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“We Need Cops With People Skills”: Police Authority Presupposes Legitimacy And Trust

What can I do?

Not quite six months ago, a reader named Tracy posed that question to me and I, in turn, posed it to you. Tracy, a 55-year-old white woman from Austin, said she was sick of hearing about unarmed African-American men being injured or killed by police. “What can be done?” she asked. “What can I do? I’m sincere in this question. I want to DO something. What can that be?”

Well, Bob has some ideas. In an email, he describes himself as a “retired professional firefighter from a metropolitan area” whose 20 years as a paramedic often required him to work closely with police.

“I witnessed many cases of police brutality,” he writes. “A stressed patient or family member would call 911 for medical assistance. We would respond as well as the PD. A situation that required a calm and caring presence and an ambulance ride to a care center or psych ward would end up in a physical altercation with mace and cuffs.”

Bob says he and his partner would talk about what they had seen on the way back to the station, “but knew better than to alert our superiors or file complaints because we did not dare open a rift with the local PD. We (and paramedics on other shifts) needed PD backup on potentially dangerous calls. So we all kept quiet.”

Based on that experience, Bob has two suggestions. One is that we should push for more thorough screening of police applicants. “We need cops to DEFUSE situations,” he writes, “not escalate. We need cops with people skills. No more bullies. Very intense psych examinations should be part of police applicant training.”

Bob’s other suggestion? Require that non-sworn civilians be part of any investigation of police brutality. Just as you would never assign a 7-year-old to solve the mystery of the broken cookie jar, he thinks it makes little sense to ask police to investigate their own.

“Do we really think cops will give an unbiased and honest effort when investigating other cops? NO! It is always the same old game. Make the investigation last for months until it is back-page news. Discount or do not document damaging statements. Intimidate convincing witnesses. Conveniently forget to note damaging facts. When all else fails, lie or plant evidence to close cases.”

From where I sit, both of Bob’s suggestions have merit, but as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice with no one yet held accountable, his second carries particular resonance. Even granting the need for thoroughness, it strains credulity to believe it takes the better part of a year — and counting — to decide whether to prosecute Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, especially given the surveillance video that shows Loehmann shooting the boy, who had been holding a realistic-looking toy gun, within two seconds after the patrol car skids to a stop in front of him.

Would the decision on prosecution proceed at such a leisurely pace had it been Loehmann who was shot? Would the prosecutor be agonizing like Hamlet almost a year later?

You know the answer as well as I do.

The impulse to cut cops some slack — “Hey, he was only doing his job” — is understandable. It is also wrong and, more to the point, shortsighted.

One of the most important weapons in a cop’s arsenal is his authority. But authority presupposes legitimacy and trust. How much of either can a police officer — or a police force or the institution of policing itself — command when they operate under such a blatantly different set of rules? A requirement that outside eyes be involved in investigations of serious allegations of police misconduct would go a long way toward rectifying that.

At the very least, it’s a conversation we are long overdue to have.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 5, 2015

October 6, 2015 Posted by | Law Enforcement, Police Abuse, Police Brutality | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Demand For Respect Really Means”: The NYPD Freakout Isn’t Just About Race, It’s About Inequality, Too

The recent war of words between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the president of the city’s Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, is framed by tragedy. Specifically, the tragedies of Eric Garner’s death and the subsequent non-indictment of officer Daniel Pantaleo, and by the deaths of officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, recently murdered by a mentally ill man, who imagined that he was seeking revenge on behalf of Garner and Michael Brown. In this context, de Blasio’s repeated suggestion that black citizens attract significantly more attention than white citizens doand with a far greater chance of tragic deaths at the hands of the policehas been read by Lynch and others as a sign of great disrespect.

Respect is the price the rich are supposed to pay for their protection. Making sense of this transaction, though, requires us to stop seeing this as chiefly a matter of cops versus the community, or even as a story dominated, in some simple way, by race or color.  We need to understand the function of the police in contemporary urban life, in an age marked by declining routes to social mobility, and to recognize the intersecting roles of race and class in the larger story.

As a negotiator, Lynch is a bomb-thrower. Writing in a New York Post editorial, he suggested that the NYPD had been “scapegoated for centuries of racial issues” and celebrated “extraordinary achievements in reducing crime in all communities and protecting the lives and property of New Yorkers of all races.” Speaking to PBA delegates in Queens, Lynch said that de Blasio appeared more interested in “running a fucking revolution” than in leading a city through this crisis. “If we won’t get support when we do our jobs, if we’re going to get hurt for doing what’s right then we’re going to do it the way they want it,” he said. “Let me be perfectly clear. We will use extreme discretion in every encounter.” He added, “Our friends, we’re courteous to them. Our enemies? Extreme discretion. The rules are made by them to hurt you. Well now we’ll use those rules to protect us.”

Respect is at the center of this argument. Listening to Lynch, one hears that cops are now nearly criminals, indistinguishable from the real dangerous elements. One hears that citizens should be immediately obedient and pliant when confronted by law enforcement. One hears that the policing of poor communities of color requires a very different siege mentality, with newer, bigger weapons and strong-armed, protective tactics. And one hears, finally, that the rank-and-file of the NYPD have been betrayed by the wealthy, that the city is not grateful enough to those who have made its recent and historic prosperity possible.

Uniformed officers have responded by disrespecting these imagined “enemies,” turning their backs on de Blasio as he visited a hospital where the officers died and then later as he attended funeral services for one of them. Unofficial “contracts” have been circulating, in which active police officers request de Blasio’s absence at their own funerals, should the very worst happen. And officers have followed Lynch’s call to use “discretion”: Since the double-murder, traffic tickets and summonses for minor offensesa vital part of “broken windows” theory of policingare down 94 percent over the same period in 2013.

The PBAa union in some ways, a fraternal organization in othershas pushed back against NYC mayors for several decades now, focusing on issues that are strikingly familiar this winter. In 1992, after rumors circulated in Washington Heights that a police officer had shot and killed an unarmed man, neighborhood residents staged massive protests. After then-Mayor David Dinkins proposed a new review board for all police shootings, the PBA organized a sweeping protest that included a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, a traffic stoppage not unlike recent community protests against the non-indictments in Ferguson and Staten Island. Dinkins, who was black, was seen as an advocate for greater civilian oversight of the police, and was imaginedlike de Blasioto be more sympathetic to the families of “criminals” than to the police.  Rudolph Giuliani, then campaigning for his own mayoralty, accused Dinkins of “ceded[ing] neighborhoods to the forces of lawlessness.” Only a few months after massive riots in Los Angeles, NYPD officers took to the streets as protesters, numbering in the thousands according to the New York Times, and demanding new automatic handguns and an end to public critique.  Chanting  “No Justice, No Police,” many wore t-shirts that read: “The Mayor’s On Crack.”

Much of the recent press coverage of racial profiling has sought to illuminate the issue through granular details. Some have pointed to the composition of the police department, assuming that a more representative force would enjoy better community relations. According to The Washington Post’s recent consolidation of census data, de Blasio’s NYPD is 46 percent whitepolicing a city that is 34 percent white. Others have looked at specific rules and regulations, or training procedures, that might explain the crisis of policing racially diverse cityscapes.

Respect is an abstract thing, though. The city has always needed a multi-ethnic police force to serve as a social engine, absorbing new immigrants and roughly reflecting the communitya diverse force whose basic purpose has been to ensure that the lives of the truly rich are protected, that property values are safeguarded, that commerce can proceed. The wage for this service isn’t just a modest bit of social mobilitya few lace curtains, an extra bathroom, a nicer neighborhoodbut also this intangible thing called respect, with its peculiar class inflections. Put simply, joining the police force is a well-trod route to gaining respect from the city establishment. In exchange for that respectand even for their occasional valorization as “heroes”the rank-and-file are supposed to use maximum force on even the smallest challenges to the status quo.

And no challenges are too small. The city has enjoyed a renaissance as a consequence of the “broken windows” policy, which suggests that cutting down on petty crime in poor neighborhoods will catch a greater number of serious criminalsan approach that shifts the focus of policing onto black and brown bodies, naturalizes crime as a feature of minority communities, and justifies the excessive use of force.

The last few decades, in the U.S. but especially in New York City, have been marked by at least two distinctive and contradictory trends: a vast and growing divide between the truly rich and the truly poor; and a series of repeating crises related to race and policing. But they are not unconnected. The new NYPD battling for what they define as workplace rights and lobbying hard, as well, for the intangible and much-desired benefits of respect. But such respect is only awarded to the working-class and racially diverse force for its role in the city’s ongoing war against crimea war with casualties disproportionately drawn from the poor and the desperate and the racially marginal.

To see this just as a black/white thing, or to think about it only as a matter of cops and communities, is to miss the awful backdrop. To truly understand what is happening in New York, we need to look harder at class. This is a story about rich people in a minority-majority city, policed by a force that is now similarly minority-majoritybut a force that, per the city’s orders, defines criminality in terms that impact black and brown peoples most of all. It is a story about who, exactly, is being protected and served. And it is about the wagesliteral and, as W.E.B. Du Bois once put it, psychologicaldemanded for the protection of some but not all, and at the expense of others.

 

By: Matthew Pratt Guterl, The New Republic, December 30, 2014

January 1, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, Inequality, NYPD | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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