by Derek Chauvin under the color of authority, and we all instantly knew every cop was going to wear that crime for a long time. Rightly so. 

Not because all or even most women and men who serve as police would ever condone such despicable behavior. That’s a given. What brands us is the internal malfeasance that keeps us from removing such people long before they commit their violent act or crime that stains everyone in a uniform. 

The video of George Floyd’s murder laid bare the complicity of our entire profession. We have insisted for decades that only bad apples commit the worst abuses. Any mention of those “bad apples” is met with strong protests and denials. It’s not me, it’s not me! We cry.

The last two weeks exposed the ugly underbelly of a law enforcement culture that has been tolerated far too long. The horror of George Floyd’s death showed us all the deeper systemic cancer: One truly criminal actor and the shock of three others who either did not care or did not feel empowered to stop him. No, police misconduct isn’t increasing, it is simply being videotaped. The ongoing civil unrest is policing’s collective penance for refusing to reform on its own.  

Good cops & police leaders: Just because you think there is no problem in your community doesn’t mean people of color feel the same. Understand you have blind spots. The civil unrest in your city should tell you things aren’t quite as rosy as you think. People who have been on the receiving end of rude, dismissive, aggressive, or abusive cops are walking around with unresolved pain and anger. Please hear the pleas of marginalized communities who have been crying out over mistreatment and abuse by people you know need to be removed from the police profession. 

We all know who they are. Line officers know who they are. Police managers and staff know who they are. There’s just never enough collective will to purge them. So, they remain among us like cancer, insidiously infecting the squads around them. Supporting a subculture that in practice counters and undermines the police mottos of protect and serve and all of our lip service about community policing. We have always pretended because they haven’t done something that rises to the level of criminality, their behavior can be ignored. Like our racist uncle who rants and we shake our heads, the time has come to acknowledge that the harm they do. The daily microaggressions they inflict on people are just as damaging to our professional credibility and when their conduct rises to outright criminal behavior? God help us, we’re seeing the result. 

Police leaders have failed our communities by failing to address this systemic, pervasive issue that they absolutely know exists. Why are so many disciplined officers allowed to resign and keep their certifications? How is it possible that there are databases of cops known to have committed sexual misconduct or are flagged as criminals, and still walking around in uniforms? Why is there no leadership push for national standards to decertify bad cops? 

Why is it taking two weeks of rioting in the streets to get most of you to even acknowledge publicly that we have to make some changes? 

After Rodney King’s beating, evidence showed us LAPD officers sending racist computer messages like “gorillas in the mist.” Ten years later, I knew officers who used racist acronyms to remember the streets in the projects: AFRO SCUM. The investigations following Ferguson, Chicago, and Baltimore revealed continuing racial undertones. Minneapolis has a long, fraught history of police brutality in their city. Let’s not forget it is where Philando Castillo was murdered, even though he was a lawful gun owner and did everything the officer told him to do. 

These are truths. Police truths. It is no longer enough for any of us to say, “I’m not racist” or “I’m not that cop.” We refuse to look at our racist past in the eye and deal with it and it is long past time for our police culture to stop pretending race isn’t still a significant issue. The people of color in our communities still feel the undertow of bias in many encounters. They are frustrated by our collective failure to do anything meaningful day to day. We need to drop our defensive shields and get real with our fellow citizens.

And we have to start cleaning our own house. The cops that make every call harder because they piss the citizen off almost immediately. The cops that intentionally piss off the citizen so they can say, “Uncooperative. Back in service.” The supervisor who runs an entrapment traffic detail to stop cars in the black neighborhood. The jerk who purposely drives through puddles and splashes people just for fun. The one who “testilies” because the guy in the back seat probably got away with plenty of other stuff anyway. The non-stop microaggressions and indignities committed by these kinds of cops are festering wounds in minority communities. So, why are we surprised when the next shooting turns into a riot? 

The code of silence ends here, my friends. You may not have the power to fire a bad cop, but you must make it clear to your unprofessional peers that racism and abuse of power are not tolerated. They make your job more difficult and they endanger your safety every day. You also have the power to change the culture of your unions. If you think it’s wrong to protect bad cops, then make them stop doing it. If they are beating a drum of us vs. them, they are not truly protecting you, they are fomenting dangerous divisions that will endanger you further. 

I believe good cops want bad cops held accountable. The protests in the streets are demanding reforms and policies to help do just that. We all must be part of the solution. You must reject those among you who do not uphold the integrity of policing. You must speak. Follow your oath. Lead, though it may not be easy. Police leaders must help you by standing up and calling out the systemic failures that keep bad cops on the job. Taking these steps will earn community support. Community support and trust are what will make you safer.  

Please do not listen to those who tell you citizens hate you. Or that there is a war on cops. Policing has always been dangerous. The truly criminal will attack peace officers. They always have and always will. But the fact is policing is safer than it has been in decades. There is no war on cops. There is a war on bad cops. There is a war on abusive cops. There is a war on dirty cops. Rightly so. They are the criminal in your midst. 

To my fellow citizens, outraged over a seeming avalanche of videos showing murders and abuses of citizens at the hands of police. I hear you. Change must occur. It is unacceptable in a democratic, civil society, and should not happen. Sadly, it happens over and over. Police misconduct is a cancer and protests are the cure. As Dr. King famously said, “A riot is the cry of the unheard.” 

I believe the images of uniformed police officers callously murdering a man in their custody has finally awakened us for good. The time has come for real change at long last. Keep up the fight, but do it peacefully. We’ve had lots of examples of good cops kneeling & expressing solidarity with you. Let’s build on those connections. Hold those who do not deserve the public trust to account. Let’s demand justice and control over how we are policed. That’s how it works in a democracy. You have the entire world’s attention. Let’s finally achieve the dream of justice.

Roll Call: Officers, Can I Please Have Your Attention?

“In order to do this, you must stand up and say, “I think we should all help each other become better officers. I want you to know that if I should ever do anything in your presence that could result in my embarrassment, suspension, loss of job, or prison time, I want you to know that it is okay to intervene; to stop me. Can I have the same commitment from you?”

Improving Police

Roll Call.

I would like to talk to you today in light of all that has transpired around our country as a result of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

Most of you chose to be police officers because you actually wanted to “serve and protect.” But along the way, something happened, some of you lost your way. Maybe it was because the bad cops you had to work with. You know, the guys on your shift who told you to forget everything you learned in the police academy and if you acted like them, you will get along just fine. These rogue cops literally silenced new officers; those good hires who had a heart for others, were compassionate, controlled in their use of force, and respectful.

Let me share a part of my journey. When I was a young Minneapolis police officer, I wrote an op-ed for the Minneapolis Tribune…

View original post 864 more words

A police reckoning has arrived

Since the murder of George Floyd one week ago, I’ve been concerned about the escalation of violence and the risk to more citizens and cops. We should be thinking about the exponential risk to every good cop who now has to wear the depravity of one of our brothers in blue, callously snuffing out the life of a person in his custody. This event has ramped up violence nationwide and, as always, cops on the front line are the ones in harm’s way.

My friends, we must understand how we got here. I want to talk to you truthfully and frankly, as a fellow cop, because we have to tell each other the truth and see our faults, or we’re going to lose our legitimacy once and for all.

We have convinced ourselves for decades that there was something a suspect did to cause his death. That their actions must have caused their own death. Always. That’s the mantra, right? It’s on a mental loop in our heads, “If he had only”…surrendered…not fought…complied…pick a term. And most of white America goes along with us. If only the person had done, or not done, whatever. The person is never killed by the fault of the cop. Never official misconduct or malfeasance. Their actions dictate our response.

Qualified immunity shielded almost every bad actor that came along. Shootings of individuals lawfully carrying firearms, children playing with toy guns, people playing video games inside their home, women sleeping in their home, the list goes on. We do mental gymnastics and think up a myriad of reasons to absolve the cop of any responsibility. Regardless of training. Regardless of the circumstance. Regardless of common sense. We are tone-deaf to how this looks to the average citizen.

Then came Minneapolis. I’d like to think the image of a cold, callous cop calmly kneeling on the neck of a non-resisting man is finally, finally a bridge too far for my fellow Americans and cops to swallow. This time, it is impossible to look away.

It’s time to put up or shut up, my fellow good cops. We’ve been crying for years “bad apples” not us! Any direct question about individual responsibility is ducked and dodged. Then came Minneapolis and it was all laid bare. The depravity of the primary cop and the failure of the others on scene to stop the murder. What you need to understand is that this is what has been at the heart of the issue for decades. That complicity has tainted you as well. The disgusting behavior of police misconduct has always painted us all with an ugly brush. We were fools to tell ourselves that it could be otherwise.

That is the critical message we have failed to hear. When the criticism comes we immediately go to our defensive crouch, insist it’s only those unnamed bad apples. Trust us. Except that nonstop videos say otherwise. They keep coming daily. We must make it stop.

This is what I want to say to you today with all the love and brotherhood I can muster. It is not enough to say you are not that cop. You must stop that cop. You must reject that cop. You must purge those cops from your ranks. You must make those cops pariahs. You must rise above those cops if you are ever to release yourself from the stain of their deeds.

I realize right now it’s easy to get caught up in the anger against protestors. I’ve been there, too. Taking rocks and bottles, holding the line with a gas mask & shield. This is the part of the job nobody tells you about when you sign up thinking you’ll save the world. Please try not to buy into the negative war on cops rhetoric. There have been riots and difficult times before. Good cops are the ones who will weather the storm, like always.

What’s different now is the political climate mixed with social media and nonstop noise. Will law enforcement live up to the lofty ideals of its code of ethics or succumb to the basest depravity of the disgruntled or criminal in our midst? Resist the temptation to believe the worst and stay true to your oath. We are at a critical juncture in law enforcement, my friends. The future is up to every one of you.

I have always maintained we are better than the worst of us. Those brave enough to run into gunfire or burning buildings are brave enough to stop misconduct by our peers. I believe in the better natures of the true heroes behind the badge. Hold tight to your humanity. There is no us and them, only one human family. Let’s get through these difficult times by committing to our communities and one another to demand only the best serving beside us.

Police honor and integrity are more important now than ever before. A police reckoning has arrived. Our profession and our nation are depending on our morality and courage.

Be safe.

George Floyd was murdered under color of authority

When the fight’s over, it’s over. No amount of respect for policing should ever excuse criminal cops.

My friends, I’m struggling this morning. I’ve struggled all week since the murder of George Floyd. At first I couldn’t even process the cold insensitivity I watched on the video. A public servant, entrusted to maintain law and order, completely indifferent to human life. I’ve watched that video multiple times, trying to figure out how to understand the actions of those public servants. I cannot imagine how traumatic this is for Black Americans to witness another Black man killed right before their eyes.

Every once in a while, a video comes along that is completely indefensible. Right now I cannot excuse is the deafening silence from my policing peers. Silence is complicity. Silence is consent. If we do not condemn wrongdoing publicly and loudly, we are lost. Our silence tells the world we’re okay with one of our peers calmly kneeling on a man’s neck for seven minutes and killing him under color of authority.

When the fight or resistance ends, it’s over. Period. And, no, we’re not going to get into adrenaline and all that as an excuse. It’s real in some cases, but that’s what your partners are for. That didn’t happen here. Also, an experienced professional should be able to draw some calming breaths and get control in much less than seven minutes. Let’s leave that there.

Here’s what happens in those horrific seven minutes. Three of these cops are on the man’s back, one calmly pressing his knee into his neck. There is no resistance because only the officers knee is pressing into his neck, he doesn’t use his hands, which means there is no struggle. The man begs for air, the officer calmly remains on his neck. The man makes a feeble attempt to rise—no doubt trying to survive, not resist. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes silent. The officer remains on his neck. The man goes limp. The officer calmly remains on his neck. The paramedic comes and checks his pulse. The cop calmly, callously, remains on his neck.

Not one of the other officers appears to register alarm or tell their fellow cop to get off his neck. Not one. If they do, the cop ignores it and calmly keeps kneeling on his neck.

Most of us have been there, subduing a person for whatever crime. When you are straddling a person’s body you can feel their movement, tension, shifting, and struggle beneath you. You feel the moment when the struggle stops. The movement ceases. And when that happens, you are the professional. You are supposed to stop as well. This is the part I cannot wrap my head around. When the fight is over, it’s over. When the human tells you they are in distress, it’s your job to summon help. When they stop fighting you, it’s your job to stop all force. When they stop breathing, it is your job to start life saving efforts.

There is no gray area here. That is the job. Prisoners in our custody are our responsibility. Yet, there are far too few voices from our side of the thin blue line calling for accountability. I’m struggling with why not. I’m struggling with how the vast majority of us have gone silent. I’m appalled that a fellow cop could calmly, callously, press his knee into the neck of a non-combative human, ignore his pleas for help, ignore his pleas for air, feel the moment when he goes limp, and keep kneeling on his neck without so much as a change in expression on his face.

I’m not okay with this. Those cops do not represent me. They do not represent the profession I belonged to for twenty-five years. They do not represent the humanity and courage of those good cops I was proud to serve beside. They, and those like them must be purged from our profession with impunity. This cannot stand. These horrors cannot continue.

Right now we need to ask ourselves who we are. Are we the heroes we want everyone to see us as or are we cowards? Why do we have the courage to run toward gunfire but not to tell our fellow cops to get the hell off a guy’s neck? Are we so invested in our membership in the brotherhood of the badge that we can’t call out bad behavior in our own house? Have we so convinced ourselves of our own infallibility that we cannot tolerate any insinuation that any one of us might be wrong? Do we believe that because the job is dangerous and any one of us might fall is a reason to never speak ill of another cop, even when they are unethical or even criminal?

My brothers and sisters in blue, we must stand against this. We must own the damage done by a long line of cops who did not deserve to wear your badge. We must reclaim our honor. We must stand for the rule of law. We must call out crimes under color of authority when we see them so that the citizens of our country know we care. Only then will we begin to heal. Only then will the bloodshed cease on all sides.

A fellow cop and dear friend told me through tears yesterday: African Americans are all screaming: We can’t breathe in America!

Riots are raging and cities are burning. The howl of pain from the unheard that Dr. King told us about fifty years ago. George Floyd was murdered under color of authority. We must not look away. We must own it and work to ensure it never happens again.

Reducing Use of Force: A Success Story

We need more police leaders who understand that reducing use of force makes officers safer, despite what some may say. It reduces the instances of physical altercations, which is good for officers’ injury reduction and better mental health. Our community relations will greatly improve, and community support is critical for policing in a democratic society.

Improving Police

I recently received this correspondence from an old friend, Chuck Wexler, who serves as the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). Basically, it is what I have been advocating; that is, that police leaders stand up, identify the problem (excessive uses of force), get help, propose new policies and training regimens, and then report back to the community what they have accomplished. This will go a long way to re-building trust between police and community members — particularly those who have been on the receiving end of forceful actions by police.

Sheriff Mike Chitwood

Sheriff Mike Chitwood of Volusia County, Florida, gets it!

Here’s Chuck’s report:

_________________________________________

Dear PERF members,

Chuck Wexler

I’m pleased to send you this 2nd issue of “PERF Trending: People, Ideas, and Events.” I want to thank everyone who emailed me with feedback about the first issue last Saturday.

A Florida success story:

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How many Jaylan’s are in our wake?

Today I read an article about a group of officers who are in hot water for falsely arresting a black college student. Here are the basics: The Eastern Illinois University swim team was traveling home on a team bus. They stopped at a rest area and the swimmers step off the bus to stretch their legs and use the facilities. They gathered in their team jackets to take a photo for social media. As the team began re-boarding, several police cars pulled into the lot. The only black player, Jaylan Butler, was stopped by a couple of officers, proned out on the ground, in the snow, and cuffed.

Jaylan was compliant, according to the bus driver and coaches. Nevertheless, the officers felt the need to point a gun at his head and tell him, they will “blow his f—king head off” if he moved. Again, this was corroborated by the witnesses, who reported they kept telling the officers the entire time it was a mistake and he’s a member of the team.

A few other agencies showed up. The bus driver and coach related that when they asked to speak to their supervisors, they were told various reasons why the supervisors could not be called. Jaylan was taken to a patrol car and told initially he “fit the description” of a suspect they were looking for. According to the bus driver, one officer said they thought he was taking the bus hostage. But, when it became clear the team is adamant, he is with them, they tell Butler the charge would then be resisting. In the end, they finally allowed Jaylan to retrieve his ID from the bus and decided they should release him.

Now, here’s the thing. I don’t know what offense these cops were responding to. Reports say possibly the state police BOLO’d about a B/M who shot at a vehicle in the area. Fine. Everyone free unit responds to assist, right? No problem. Then, at least one cop apparently saw the team at the rest stop and the lone B/M with them. We can argue at this point, maybe he’s worth a look. But, aren’t we supposed to look at the totality of everything?

The only description that fit was Jaylan’s race.

Don’t tell me that’s not true. Remember, the bus driver and coaches said the team was wearing their jerseys for the photo. So, here’s this black kid, wearing his team colors, nobody is acting hinky, nobody is freaked out. All accounts are that the driver and coaches immediately tried to intervene in the error. To no avail. Jaylan was still thrown down in the snow and threatened with having his head blown off.

My friends, we conduct investigative stops ten times a day. Race can be a legitimate factor, regardless of black or white. When it becomes a blinding factor, that’s when it becomes a problem. I’ve forgotten how many times I got out to stop an individual based on a very vague description. That’s perfectly good policing, but the rest of the context has to matter. Their “suspect”, supposedly running from the scene of a crime, would exhibit some outward signs of flight. Then there’s the coaches and bus driver saying the kid’s with them. He’s wearing a jersey with the same name as the team bus. Things don’t add up, here. Right?

So, almost immediately, professional law enforcement officers should have understood that their initial suspicion was dispelled. Jaylan is black, nothing else fits. End of story.

I’m troubled by the rest, though. Why are we so afraid to simply say we’re sorry? My bad. Why does it so often then shift to a resisting charge?

Try for a moment to imagine yourself being grabbed up, thrown on the ground and cuffed. You did nothing. You know you did nothing. Are you going to honestly tell me that your natural, human response would not be to squirm? Try to twist around to look at the officer and insist they are wrong? Not fight to harm, just get someone to listen because you know they have the wrong person. And then because you squirm, the cop points a gun at your forehead and says, “I’m gonna blow your head off if you move again.” Would that be okay if that was your college-age son?

In the end, the worst indignity occurs. No apology. No professional conversation to explain our actions. No name & badge number as requested by a citizen. BS reasons for not calling a supervisor. (As a former supervisor, that’s the best option to stop a complaint, trust me.) Then, reportedly, they don’t even document (until much later) the stop & detention, as required by policy when you are a professional. In 2020, I’m certain most agencies require documentation of a detention that rises to the level of threatening a suspect with a weapon.

Sadly, the failure to document the use of force will likely get these cops in more trouble than the violations they committed on this young man. It’s unconscionable. It’s unprofessional. It’s traumatizing to those who have this kind of thing happen to them. Unfortunately, it happens too often. And as a profession, we accept it as collateral damage. We leave young men like Jaylan scattered in our wake. We don’t even feel bad. We justify it by saying lame stuff like, “he could have been taking the bus hostage.” Seriously?

Our power allows us to shift to POP (for non-cops, that’s pissing off the police- yeah, that’s a thing), or resisting arrest, or some other justification for our actions. Anything not to say, I was wrong. Sorry.

We don’t talk about this much as cops, but we should. I wonder how many times a day a simple apology would be the right thing to do? Worse, I wonder how many times a day cops shift to another charge, refuse to take back a ticket, ignore a witness. All because of our ego. I wonder how much goodwill we could generate if we simply acknowledged this simple thing. We’re human. Our biases sometimes affect us. We can be wrong.

Most stories about this incident focus on racial bias, which is a subject for another blog, but I wanted to talk about more than that. I want you to think about how we treat people because public trust is what makes our job easier and safer. We can all agree that it is our job to question, to check out possible suspects, and sometimes it’s risky. It is also our job to be professionals. Listen to what people are saying. Think critically. Don’t let preconceived judgments blind us to commonsense. And for pete’s sake, if we act rashly, rush to judgment, and make a mistake…

Do not cling to your arrogance. Take a few minutes to talk to the person. Try to make it right. An explanation or apology costs you nothing. The goodwill you offer will be priceless. Do not walk away and leave another Jaylan in your wake.