If I had enlisted in the military, I am guessing that a good answer to this inquiry would have been, “Because I want to serve my country.” I know that many people enlisted after September 11, 2011, because they felt an ‘obligation’ to join the fight against terrorism and protect our country.
I went to college (Michigan State University) instead of joining the military like some of my high school buddies. I studied criminal justice in a ‘real’ program (with a national reputation) for four years. I would learn that in college we were not prepared to police on the streets because this was an academic degree program. We eventually realized that the police academy would be where we would be taught how to be police officers. I applied and tested for several police departments (Lakewood, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; San Diego, California). I failed my first oral board interview and so did my college buddies. I learned you have to practice and understand real policing a little bit and not just settle for ‘book’ policing.
Looking back at my career, I had my share of ‘stars and scars.’ I wanted to help people, but it is disappointing to look back at a career and realize that there are just not that many opportunities to help in some settings. When you are employed by a large department you are more likely to go from call to call. This is known as ‘incident-driven’ policing. You really can’t take the time to stop and help the lady at the grocery store who is locked out of her car. In smaller departments they can still perform some of these ‘helping’ functions.
I do know that I had a chance to do what was right and try to stop people from doing what was wrong. I did have plenty of opportunities to stand up for justice, maintain order, and fight wrongdoing (both internally and externally).
I remember being drawn to policing when I was a high school athlete. My dad was a coach. I did not drink or smoke (ever) in high school.
They actually called us ‘Rednecks’ if we didn’t party. I didn’t violate the law or the athletic rules because I figured I would get reported by someone in the small town where I grew up. I thought I would get kicked off the team. There wasn’t much ‘anonymity’ in a small town; that is why people are more likely to be ‘held to account’ when they are known, their actions are noticed, and there is an interest in maintaining order for everyone. This accountability does not just focus on the negatives (the trouble you cause); you also get recognized and rewarded for your achievements and for living your life right. People point to you and your family ‘reputation’ and you pretty much know if you are setting an example for being a solid member of the community. What does your family name mean to you?
I remember being so irritated that some athletes would drink regularly and never get reported to or disciplined by the school. I heard stories of how the local police actually caught people but didn’t even issue them minor in-possession citations. They often gave kids a break because a formal report would have ended in a suspension or removal from the team. I didn’t understand the concept of ‘police discretion’ and how many problems can be handled informally. I would later learn that it is impossible to enforce all of the laws all of the time. I was making the decision to become a police officer because I didn’t like some of the things that I saw with my local police department.
I told myself, I am going to become a better officer than the ‘locals’… so off I went to college to be the first police officer in many generations of my family. I did learn from a relative doing genealogy research that my great, great grandfather (Karl) was a police officer in Germany. One of the notes written about him read, “He was good to the people. He was found dead in a ditch.” I don’t know much more about the circumstances of his death but I don’t believe it was due to criminal action.
I learned in the academy that the words ‘help’ and ‘service’ were NOT used very much. We were taught much more about things like discipline, command presence, survival tactics and always being in charge. We were taught to command and confront; but communicate? NOT so much. We were taught uniformity and to not deviate without facing punishment. We were taught to ‘come together as a team’ and to be able to rely on each other. Metro’s academy was definitely based on the boot-camp or ‘military’ model of police training. I have never quite understood why there was so much focus on TEAM other than to make the academy function more efficiently. When I really learned what policing was all about, I saw it much more like an ‘individual’ activity. Of course, police officers in some departments do have a partner, but the LVMPD has rarely put out two-officer units as a matter of practice.
In field training, we were taught to function safely as ‘solo’ officers. This was a ‘sink or swim’ process. One of my field training officers was former sheriff Bill Young. Some training officers ‘taught’ while others merely ‘observed and evaluated’… One of my ‘teaching-oriented’ training officers was Bob Chinn. He was constantly looking for the good in people and had a much different outlook on his profession than ‘hard-ass’ cops. He was not in the military and I noticed that there were differences between many people with military vs non-military backgrounds prior to policing. With Christmas approaching right now, I can’t forget the day we arrested a motorist on Swenson near UNLV just before Santa was about to arrive. He had a bunch of warrants. We booked him and heard his sob story. He said his family would not even have a Christmas tree. After booking him we went to a store and bought a small tree. We then went to his apartment to deliver it. When the door opened we saw a tree all decorated inside and smelled the distinct odor of marijuana ‘in the area.’ We had good intentions but left a little disappointed. People make their own choices in life — but then want to blame things on the police!
ALWAYS FOCUSED ON IMPROVEMENT (Should the police analyze and learn from incidents like the ‘choke-hold’ fatality involving the NYPD, the Cleveland PD shooting of a 12-year-old with a fake gun, or the LVMPD shootings of Eric Scott, Stanley Gibson, Trevon Cole, or Sharmel Edwards? Of course they should!
A critical review of any high-profile police incident has to begin by overcoming a strong part of police culture. This is the feeling that “unless you were there you should not judge the officers.” This is nothing but complete bulls**t and it needs to stop! If you want to have the privilege of wearing a badge then get ready to face scrutiny.
The people who are in the best position to identify mistakes and make corrections are the POLICE themselves, not pontificators like a certain U.S. Attorney General.
We could start with the education that the media fails to provide to the general public. The term ‘homicide’ is defined as ‘the killing of one human being by another.’ A homicide is NOT a crime. The unlawful killing of another person is the CRIME. This is often called murder or manslaughter. Soldiers protecting our country in wars and from terrorists are NOT murderers. Killing in war is not a crime and it is authorized by our country. Killing in self-defense by any person is NOT a crime. These incidents are examined to determine if self-defense was justified. If justified, it is a homicide–but it is NOT a crime.
Police officers have the authority to protect citizens and themselves and to use deadly force. A fatal police shooting is a homicide — but it is rarely a crime. One other example of a situation in our society where a homicide is ‘authorized’ and is NOT a crime is when the death
penalty is imposed. Somebody is going to pull the trigger (firing squad), pull the lever (execution by hanging), or start the flow of drugs for what is most common (lethal injection). A human being is killing another. These examples are homicides, but they are NOT crimes.
Uninformed, uneducated, or even ignorant people may hear the news about a death being ruled a ‘homicide’ and they automatically believe that a crime occurred. Law enforcement is part of the ‘executive’ branch of government — remember the three branches are Executive, Legislative, and Judicial). If a police officer is accused of a crime, he/she has the same rights to review by the judicial branch of government (the courts) that anyone else has. You do not forfeit any rights because you wear a badge, but you can expect to be held to a higher standard — especially these days!
Every police officer in America should already be learning lessons from Ferguson, from NYPD, from Cleveland, and from many other cities. LVMPD officers should have thoroughly reviewed the Eric Scott shooting, the Trevon Cole shooting, and the Stanley Gibson shooting — and I don’t mean by just reading the related news stories many weeks or months after the fact. We need to call on the police to start examining every use of deadly force and share details right away.
Sharing details and possible options is NOT judging. It is living up to the highest calling of our profession — to save lives!
A memorable opportunity to HELP in my career… I clearly remember responding to a call at the Walmart on Rainbow and 215. This was after the controversial shooting of Eric Scott. I don’t recall that Metro ever gave us any details or critiqued the shooting, but it made an impact on me. Police ‘close-ranks’ and pretty much block information flow if there are possible lawsuits that would arise from an incident.
This is ‘old-fashioned’ thinking designed to protect the police department — but it does not protect citizens by allowing officers to learn and thereby prevent other incidents. I still hear from officers who have no clue about what happened at a shooting (today’s news reports on the fatal shooting of a robbery suspect at the Rio Hotel).
Just how long will it take for those ‘teaching moments’ to be relayed to street officers? Officers need to be constantly reminded and receive guidance on options available to them. They could be placed in exactly the same situation during their next shift.
Back to Walmart… the call came over the radio regarding a white male adult using a hammer to try to break into a jewelry display case at
Walmart. He had acted erratically and had picked up a hammer from the tools section. He had put on an ‘Elmer Fudd’ hat and appeared to be trying to steal jewelry. Store employees were re-stocking because it was about 4 a.m. They were not being attacked and were staying a distance from the subject. We learned from dispatch that an unoccupied truck was parked out front and it was running with keys in the ignition. This seemed unusual — as if it was going to be used for a quick escape.
I arrived just after several of my officers. I was their supervisor and I decided to take a moment to disable the truck by taking the keys. They entered with a low-lethal shotgun and this was communicated over the radio. Well-trained officers bring the tools that they need to handle the call. We heard the word ‘hammer’ and responded appropriately — realizing the call could result in use of deadly force.
This was not an active shooter! This was not a person doing harm to others inside the store. This appeared to be an in-progress property
crime (like selling loose cigarettes). When I entered, employees pointed toward the commotion. I saw that several of my officers had created a semi-circle around the subject. We needed to maintain weapon awareness, the danger of a cross-fire, and also the ‘backdrop,’ which was clothing racks. We can be responsible for injuring bystanders.
When police yell to a person to “Get Down” or “Move” or “Get Back,” they do it for a reason. This is not ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or the COPS TV show… this is reality and it is time to get out of the way!
I must say that on the way to the call I kept thinking about the Eric Scott shooting. I feel I learned some lessons even though I was not involved and even though I received no formal training post-Costco.
This is a good thing but it needs to be a correction in the system — not just from concerned individual officers!
I knew that when I arrived as a supervisor I would try to use restraint and resolve the situation without things going deadly-bad. I knew there would be video. I knew we needed to communicate and coordinate our efforts. I would have loved to be able to walk in and announce, “THIS IS A PROPERTY CRIME; HOLD YOUR FIRE — DO NOT SHOOT” once I saw the suspect and confirmed it was ‘only’ a hammer in his hand. We can’t always do that if it is going to restrict our officers from protecting themselves. I’d hate to see an officer lower his orange-colored (low lethal) shotgun only to have his head split open with a hammer — wielded by a man bent on destruction and maybe intending to use the police to end his life.
The public does not seem to realize it is about impossible to control all aspects of a call (mostly the human aspect). This is why police always talk about ‘discipline’ and we expect people to respond as trained. It is important to have enough confidence in your officers
that you can count on people to do certain things at certain times.
Football coaches tell their players, “Do your job on every play, and if everyone does this the play will likely be a success.” Keep in mind; the supervisors didn’t pull the trigger on Trevon Cole. The supervisors didn’t pull the trigger on Eric Scott. The supervisors didn’t pull the trigger on Stanley Gibson. But the supervisors should do everything that they can to slow the action and control the situation, making it clear that ‘the buck stops’ with them. I once had a squad with 12 officers. I didn’t know exactly how they had been trained or how they might react. It takes time to become a reliable unit and sometimes it never happens.
I didn’t wait for long before deciding to approach from just out of the suspect’s field of vision and I restrained him by the head and neck. A ‘headlock’ is a headlock, but we also were taught, and could legally use, a Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint (LVNR). I wrapped my arm around his neck while other officers immediately grabbed the hammer and took it out of his hand. It turned out that he was emotionally disturbed. He said, “I’m in love” and he was trying to get a ring to give to his girlfriend. We arrested him and the last I heard he received a mental evaluation. If I recall correctly, he was never even charged or prosecuted for a crime.
Did this man need to die or suffer serious injury at the hands of the police? He did not swing the hammer at me or anyone else. He did not
drop the hammer but he did not attack or resist. It was almost like telling a child to put down a pair of scissors or a glass bottle before he breaks it and, when it does not happen, you walk up and take it away.
I’m afraid that too many police officers are afraid to go ‘hands-on’ and this may come from changes in training or that they’d rather rely on all of the tools that they’ve been given. I felt pretty good about the outcome of the call. None of us got in trouble. None of us had to
face the trauma (and drama) of an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting). I even obtained the video (on a CD) for the purpose of reviewing it with my squad.
When the police use restraint they need to be praised. The police also need to see SUCCESS just like instant replay on the big screen TV at a football stadium or hand-helds on the sidelines. I hope future police officers have more opportunities to HELP. Police can learn from all of the situations where deadly force is not used. Body cameras will help the police and help to educate the public. Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is any help for the media because they seem to enjoy ‘fanning the flames’ and blaming the police. I intend to keep HELPING — even though my career was ended — but by engaging in honest assessment of how the police must improve!
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