I am going to do some pontificating about police (and some shameless alliteration). Everybody is doing police. And they are right to, so why not me?
It is a Penelope piece. I have been writing parts of a police series for weeks. It gets longer and shorter. Almost every day another example of brutality, insensitivity, mismanagement, injustice or on the worst of them, murder or mass murder was surfacing, and like Odysseus’s wife and her eternal tapestry, I started over.
It’s also a Boy Scout piece. No irony, no tricks, no multiple entendre. It’s just looking for an entry point to do something better. It shouldn’t offend anybody, except maybe the irredeemably pro-police nuts, out of the range of reason. They imagine we live surrounded by Tasmanian Devils just beyond the fire light snarling in Spanish and Arabic. We will be safer if cops just keep shooting, because most of what they hit will be them. And they die. So what? America is a dance of daily violent death anyway.
Enemies everywhere. We need a savior. Could it be . . . Trump, our national embarrassment? Stop – I said no jokes.
I grope around for good ideas – none of which is likely to happen, given the deep apparatchik investment in status quo.
The police killing scene was quiet for a few days. No news of police shooting or beating up unarmed people who were not committing any crime, or police being shot in retaliation. I did not unweave the tapestry for a few days, but now it has started again.
Can you believe there are people in the world against Black Lives Matter? The Trump campaign trotted out a few of them in their raggedy-ass convention: professional bigots Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani, and a stooge named Sheriff David Clarke. Palin’s lizard brain spews up some ugly stuff along a screechy rhythm line that scratches an inner itch of some people of the scapegoating inclination. Giuliani is distinguished from her mainly by the ability to complete a sentence. Clarke – I don’t know where they got that guy.
Clarke and Giuliani denied there is any difference in how police treat Black and White people in confrontations, and in choosing who to stop or confront. Right there on screen in front of millions of people, they said that. Are they as dumb as they look and sound, or just paid to tell lies to gullible White people who want to take their country back?
In partnership with Ozzie and Harriet and Ronald Reagan, the audience of these primitives claims they own the country. Or used to own it until some people who didn’t look just like them started homesteads on their black and white lawns. If you don’t clear them off, they might look at your daughters funny. Do they know how stupid they sounded? Probably not, because thousands of people in silly hats clap and cheer for more people getting killed..
In any case, anything Giuliani and Palin don’t like can’t be all bad.
The undeniable in-your-face fact is that if BLM had not forced the police problem out of the depths of administrative suppression, deep and wide police reform, which the Justice Department, the President and the nation’s best police thinkers now finally admit is necessary, would not even be in the spotlight. Now members of congress are coming out to see something done – see Rep. Andre Carson. You don’t have to like every action BLM takes to understand that if it keeps working and its eye on the ball, the result will be another advance in America’s level of civilization, which is behind too much of the world.
If these deniers of what we can see every day on YouTube and the news – see, not just hear about – want to prove it’s all color blind, let’s see those videos of police abusing and humiliating White men and women as we see them doing to Black men and women. Let’s say they are right; then we can re-evaluate these nightmare pockets of American policing as less discriminatory and more – just bad.
Until a few weeks ago, police departments, commentators, politicians, journalists, apologists were all saying, every time a new case of killing or beating up somebody who was not committing any crime emerged: systemic racism. The police culture. I was thinking: something is missing here. Who cares about the individual cop’s racism or some putrescent “culture”? Police is a very special kind of public service. Officers are sent on to our streets with lethal weapons and a badge conferring some still not very well defined authority. I don’t really want to hear about them carrying around any culture or systemic anything while carrying automatic pistols, stun guns and clubs, with, apparently, the right to stop and bug anyone whose look, or tail light, didn’t suit them. They can’t just maintain a culture, like those confederate flag fantasy clubs that came out of the woodwork when Landrieu said he wanted to to move the statues. If some people in their own time and on their own dime want to indulge Civil War fantasies instead of playing with toy trains, they can do it. But an armed cop on the street, a public employee – he better leave his systemic anything in the privacy of his own fantasy life, not carry it around the streets we have to walk down.
The missing ingredient was management. Not to worship it, like a 90s corporation cultist getting high on Peter Drucker or Tom Peters, but where was management in police forces where these crimes were being committed? Racism or systemic racism are just names not reasons, and a police “culture” involving systemic bias and cover-up is at best a description. They give a name to the disturbing sight of cops who stand quietly by while one of them beats up a Black girl with a stick, or the LA cops that watched four of their colleagues administer an almost lethal beating on Rodney King in 1992. Nobody is responsible; it’s just the way it is. The culture. Just a name, not an explanation or indication of a solution.
Management abdication had first occurred to me as an issue to be explored here in New Orleans, when Sidney Torres handed the French Quarter Task Force, the efficient, fast micro-force that he had created, over to FQMD to manage and the CVB to fund. Pretty soon, squabbling broke out about the GPS system, use of the phone app v. 911, maintenance and serviceability of the Polaris cars. NOPD seemed to be on the edge, watching.
The fuss was fun to watch, but essentially a sideshow. The need for changes was normal. Unforeseen snags and improvements for a new effort – what’s new? You would get that in a sandwich shop. A few weeks before, when Torres was footing the bill and making the decisions, management would have been a fuss-free function, not a public squabble.
The dog that didn’t bark: not once, and not yet, have I heard the top table of NOPD publicly say anything like, “Sidney’s system works. Why don’t we roll out a bigger version of it for the whole force?” Put a GPS transponder or identifier in or on every unit, whether car, motorbike, bike, horse or foot patrol. A version of the FQTF phone app would work with 911 or some other processing center. There would be a control center with screens showing the location of every police unit on duty. Incident reports would appear on the map. Dispatchers or monitors would know where the closest assets were. The software would give response ETA – that’s no trick; Google Maps and Waze do it for free on everybody’s phone. More effective action from the officers you have might even reduce the staffing requirements, probably even reduce operating costs.
I wondered: do police forces even have what a non-government public service company might call “management,” or just a hierarchy of supervisors with snazzier uniforms and more gold braid as you go up the ladder? And why do the residents of New Orleans think it is okay for the French Quarter to have a whizzy publicly funded rapid response first-responder system, while response times for some of them remain in the donut zone?
I patched that idea over to the police killings that were hitting the headlines and populating YouTube with depressing frequency.
The talking heads said: systemic racism, police culture, etc, etc. District Attorneys, grand juries, judges and juries almost always let the cops off. Some of the exonerations were astounding. Remember the process in Los Angeles clearing a clutch of cops for firing 107 bullets into the wrong pickup truck, shooting up two Hispanic women when they were supposed to be searching for one man? Even if it had been the right truck, were their orders to execute him on sight?
Why were they acquitted? The police said they were “afraid.”
Airlines operate complex equipment and crews, and have people’s lives in their hands. Imagine an airline with 1,100 employees, something like the population of NOPD. Suppose that some of the pilots occasionally descended so fast the oxygen masks popped out. They landed hard, braked hard to get to the terminal quick, blowing out tires and scaring passengers to death. Management says, “Most of our pilots are really good with passenger planes, but some, you know – there is a culture of macho flying.” Maybe one of them finally overstressed a civilian plane and crashed it. Can an airline’s management use any excuse? PTSD? Racism, and the flight was from Nairobi? If a plane crashes and the black box recorder shows the pilot was afraid, that he (or she) “feared for his life,” is that an excuse? Is the FAA and the court going to let the airline’s money, directors and executive suite off the hook?
There is no excuse. Airlines train, re-train, test and re-test, to eliminate quirks and personal weakness from the decision process. The captain has to have a steady hand on the wheel and face challenges with calm, speed and determination, to be trusted with the lives of passengers. If he doesn’t, it is not only the pilot who is going down. It might be the whole company. If management knew about a weak spot, or should have known, the executives are going down, too.
You would not knowingly fly with an airline that made excuses about life-and-death issues, yet many among us are happy to see cops out on our streets carrying lethal weapons who can’t even keep cool when a few of them together, by looking scary and shouting peremptory, possibly contradictory commands, finally get a person, often a woman or teenage girl, excited and frightened enough to escalate a situation that them descends into violence. I’m sure we have all seen videos where several cops, probably 180 to 250 pounds each, decide to exercise physical restraint on a 120 pound woman, usually Black, and finally can’t find a way to move forward without brandishing or using a weapon on the already subdued but still excited detainee. The prevailing principle seems to be: the police must dominate as quickly as possible, at any cost. If you don’t respect them quietly, eyes down, they may start to fear for their lives.
What were the superior officers, who are supposed to be the management, doing about it? Usually hiding behind bland statements like “administrative leave,” “thorough and impartial investigation,” meant more to get reporters to go away than to add anything to the discussion.
If an airline’s management didn’t follow through any better than that, they would risk being grounded by the FAA. But it would be a rare case in which the chiefs, commissioners and superintendents of police were in the dock with the line officer, for allowing a cop on the street to be in that state of mind or mis-training. The process to force improvement on a local force generally involved court action resulting in a consent decree with the federal government, but some of the forces involved in recent police violence cases were already operating under consent decrees.
So police brass were not like an airline, more like Goldman Sachs or Chase.
The soft excuses have actually been reducing over recent weeks, as I daily unraveled my Penelope piece. Top cops are starting to say, we have to get this in hand. They may not know what to do. Active management can be complicated. It includes keeping an eye on the future, scanning for opportunities, weaknesses and risks, testing possible opportunities, exploring innovation, as well keeping the plates spinning and overcoming current weaknesses.
Maybe like John Doman in The Wire, they mostly polish up the brass chain of command, expect the politicians to block any calls for change, and resist them when introduced. Or given the explosive political and economic brew, and the possibility that the 99% (current jargon for what used to be called the working class) won’t be passive forever, they focus on militarized crowd control and nifty equipment for counter-revolutionary operations. From what we can see, Chief Carl Dabadie of Baton Rouge is focused on suppressing or containing protest over achieving civil behavior by officers on normal duty and the residents of his city outside of times of crisis. A military attitude.
Progress will be spotty. Many will resist and delay. But the commanders are going to have to take charge and put the rules and requirements of good policing above any “culture” that has lodged in their department or been brought in with recruits, like an infection.
A major problem is localism. In Europe, most police are national. In France, for instance, most police for smaller towns and cities are the Gendarmerie, a division of the military that does civic police work. Some cities have municipal police, but they are normally unarmed and do not carry out the same kind of duties as the nationally managed forces.
But in the US, there are over 15,000 separate police forces. Municipal forces generally report to the mayor, state forces to the governor, and sheriffs are elected, which means maybe they report to nobody. They create and run their own training programs, principles and rules.
National management is of course not a guarantee against violence. French police dealing with big demonstrations, much more frequent there than here, or with Algerians in the suburbs or cités is evidence of that. And of course localism can be handy for the movies, enabling the police force in Mississippi Burning, for instance.
If I was going to be activist in police matters, I would suggest the the Justice Department set up some very clear standards and procedures of police activity and behavior, including rigorous psychological testing, before a police officer can carry a gun as part of his work. Just because the Supreme Court’s lunatic 2008 misinterpretation of the second amendment allows some private citizens to be time bombs doesn’t mean we should pay our police to raise the craziness stakes with a badge.
The temperament of a police officer able individually to decide to use lethal force should be as steady as an airline pilot’s. Maybe the Justice Department would be influenced by the European Convention on Human Rights, which would not recognize a policeman’s claim that he was afraid for his life as justification for shooting a suspect or detainee. There would have to be a real credible threat. Armed police should be required to issue warnings, as in most European forces. Policeman are trained – at length, sometimes for up to three years – to avoid shooting to kill, certainly not to start by shooting a clip into the center of mass. Resisting arrest should be carefully defined, so it cannot be used as a blanket excuse. If somebody runs away for a petty crime, let him get away. Selling cigarettes is not a capital crime; a normal level of resistance to being arrested for it should not be either. The “disrespect” justification, recently invoked by Fox News’s comic book cop, Hauk, should be off the table entirely. The elements of the comply-or-die scenario have to be banned.
Then the local police forces would have to report regularly on everything, and be inspected and investigated regularly.
Over the top? The FAA does it.
Results: commercial airline is the safest mode of travel in the world, and US police are dangerous to be around.
A story in the newspapers last year was that US police killed more people in March 2015 (111 known) than UK police had in the entire 20th century. The final count for 2015 was 1,146 (Guardian) or 1,207 (killedbypolice.net). 2016 seems to be heading in the same direction, with 623 down so far. 153 were Black; 25 of them were unarmed. The armed category must include Philando Castile, who had a permit and was not engaged in a crime nor any threat to officers. He was armed, but no self-defense was involved.
299 of the people shot by police were white; 45 of them unarmed. The numbers suggest White people should not be opposing Black Lives Matter – they should be joining up, asking for a White section, or starting their own protest movement.
Unless the American people are stupid or sick-minded enough to elect the spray-tanned baboon who managed to hijack the Republican Party from its previous hijackers, already a radical right wing insurgency. He served notice in his ugly closing convention speech that he would turn our cities into a Judge Dredd reality show, expanding on the Addams Family sitcom he wants to install in the White House. The safest thing to do would be to leave the country until it burns out the fascism, and hope it doesn’t go the way German fascism did in the 1930s.
Management. Active management deals with racism and “the culture.” It doesn’t use them as an excuse.
The other side: the Justice department has a way to deal with police departments that go off the rails, but it is piecemeal, slow, expensive and in some cases ineffective. New Orleans is in it: the consent decree, imposed by a judge after the kill rate hit I think 27 people in 17 months.
Federal oversight: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/11/13/forced-reforms-mixed-results/
The Problems With Policing the Police
With well over 15,000 distinct police forces, how is the case by case, painstaking, years long for each case going to effect improvement? Is there another option but national standards of conduct; training programs; basic rules of engagement, if that is the right word; standards of management and reporting; and oversight and investigation that do not require a court case.
Predictable problems: Congressional gridlock; resistance by States Rights states; an explosion of red tape, which can be exploited by resistant departments to bury improvement.
Downside: national rules could stifle innovation. The Torres experiment in the French Quarter might have been impossible under an overly tight federal umbrella.
I am surprised at myself for thinking through such a conservative idea. Proposals not that far off the mainstream now are saying just disband police. They don’t reduce crime. Maybe they even increase it. Another is police attendance as response only – no more random stops, confrontations, car stops, police presence or menace. Maybe next time.
“Quiet for a few days.” Spoke too soon! Two officers shot, one fatally, in San Diego last Thursday night. Saturday, reports of shooting of Loreal Tsingine, Native American, five feet tall, 95 pounds, by a cop whose record shows he had been cited for being too quick to resort to a gun, had disobeyed orders, falsified reports, and had been reported as temperamentally unfit by superiors. (What would happen to an airline that let a pilot with reports like that fly passengers?) Now the Korryn Gaines case, which raises new questions.
© NOLAscape August 2016
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