The Pulse Massacre is a Hatecrime

All across our country and the world huge crowds have gathered in solidarity and grief remembering the victims of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. When I see those crowds, I am humbled and moved to tears. Rainbow flags and messages of love flow freely without fear, purposely defiant, asserting that love will win. But I also hear others say we shouldn’t focus on the fact that the Pulse nightclub was targeted by an Islamic extremist because it is an iconic & popular gay bar in Orlando. We hear that we can’t possibly know that the location was targeted because it was an LGBT club, and it shouldn’t matter. We’re all Americans they insist.

On the surface this sounds great. I would love nothing more than to believe that LGBT Americans like me would be completely accepted into the fold of my country. But, that’s not what’s happening here. To dismiss the fact that this is a hate crime is plain wrong. To try to smooth over the fact that LGBT hate is one common thread between extremists in both Muslim and Christian Faiths is disingenuous, to say the least. This terrorist has been quoted as making statements of anger about seeing two men kiss, and in his Muslim associations, there is a focus on anti-gay teachings and bias. The LGBT community has been the target of nearly universal hate throughout history. That hate has been justified by religions all over the world. Just the past few months have seen scores of anti-gay legislation introduced throughout this country. In The United States of America, we are supposed to be different, our religious tolerance is supposed to guarantee the right of every citizen the freedom to worship, live, and love.

Although gay Americans finally won the right to marry a couple of years ago, most of us would still be hesitant to do something as simple as holding hands in public. For my friends and family who still don’t understand why there is a need for laws to protect gay people, that is how simple it is. I can’t even hold my wife’s hand in public for fear that someone might be offended and want to physically harm us. That is what makes this attack so insidious. For many LGBT people, a place like Pulse is one of the few havens from an otherwise homophobic and violent world. Saturday night’s attack changed that perception of safety. That’s what terrorists seek to do. They want to kill in places where we feel the most vulnerable. Pulse was perfect for this hellish objective. No different than attacking a church or synagogue or mosque. And just like the congregations of those places of worship, I hope that LGBT people will not let fear drive them from the places that offer affirmation, acceptance, and love.

When I see huge crowds forming in support for the victims of the Pulse massacre, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful that born out of this horrific tragedy will be a transformation, a realization that LGBT people are fully Americans, deserving of every right that most Americans take for granted. I’m hopeful that being Americans will the most important thing that binds us all together, and that we can forget about who I love and be glad we love just like you. Most importantly, we love our country every bit as much as you. Our LGBT DNA is another unique thread in the fabric of this great country, the diversity we have always celebrated as the strength that sets us apart from the rest of the world. That is what I hope to see—a recognition that we are equally American.

So, America, if we really want to make a statement of solidarity in the name of the victims in Orlando, let’s start by acknowledging the truth of the brazen hate crime against LGBT citizens. To be sure, if this had been an attack on a police station, we would of course say it was a terrorist targeting police officers. Let’s call the Pulse attack what it is: A hate crime and simultaneously the worst domestic terrorist attack in our history. To ignore the significance of the LGBT target is another way of minimizing the lives of LGBT people. Let’s all stand up to hate by being unafraid to say openly that 39 of our citizens were murdered and 40+ more were wounded because they were in a gay club. The victims were murdered not just because they were Americans, they were targeted because they were LGBT Americans. And all of America should say so.

Leading from the bottom

 

“The trouble with most of us is that we’d rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale

The forced resignation of the police chief in San Francisco caused a bit of a stir in law enforcement circles recently. Chief Suhr follows a string of such actions, including the high-profile Superintendent in Chicago, and Chiefs in Baltimore and Ferguson. Chief Suhr and the others had long and distinguished careers by many accounts, and it is not my intention to disparage or throw stones at these men personally. However, it seems painfully obvious that doing business according to the status quo that has existed for decades is no longer working—for cops or the community.

In these contentious times, we need communication and leadership above all else. Policing in a democracy means change will always come as the public’s attitudes change over time. That’s reality. Law enforcement must always be flexible to adapt to those shifts, and leadership is supposed to drive change in a positive way. For instance, the 1966 Miranda ruling radically changed the rules for questioning suspects. No doubt, the chorus of doomsday predictors back then asserted that cops would never get another confession or make another case. Wrong. We worked smarter, adapted and got better at our jobs. We were fast and loose with stop and frisk, touting ever-increasing arrest and ticket numbers, but now we have to refocus on quality not quantity. Changes in pursuit policies and a host of other issues hasn’t ended law enforcement as we know it.

Our current reality is the proliferation of videos in our technology age that can celebrate outstanding police work, but also unfortunately exposes bad police behavior for the entire world to see. It’s not that those minorities of officers weren’t always there in our ranks, it’s just now harder to hide or ignore. That’s where we are today. So, law enforcement leaders have two choices: Rise to the occasion and drive positive change or lash out at anyone remotely questioning procedures and reinforce the status quo. Sadly, too many in leadership positions have chosen the latter.

The law enforcement leaders railing against any suggestion of change are not helping to bridge this divide with the community. I’ve seen these public servants say things like, “cops are afraid to do their jobs”, “cops are in a fetal position”, “cops are going to start sitting under trees”, or really incendiary things like “the mayor has blood on his hands”. Even the FBI Director has inferred that crime is rising because cops feel under attack. I have to shake my head. Some of these same leaders are the ones who sold the myth of statistical utopia, which pitted street officers against the communities they serve to begin with. Yes, these are difficult and stressful times, but fanning the flames and giving excuses to reactionaries who resist any change is not the answer. Lashing out against anyone who questions policing is not the answer. That’s not leadership.

Leadership requires honest self-examination and assessment for growth. Leadership requires that we reach across divides and listen to the communities we serve. Leadership urges the best officers to continue to do their best in spite of the noise around them, by reaffirming support for good work. We can’t partner with citizens if we continue to only look for blame externally rejecting any suggestion of self-critique or improvement. Criminals do kill more black citizens than police ever will. Yes. But that doesn’t excuse any cop from crossing the line. Law enforcement leaders need to re-evaluate and address our own shortcomings, not just whine about exposure of what we’d rather not have the public know. It is a shame that some in high-profile positions take such small-minded and defeatist attitudes. Their public statements pander to the worst behaviors, rather than the highest ideals of our profession. It’s lazy and wrong.

Forget leading from behind, that’s leading from the bottom.

We all want to be seen

A few days ago, I was chatting with a few law enforcement friends about the need for a positive message when debating sensitive subjects and it occurred to me that the larger debate on law enforcement and the community was certainly one of those areas fraught with emotion on both sides. I think that is important for everyone to remember this as these debates rage. Policing is under intense scrutiny and both sides have dug into deep trenches because, quite frankly, the stakes are huge—we’re literally talking about life and death issues all around. I realized that is precisely why a more positive and open-minded dialogue is so very necessary.

Since Ferguson, law enforcement has entered a defensive crouch. Videos continue to surface of alleged officer misconduct, exposing some egregious behavior that cops would rather not have displayed for the world to see. Some tapes have the opposite effect, showing the public the shocking realities of undeniably unprovoked attacks on officers just doing their jobs. What I love the most about this current climate is that increasingly, we are seeing outstanding videos of really excellent officers doing what they do every day: serve their communities with compassion and generosity.

The importance of celebrating those officers cannot be overstated. Somewhere during my career, law enforcement shifted into statistics mode. Numbers ruled and tallies of tickets and arrests became the only standard of measure for an officer’s worth. If the numbers weren’t high enough, the officer was branded a slacker and disciplined. The glaring problem with that approach is that it erodes both public confidence and the officer’s morale. Where a cop might have issued a warning on a traffic stop, he now feels the need to write numerous tickets to boost his numbers and stay on the good side of management. Good community work and problem solving doesn’t fit into that model. It takes time and results are often not quantifiable—at least on a stat sheet or pie chart. Citizens become potential statistics for the officer’s eval and officers become reduced to numbers in the statistical game of politics.

Now that we are struggling with perceptions about law enforcement, suddenly the merits of compassion in service are viewed favorably, rather than dismissed as “soft” like they were too often in days past. This is a good thing. We are human. I would argue our emotion and humanity are the traits that make the best cops. When we see the humanity in the citizens we serve and respond with compassion, we show the strength of humanity that is character. Let’s stop attacking and start seeing each other. No one person is all good or bad. Not cops, not citizens. In all of the noise and fighting, why not use this truth as a starting point for seeing one another? We might be surprised at how that one gesture opens a door for change.

Be safe.

Conduct yourself with honor

“Can we be as big or bigger than this moment or will the moment swallow us up because we are not willing to rise up, fight to remain standing, and meet this moment with the full force and fury of our fearless conviction.” Michael Nila

Like all of my peers, active and retired in law enforcement, I cringe every time I see another video or story about police misconduct—real or perceived. I’ve struggled with the disappointment and irritation of the viral nature and media scrutiny. Also, like most of you, being a cop wasn’t just my job, it was, and continues to be who I am as a person. But the more I think about these issues, the more I begin to realize that good police everywhere need to stand up and take back our honorable profession. The bad apples are sucking all the oxygen out of the room, making everyone look bad, and most importantly, making you less safe.

I believe in law enforcement. We all know that the majority of officers are doing good work everyday. The job is not for the faint of heart. We all know that the majority of the public believes in law and order and supports their police. So why does this narrative persist that cops are under siege? I keep hearing that cops are afraid to do their jobs because of all the scrutiny. How do these two narratives coexist? Shouting at each other and hiding behind hashtags aren’t solving anything. What would it look like if we all said enough is enough?

So, I decided to focus on what policing can control. Us. When I talk about things that law enforcement can do to blunt the negative, like speaking up when you see another cop stepping out of line, I often get resistance from my peers. That’s unfortunate because there are a few basic things that can be done to improve the image of law enforcement in every community all across our country. I’m frankly tired of the argument that says those who call out misconduct publicly are responsible for fueling the fire of anti-cop hatred. That is flawed thinking. Your peers who behave badly are the ones fanning those flames, reinforcing negative beliefs in those who want to believe the worst about police, and giving the media the chance to drive that negative message. The reality is that too often we might have prevented the public humiliation by saying something to that individual sooner.

Will the extreme factions try to use those publicized instances of misconduct against us? Of course, but are we really so naïve that we are saying they don’t already see these behaviors far too regularly? Events blow up in the media and go viral. Shootings, sexual misconduct, and instances of fraud that run repeatedly in our 24hr news cycle. When the officer has crossed the line we must acknowledge the crime and say, without reservation: that cop must go. Unequivocally. We must resist the temptation to lash out at administrations, or minimize the conduct based on the character of the victim. We are the police. Police have the responsibility to conduct themselves honorably and ethically every day, in every encounter.

That does not mean jeopardize your safety. Those who tell you that doing your job with more sensitivity makes you less safe are often part of the problem. I know that isn’t a popular opinion, but I think it’s true. Because treating every citizen with respect—even those who don’t deserve it—is what wearing the badge requires. I realize we are all human and make mistakes. I’m not saying we are perfect. We will stumble and perhaps give in to anger occasionally, but we owe it to one another to intervene when emotions run high. We can control more than we like to admit.

Let’s start with the little things. You might be confronted by small instances of less than ideal behavior. Not things that necessarily rise to the level of crime, but little, annoying things that make you shake your head or say WTH is wrong with them? Things like a patrol car in a handicapped space or no parking zone, speeding for no reason, showing displeasure when they don’t get the half price meal, as if it’s an entitlement. What about standing by when your partner throws extra punches or kicks out of anger? Too often, we shake our heads and walk away. It’s considered bad form to confront someone personally, right? What happens if you speak up? You might be mocked, ridiculed, told to mind your own business, or worse? Let’s be honest, those officers do these things because they can. They are very rarely challenged. Plain and simple.

Silence is complicity. Silence normalizes bad behavior and sends a message that it is an acceptable standard. That also erodes public trust. There is a real connection between this behavior and your safety. An angry public is automatically ready to fight you. When one cop tarnishes his badge, it tarnishes your badge. That is what we must not condone. It does us no good to keep saying it’s unfair or that most cops are good. Everyone knows that. I’m saying that 700,000 law enforcement officers nationwide must stand up and take back the nobility of policing from the few who misrepresent the values you risk your life to protect. You are better than the few who do not deserve to wear the badge.

Adversity will always come. Criminals will fight and try to harm you. You should use appropriate force to affect an arrest. Policing often focuses on survival based on physical strength and firearm accuracy. These are vital skills. Real cops know that what is equally important is your strength of character and mind. This is the challenge facing law enforcement today. This Law Week, let’s recommit to holding the integrity of the Thin Blue Line without apology. I can think of no better way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. No doubt this is a challenging time to be a cop. But, I know that brave men and women willing to run into danger can meet this challenge head on, fearlessly. Character is the key. Policing with honor makes you stronger and safer every day.

Be safe.

Policing Bathrooms

I was thinking about these so-called bathroom bills the other day. Legislation like this is an area of “morality” policing that normally involves the use of a very important officer skill: Discretion. Discretion is a great tool for cops to use in a variety of situations because it allows humanity to enter into the law enforcement equation. We can think of countless examples of discretion that used compassion and mercy as a teaching moment. This approach likely did more to change behavior and boost the credibility of policing than taking a hard line for a minor charge.

However, discretionary applications aren’t always for the good. Because we’re human, we have to acknowledge the ways that culture wars and matters of faith or our upbringing are often at the center of our own biases. Our belief systems are the very things that color the way we all interact with the world and policing is no different. The only way to work toward the goal of truly unbiased law enforcement is to talk about and acknowledge how we can best balance our internal beliefs with the laws that officers are called to enforce. This is especially true when cops must deal with cultures or beliefs very different from their own.

Here’s an example. In our town, like most, there are unwritten rules that dictate where certain couples go to hook up. Old fashioned “lover’s lanes” or whatever you call them now. In our town, one side of the Causeway was largely straight folks; the other side was known for mostly gay couples. It was routine for officers to patrol those beach areas, coming across countless couples in sexually compromising situations. More commonly, the enforcement was vastly different, depending upon which side the couple was on, meaning the enforcement was decidedly more aggressive. Ticketing or criminal charges much more the norm on the gay side of the causeway.

So, when I hear about communities writing ordinances to criminalize transgender people for using the restroom according to their identity, it makes me a bit nervous. Because an ordinance with criminal penalty means you want cops enforcing that law. Based upon my experience, LGBTQ people are already on the losing end of many interactions where education and discretion is sorely needed.

I often hear that it’s not about hate or discrimination, only about protecting our wives and daughters. Protecting our family is completely understandable, but the man in the bathroom dressed like a woman, attacking women? Let’s please say what that really is. It’s a male predator donning a disguise to perpetrate his crime, no different than an armed robber in a mask. A sexual predator is not the same as a transgender person. You’ll have to search really hard to find an actual transgender person who has committed such heinous acts (I have never seen one in 25 years of law enforcement). What I have seen are hundreds and hundreds of males preying on women and children. That is where our outrage and policing efforts should be directed.

These criminals must be dealt with swiftly and I have no qualms about actual predators feeling the full weight of punishment. We have to address the real problems regarding sex crimes in our society. The very real misogynistic, gender double-standards and pervasive violence against women that still exist. Sad statistics don’t lie: 82% of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers, 4 out of 5 rapes are committed by a known offender, 47% of rapists are friends or acquaintances. Law enforcement must deal in facts, not hysteria and ignorance. Scapegoating those on the margins is not the answer.

JSO Rookie Firing Could Have Been Prevented

Today in the news a video showed a rookie officer from Jacksonville punching a handcuffed woman. Let’s get this out of the way early: I do not believe that officers should never punch a handcuffed prisoner, regardless of gender. I’ve punched handcuffed prisoners a couple times in my career. It depends upon the situation. My trainers always cautioned us that the most dangerous moment is when the handcuffs come out. When that person realizes they are about to lose their freedom, the fight or flight instinct is at its most powerful. So, yes, I’ve had situations where I’ve been attempting to handcuff a suspect who then begins to struggle and fight. Procedures and state law allow me to use “the necessary force to affect the arrest”. I looked at the video from Jacksonville with this experience in mind. What I saw was a vastly different scenario playing out.

The video does not show what happened at the beginning of the call. I know many of my law enforcement peers will point to that as a suspicious and important point. No, my friends, that is irrelevant. A statement released by the JSO says, according to the officer, the woman “refused to be handcuffed and was kicking and trying to bite the officer, even in the back of the police car”. She may very well have been struggling or fighting when the officer was applying handcuffs, but if so, then why is she standing on the sidewalk with handcuffs already applied? Four officers stand a few feet away, with their hands in their pockets, not exactly appearing concerned for their safety. Also, of note, another handcuffed person, a male, stands to the left of the officers. He’s also apparently of no safety concern.

Back to the woman. We don’t see the application of handcuffs. The video opens with her walking toward the officer already in handcuffs. She’s saying something, probably upset by the situation. No newsflash, nobody likes to get arrested. In response, the young officer takes the woman by the arms, pushing her back toward the exterior wall of the business and appears to push her against the wall with some force. The woman responds with a kick. The officer then delivers several full swing punches to her midsection.

The debate will rage. The first response from a former officer I spoke to was, “She kicked him!” Her kick is not in dispute. Nor is any possibility of her bad behavior or resisting at the time of handcuffing, which we don’t see. So, I want to be clear on what we’re seeing and saying about the events. Are we saying that her resistance during handcuffing justified escalating force? If so, why is she standing on the sidewalk with no one near her, ensuring she doesn’t do anything else? The three other officers are clearly not concerned. Nobody makes any move to secure either individual who is presumably under arrest. If she was combative, why isn’t she in their patrol car? Why isn’t anybody at least hanging onto her?

Next, the woman walks toward the officer, probably verbally challenging whatever he’s doing. He moves her back to the wall. No problem. The shove against the wall? Probably not necessary and ill advised. That was the first anger response. The woman’s anger response is a kick in return. She’s wrong. No doubt. However, police officers are charged with using force for defense, and that force should be balanced by the threat. Her kick, although factually criminal and wrong, was not an action justifying the flurry of roundhouse punches that he threw. He got mad and lashed out. While I agree, he’s human, and humans react badly sometimes, that does not make him right.

The overall problem I have seen many times in cases like this (some even worse) is unfortunate because it is so preventable and the prevention is the responsibility of the officer(s). We too often jump right to the defense of “that person shouldn’t have done whatever”. I get it. That’s true. What is more important is that we really have to change our thinking from action/reaction, force/escalation to controlling our space in the first place. It’s a form of de-escalation that aims to prevent the escalation before it starts. Again, she struggled against cuffing? Okay, put her in the back of the police car. That’s what it’s for. The officer chose not to do that. Everything else that occurred developed from that poor decision. I think the term for that is officer induced danger or threat. Secure her and she won’t keep fighting you. Period.

What makes matters worse is the other three officers on scene. Shame on them. They stand there, hands in their pockets, proving no real threat is perceived, and showing no reaction whatsoever to the punches thrown by the rookie. One older officer does finally stroll over after the punches and speak to the woman or officer, we can’t tell. The rookie then walks away and the woman collapses to the sidewalk. Still, no one makes any move to place her into a patrol car. I can’t stress this enough—if a suspect like her is so violent, why not? Folks, whether we like it or not, once we arrest someone, they are now our responsibility. Too often, mistakes such as this—not securing a suspect—result in unnecessary escalation and sometimes tragedy. Not just suspects dying, but cops injured and killed. It’s true.

This case is a classic example of ways that police have to get back to basics and do their job properly. Officer safety and prisoner handling training are very specific on how we should handle arrestees and it’s not the way they did it on this video. One last point is about the three other officers. Your responsibility was to intervene. If the rookie was getting pissed off, step in and tell him to relax. What would that hurt? Or what about one of you saying, hey let’s put her in the car? Is that so hard?

The video is a sad reminder that following our training and being responsible for each other at a call is important. Policing by nature is defined by dealing with people at their worst. We’ve all been there. The yelling, screaming. We should already be prepared to hear tirades and endure the inevitable verbal onslaught. It will happen and officers have the tools to deal with it before it gets out of hand. These JSO officers had many opportunities to control this situation. Sadly, they didn’t. Their inaction allowed a woman to be punched, caused the JSO and all cops embarrassment, and cost a rookie cop his badge.