The Gordian Knot of Being a Cop

The recent incident involving, by most estimates, 100 to 300 ATV vehicles raising havoc on the streets of Providence serves to illustrate the almost impossible situation facing Police Officers today. When presented with a clear and dangerously unlawful situation, officers are expected by some to turn a blind eye and by others to possess some superhuman ability to end such behavior without physical force.

Then, almost immediately, the specter of race is injected into the conversation simply because a police officer was involved with a situation involving a person of color.

I defy most people to provide an accurate description of someone speeding by on an ATV amid uncounted others. The color of their skin is the last consideration at the moment, diving for your life might be the first.

The police are not a force unto themselves. They represent us on the street, and we rightfully expect them to act under the law.  Those who would standby and do nothing in the face of unlawful behavior do not deserve the honor of wearing the badge.

But with that said, we can reasonably expect them to act judiciously with the discretion we empower them to exercise. Yet, the critics swarm out of their holes and rage about injustice absent one scintilla of evidence when they do.

What gets lost in all the ranting and raving by those who have twisted Black Lives Matter’s righteous cause into a carte blanch excuse for criminal and threatening behavior is there are two as yet untold stories here.

Those who would standby and do nothing in the face of unlawful behavior do not deserve the honor of wearing the badge.

The officer will have to explain his actions. If they are found to violate the law or be contrary to department policy, the officer will face the consequences.  I have the utmost faith in Colonel Clemens and the Providence Police to provide a full and complete report to this effect.

And any of the individuals who may be identified in committing criminal acts or motor vehicle violations, including the young man injured in the incident, need to face their responsibilities as well.

The NAACP was quick to characterize this as a racially motivated incident caused by the police. They fail to recognize their own disingenuousness in a rush to judgment. 

The very thing they accuse officers of doing—assuming that because someone is black, they are guilty of a crime—seems to be acceptable behavior. If an officer acts, it must be wrong. There is no need to wait for the whole truth to come out.

While I certainly hope the young man recovers from his injuries, they do not excuse his actions or behavior. One cannot throw yourself in front of a moving train, then blame the train when it doesn’t stop.

Pride, Integrity, Guts

The War on Cops: Wrong Enemy, Wrong War, Wrong Headed

Cops have become the focal point of the failure of society to address the cause of violence in America. This results from the unfiltered flood of social media stories lacking any corroboration or factual basis, even though overall violence has decreased in America and within police agencies.

While a troubling number of cops engage in unnecessary and unlawful violence, most are responding to situations and circumstances of violence beyond their capacity to prevent or control. By focusing on just the violence-prone officers, we run the risk of overlooking the essential function police officers provide to society.

A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it.     

Lewis H. Lapham

Some criminal behavior is pathological, little can be done absent intense psychiatric intervention. But the overwhelming majority of people who commit crimes are motivated by several common factors; poverty, poor education, lack of family support, drug use, discrimination, or other identifiable and rectifiable circumstances.

Because society does not want to face its responsibilities for fostering and ignoring the causes behind such criminality and violence, they need a convenient scapegoat. Instead of recognizing that drug abuse, one of the most significant causes of criminal acts, is primarily a health issue, they prefer to criminalize it and dump the responsibility of solving the problem on cops.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Enormous sums of money made in the drug trade cause those in control to arm themselves to protect their assets. Cops then face the reality of dealing with armed resistance to their efforts, setting the stage for violent confrontations and increasingly dangerous situations for the public. The violence breeds more violence and the police endure the criticism for their inability to control it..

We are treating the symptom, not the cause. Like injecting morphine into a broken arm. It no longer hurts, but it is still broken.

The violence surrounding the drug trade, and the criminal behavior it engenders among users and dealers, creates violence-prone territories within cities that are more combat zones than neighborhoods.

We have turned police departments into armies of occupation, failed to provide them with adequate resources, tasked them responsibilities outside their area of expertise, then blamed them for their failure to solve the problem.

A society that thrusts cops into violent neighborhoods and expects them to endure violence against them only with restraint is abdicating its responsibility.

We would not send a carpenter to teach History in a high school class, or a Doctor of Philosophy to repair a plumbing problem. Why do we send cops into our neighborhoods and expect them to be social workers, counselors, medics, priests, surrogate parents, and disciplinarians without the least bit of training or support to perform these functions?

So now, still refusing to address their own abdication of responsibility and failures, the solution they offer is to defund the police? To take the one societal resource that answers the phone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and reduce their already limited ability to deal with society’s problems?

This is the height of idiocy.

Let me abundantly clarify a couple of things. Implicit racism is endemic to Police Departments because it is endemic to society. The difference is simple. When a carpenter or a bartender or a priest acts in a manner prejudicial to another because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin, it is not replayed in the news and blasted across social media ad nauseum.

While I would concede police officers, because of their position, should expect close scrutiny, they do not deserve condemnation absent a full understanding of the conditions under which they operate. Nor should their actions be automatically assumed to be motivated by prejudice.

Here is another hard and fast rule. If officers are guilty of pre-judging a person simply because of the color of their skin, they deserve to be punished or charged for acting unlawfully in such a matter. But, until all the facts are clear, the actions of officers should not be pre-judged simply because they have become a convenient target for the ills of society.

If you want to defund things and provide resources to actually change things, here are some suggestions.

Defund the politicians who turn elected public service into a lifetime welfare system

Defund the mindless feel-good programs in schools and government that only create patronage jobs for the well connected with little results.

Defund an educational system that rewards mediocrity, avoids placing challenges on students, and ostracizes those who excel at learning.

Defund the nonsense of forced racial balancing at the expense of education and eliminating the ignorance of prejudice. These stop-gap efforts, while well-intentioned, fail to address the fundamental causes of racism; ignorance, lack of education, and inability to embrace differences.

Defund any state-sponsored support of religion, be it tax exemptions, feel-good legislation, or the best-intentioned but misguided efforts of tacit acceptance of its efficacy in secular matters, at the expense of science and secular progress. These matters further exasperate the separation of individuals into segregated groups who suffer from the lack of experiencing different ideas, cultures, and histories.

Defunding the police as a wholesale solution to the problem is like turning the radio up loud to drown out engine noise. It might mask the problem, but eventually the engine will seize up and nothing will move.

Ten Commandments For…

…Avoiding or Surviving a Police Encounter

  • I. Thou shalt not commit a crime
  • II. If thou dost commit a crime, thou shalt not protest when caught, that is for thine lawyer to do for you
  • III. Thou shalt not spout legal knowledge from a google search and argue with an officer
  • IV. Thou shalt not drive without a license nor flee when thou is signalled to stop by the police
  • V. Remember to keep holy thy court date
  • VI.. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s car
  • VII. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s big screen TV
  • VIII. Thou shalt not carry a gun without a permit, a gun does not bring strength but shows cowardice
  • IX. Thou shalt not argue finer points of law in the middle of the night, in a dark alley, while holding a crowbar, standing next to a pried open door
  • X. Thou shalt not do unto others as you would not have done to yourself

If thou would be faithful to these commandments thou shall live long and prosper. If thou can but remember one, remember the First Commandment, it will keep thee well

…Police Officers

  • I. Remember that thou art a servant of justice, not an avenging angel
  • II. Thou shalt treat all with dignity and fairness
  • III. Thy Rod and Thy Sword are to Protect when all else fails not punish for things thou are not endowed with the authority to inflict
  • IV. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy fellow human
  • V. Thou shall not bear enmity toward any
  • VI. Thou shall remember that thou art fallible as are all thou shall encounter
  • VII. Thou shall endeavor to save all, including thyself, from all harm
  • VIII. Remember to keep holy the word, and the spirit, of the law
  • IX. Thou shall carry thy purpose with pride, dignity, and courage with empathy toward all
  • X. Thou are not the instrument of vengeance but the keeper of the peace

Remember these wise words spoken by an officer of great wisdom and experience.

“Always bear in mind that the difference between the officer driving the police car and the person under arrest in the back seat is that the driver never got caught”

The Gospel of Detective Joe Ford

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Defund (Elements) of the Police but Let Cops BE Cops

The movement toward defunding or, in the extreme, eliminating the police has a fundamental logic to it. Although I’m certain many proponents miss the point because they are caught in the fog of emotion. There are public funds allocated to police departments that could be better directed to other programs. Some of my suggestions will be met with outrage, but the simple fact is the most effective departments are those who let cops BE cops. They catch bad guys (in the universal, non-gender specific way.)

Changing police departments without keeping this fundamental truth in mind is Utopian idiocy. These foolish experiments with “autonomous” zones excluding the police are living examples of the Lord of the Flies phenomenon. They will fail, and innocent people will suffer and die amid the anarchy.

Let me state a universal truth.

As long as there are humans, there will be bad guys and the need for those brave enough to stand between them and society.

If one is rational enough to understand this point, then certain corollaries follow. We can no more eliminate the police than we can stop burning fossil fuel without a realistic alternative. But we can get back to basics with police departments. Refocus them on their core functions, and reallocate resources to other services more suited to social welfare agencies.

Over the last few decades, there have been several divergent trends within law enforcement. One toward militarization and one toward a “touchy-feely” gentleness. Neither added to the elemental function nor improved the effectiveness of police departments

Starting back in the days of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, the federal government offered surplus military equipment to police departments.

I recall the glee among many of my fellow officers, including me, over this bonanza of toys. M-16 rifles, night-vision equipment, armored personnel carriers, and more. We thought this was the coolest thing in the world. I mean, come on. Is there anything better than firing automatic weapons and seeing in the dark?

To make it even more palatable, President Reagan reinvigorated the War on Drugs. We had the stuff, we had the war, all we needed was an enemy. Like all wars, most casualties were civilians. We tried to arrest our way out of a health crisis. If you think someone who would steal from their grandmother to buy heroin gave any thought to being caught by the police, you are remarkably naive.

Then, we came up with mandatory sentences, three-strike laws, and asset forfeiture statutes. All well-intentioned, like the proverbial road to hell. The net result? We turned whole swaths of society into convicts and filled our prisons with society’s most disadvantaged.

No one embraced the concept of the war on drugs more than me, and the many officers I worked with. But most cops are an intuitive bunch. We came to see the fallacy and contradiction in what we were doing. Like the war in Vietnam, we had to destroy the village to save it. We lost the enthusiasm for a failed policy.

Back then, no one made the connection that turning police departments, at least in appearance, into what were essentially armies of occupation was a dangerous thing. They held entire training conferences teaching agencies what language to use in the applications.

No one questioned the wisdom or consequences.

These programs were followed by the COPS Grant program, designed to put more officers on the street through technology. And there were others. Each had, what seemed, a logical and beneficial purpose.

They became a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

In parallel with these programs, a kinder and gentler approach took hold. The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program rose to prominence in Los Angeles and spread across the country. Community Policing quickly followed on the heels of DARE.

The problem was, in many agencies, these programs became specialized units rather than philosophical changes.

DARE put cops in schools as teachers when most lacked a fundamental understanding of educational theory. No matter how well-intentioned, DARE would prove marginally effective, if at all. Studies show contradictory results from DARE training. One five-year study showed no significant results between schools implementing DARE programs and those that did not. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/dope/dare/effectiveness.html

Community policing, one of the most promising of all the “New Age” programs, had the most potential. Police Departments formed “Community Policing Units” as a way of embracing this new paradigm. This presented a contradiction to the purpose of the philosophy. Community policing is not a thing, not a specialization like CSI or Homicide investigations. To treat it as such is to hobble the beneficial effect.

Community Policing is a philosophy, a paradigm, and a practice to be ingrained within an agency’s approach to police work. But many issues addressed by community policing are better handled by other agencies. In some agencies, Community Policing became little more than a central collection point of information about quality of life issues—loud congregations of youths, trash on the streets, burned-out streetlights, noisy business establishments, road maintenance. The officers then referred this information to the responsible agency. It drew personnel away from the core function of the police. That is not what cops—by training or design— are best suited to do.

Once again, a well-intentioned program clouding the fundamental responsibilities of cops. As a matter of normal course of operations, cops should pay attention to such issues. Small annoyances can escalate into major problems. While the “broken window” theory of law enforcement is largely discounted, an element of its validity persists. Focusing on the small things before they become major issues works.

But cops need to focus on what they do best.

Community Policing drew personnel away from the core function of the police with limited beneficial improvement to the community. The reality is, all policing is intended toward protecting the community. Crime prevention through police presence, apprehending criminals, suppressing disturbances, responding to accidents, all take place within the community.

Attitudes and expectations, both by the police and by the community, need to change. The cops are not the enemy, and the community is not the problem. Community Policing should comprise merging the responsibility of both the community and the police into a partnership to catch bad guys. https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/What_Works_in_Community_Policing.pdf

There was once an effort to combine the functions of public safety, i.e., police, fire, ems, into a single agency. In theory, it seemed to make sense. Have those first on the scene cross-trained in all aspects of public safety.

In reality, it was a dismal failure.

When an EMT responds to a shooting, their focus needs to be on treating the victim. When the Fire Department responds to a fire, its focus needs to be on putting out the fire, rescuing individuals, and saving property.

When cops respond to these same incidents, an element of each comes into play—preserving life being the most important. But the officer must also focus on determining if a crime occurred, preserving evidence, and apprehending those who committed the crime.

Differentiation and separation of responsibilities make all public safety operations more effective.

The problem is, in many cities and towns, the police are the agency of last resort. If the trash in the street is infested with rats, if the neighborhood bar blares music to all hours, if the kids on the corner block the way, cops are the simplest solution. If a homeless person, suffering from mental illness, is blocking the entrance to a business, call the police.

Even if they can only deal with the issue temporarily.

There is another, more sinister aspect to things police departments are tasked with performing. The enforcement of traffic laws—intended to save lives and prevent accidents—has become a source of revenue critical to state and municipal budgets. Every department in the country will say they do not mandate a quota for officers. Yet, most agencies use the number of tickets written as a measure of officer performance.

Like the contradiction in government warnings about the dangers of smoking and their dependency on the tax revenue from the sale of tobacco, police department generate revenue from tickets. It is a tax disguised as a public safety function.

If one wants to understand the danger of such dependency on traffic ticket revenue by a municipal government, all one has to do is look at the level of traffic enforcement in Ferguson, MO. The shooting of Michael Brown wasn’t the reason for the unrest and riots in that city, it was the spark that lit the fuse.

The recent revolts across the country are not just because of unjustified police shootings of people of color. They are a reaction to a complex range of issues. Police departments are being forced to contend with many of these, mostly outside their control, and doing it poorly.

We wouldn’t send a carpenter to fix a plumbing problem, why do we expect cops to solve societal issues beyond their control or expertise?

Redirecting funds from police departments to social service agencies make sense. But this is a long-term strategy. We still need to deal with the practical realities of crime. Cops prevent, investigate, and solve crimes. They apprehend bad guys. They should do so with professionalism within the confines of the law. Sometimes, this will involve the use of deadly force. We can set our sights on eliminating that necessity someday. However, we still need to have cops being cops for the foreseeable future.

Before we rush headlong into such irrational actions of disbanding the police. Before we just slash and cut police budgets to satisfy an incensed, but uninformed public. Before we commit ourselves in a rush to judgment to do something, anything, we need to step back and analyze what purpose police departments serve.

The cops are not the adversaries of the public. This is not an us versus them situation. Cops are humans, subject to the same frailties and foibles as everyone else.

We need to let police departments get back to the fundamentals. We need to stop relying on the police as the agency of last resort in dealing with issues outside their skill set. We need to recognize the problems we face are all our responsibility, not just the police departments because they are a convenient 911 call away.

Let cops be cops. Not social workers, not teachers, not mental health providers, not counselors. Let cops do what they signed up to do, stand on the thin blue line, and catch bad guys.

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Freedom of Speech: The FIRST Amendment

I do not write this piece without trepidation. I hope to convey the point without feeding into the adversarial generalizations some believe this requires. I seek to cause no harm to the many sincere people who support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the worthwhile goals of changing the impact of implicit bias within society.

Yet, the reason the founding fathers made Freedom of Speech the First Amendment was to ensure the government silences no one for holding or expressing an opinion. Even if that opinion criticizes an important movement for change in America.

More so, because that is the very basis for any progress; change tempered by a rational discussion of all aspects.

The founding fathers believed in the ability of Americans to discern the valid and righteous from the vain and vicious. It would seem we have forgotten the goal of the First Amendment in our pursuit of finding solutions to the issues raised by organizations such as BLM.

I was troubled by a news story out of Vermont reporting the suspension of a school principal for a post done on her personal time expressing her opinion about the BLM.

Tiffany Riley wrote:

“I firmly believe that Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with the coercive measures taken to get to this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point. While I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race. While I understand the urgency to feel compelled to advocate for black lives, what about our fellow law enforcement? What about all others who advocate for and demand equity for all? Just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I am a racist.”

The School board in Mount Ascutney held an emergency meeting, suspended Riley and now seek to terminate her. The board’s statement characterized Riley’s post thusly,

the ignorance, prejudice, and lack of judgment in these statements are utterly contrary to the values we espouse as a school board and district.”

This trend to suppressing those who would dare criticize the BLM movement, for it is happening all over the country, is as dangerous as the very issues BLM seeks to address.

It was once the majority of the country that tried to suppress voices such as BLM and other aspects of the equality movement, using all the tools of censorship and oppression to oppose racial justice.

Now, it would seem, the standard for Free Speech is “as long as it is in keeping with the most politically correct movements.”

Instead of taking the opportunity for a public discussion of Ms. Riley’s opinion—perhaps exposing implicit bias and teaching a valuable lesson to the students in the school and across the county—the school took the politically expedient way out.

This is not about BLM and the many valid changes they seek to bring about. But I find it troubling that an organization using the power of Free Speech to bring about change would demand to be exempt from criticism, or that political entities would seize on the moment to restrict Freedom of Speech.

Failing to unequivocally support Freedom of Speech is a danger to all. Groups like BLM are often the catalyst for progress. As Margaret Mead said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

But this should not make them immune from criticism.

I also find it troubling that an organization such as BLM, which rightfully argues blacks as a group are targeted solely on the color of their skin, would apply the same generalizations to all Police Officers.

Those who seek the protection of the First Amendment as a means to redress their grievances cannot deny it to others. Nor should they stand idly by when it is.

Ensuring justice and equality for all is a righteous cause. But seeking ways to bring it about does not immunize you from criticism. Fair treatment need be applied without reservation or conditions. Leaving aside the valid institutional changes necessary within society and law enforcement, justice without equality, no matter how worthy the goal, is contradictory to change.

Whether you are a black man or woman, or a police officer wearing a badge, one need by judged by the content of your soul, your character, and your conduct, not by the actions of others who happen to belong to the same group.

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A Eulogy for the Police

Friends, Americans, Countrymen (in a non-gender specific, judgment-less way) lend me your ears.
I come to bury the Police, not to praise them.
The Evil that some cops do lives after them;
The Good by most is oft interred with their bones.
So let it be with the Police.
The noble protesters hath told you the Police were ambitious.
If it were so it was a grievous fault.
And grievously would the protesters have the police answer for it.
 Here, under the leave of the protesters and the rest—For these protesters are honorable people,
so are they all honorable people,
Come I to speak at their defunding and disbanding.
The police were my friends, I once stood among them, they were faithful and just unto the country and their charge.
But the protesters say the Police are ambitious.
And the protesters are honorable people.
The police hath brought many captives off the street
Whose deeds did vex the citizens and the land.
Did this in the Police seem ambitious?
When that the desperate and abandoned hath cried, the Police were there when no others came to help and wiped their tears.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet the protesters are honorable people.
You all did see that on their service, we offered them little in appreciation, let them suffer the demons of their work, pilloried them for being human and prone to human frailties.
Yet still they chose to stay, do their duty, and stand on that thin blue line.
Was this ambition?
Yet the protesters say the police are ambitious
And sure, they are honorable people.
I speak not to disprove what the protesters spoke,
But here I am to speak of what I do know.
You all did love them once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to abandon them?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And people have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with the police,
As will all of us should these honorable people have their way
And I must pause till reason returns.

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A Reformation: Restructuring Law Enforcement is Just One Element of a Complex Problem

The wailing, crying, and calls for defunding or eliminating police forces is about as idiotic an idea as ever was conceived. It is comparable to saying we should abandon medicine because a few doctors engage in malpractice or eliminate all lawyers because some innocent people are convicted.

You don’t fix a problem by irrational acts. Nor do you ignore a problem because it is complicated and does not lend itself to simple solutions. If we are serious about addressing racial disparity—within Law Enforcement and society as a whole—we must address all the factors contributing to the issue.

Incidents of black (primarily) men being killed by police officers does not automatically show racial bias. There is a host of studies—https://www.pnas.org/content/116/32/15877,  https://www.nber.org/papers/w22399— that contradict the premise of bias in use of lethal force against blacks by law enforcement.

And there are studies which show there is a bias in use of force—both lethal and non-lethal— by the police against blacks. (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0141854)

What do these contradictions tell us? They tells us we don’t track the data in any meaningfully significant way to draw reasonable conclusions. This leads us to form anecdotal inferences based on personal experience—either positive or negative encounters with the Police—on traditional media reports of incidents, or from social media information.

Using such varied, unreliable, and unconfirmed sources, coupled with our implicit biases, lends itself to forming powerful, but not necessarily accurate, assumptions. The tendency to confirmation bias is inevitable. By ignoring information which contradicts our own perspective, we handicap our ability to understand the full scope of the problem.

Racially motivated use of lethal force by law enforcement—if a full and impartial analysis of the data shows that to be true —is just one aspect of a much bigger problem.

Yet, if the perception among minorities is a systemic racial bias by law enforcement, and a propensity to use lethal force against such groups by police officers, it is critically important we both capture and analyze the data and address the perception as if it were reality.

Arguing the data shows no bias—absent comprehensive and thorough analysis–only fuels mistrust. Ignoring the possibility the data is insufficient to understand the problem is equally dangerous. It is assumptions—blacks are more likely to be involved in violent crimes by nature, cops are inclined to shoot blacks—that have created the problem.

Cultural misconceptions about groups we do not belong to i.e., minorities, cops, etc. all add to the problem. Education is the key to solving such false beliefs, but the process will not be easy or swift.

While we can strive for the ideal, we must face the realities of life.  There are bad people in the world who will assault, rob, attack, and murder their fellow humans. One of the primary functions of Law Enforcement is preventing such crimes and apprehending those who would commit them.

That will not change for the foreseeable future. Using force when necessary to perform such responsibilities will always be an element of policing. Improving the process of hiring officers, eliminating the often political nature of such practices, is critical. Better training in the use of minimum force necessary to accomplish the goal is paramount to reducing unlawful or excessive use of force.

For example, the RI Municipal Police Training Academy training syllabus lists 106 hours of firearms training, 154 hours of Traffic Enforcement, and 57 hours of Police Community Interaction and Dealing with Special Populations.

I suspect the training regimen for most law enforcement agencies would reflect the same allocation of training time.

While I am not suggesting a reduction in firearms training, the emphasis in the initial training phase is on weapons and tactics. Such programs set a tone for priorities. We miss an opportunity to equip officers with skills to de-escalate violent situations and reduce the need for lethal force. This is the best time to give officers confidence in their ability to communicate and interact with the community.

Such skills are as critical as the ability to know how and when to use lethal force in the complex fog of situations officers find themselves in on a daily basis.

The factors which lead most to commit crimes—poverty, lack of education, unemployment, drug addiction—are outside the control of the police.  These must be addressed by our society before we can hope to change the nature of police agencies.

“Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”

Aristotle “Politics”

Awareness of the factors that contribute to crime is important. But causality is not a defense to criminal behavior, it is a mitigating factor we must take into consideration when applying appropriate means of correcting such acts.

Three major reformations need to occur before any meaningful restructuring impacts police interaction with the public. Until these matters are addressed, law enforcement will be the agency of last resort for dealing with the problems of society. Under the current structure, they are ill-equipped, ill-trained, and improperly organized to address these problems without these changes.

The three urgent elements requiring change are these.

  1. Judicial reform
  2. Prison reform
  3. Educational reform

If Justice is not equal under the law. If access to Constitutional rights is limited by one’s financial resources. The inevitable results are what we see happening across America.

Blacks account for 13.4% of the U.S. population, yet make up 37.5% of the prison population. We need to understand the reason behind this. There is no race-based propensity for crime, poverty is the primary driving factor regardless of the race of the offender. There are a host of contributory reasons and an unfair Judicial System tipped against poor defendants is one of them.

Coupled with Judicial Reform is Prison Reform.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons budget for 2019 was $7.1 BILLION.  The Federal recidivism rate—those who are released from prison and re-offend—is 49.3%. Almost half of the people we put into the prison “Corrections” system return to prison.  (https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2016/recidivism_overview.pdf)

In Rhode Island, the recidivism rate is 50%. (https://worldpopulationreview.com/states/recidivism-rates-by-state/)

Does funding a program with a 50% failure rate sound like a wise investment? Couple that with the Federal government embracing private prisons—facilities that need prisoners to be profitable—and you have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Annual spending in 2018 on just prisons in the United States:  $182 billion

If one measures success by our rates of incarceration—we have the largest prison population and the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world—we wildly succeed in imprisoning people and are terrible at corrections and rehabilitation.

Unless the goal is to fill these private prisons, we are good at that. But the cost to society for our policy of mass incarceration is enormous and of questionable benefit. https://www.vera.org/publications/price-of-prisons-what-incarceration-costs-taxpayers

This leads to the key element, the lynchpin of the problem—flawed and unequal public education. Here’s a stark fact of how we set our priorities from a study by the US Department of Education.

“Between 1979 and 2012, state and local government expenditures grew by 107 percent to $534 billion from $258 billion for elementary and secondary education, while corrections spending rose by 324 percent to $71 billion from $17 billion.”

In the 2021 budget, the President has proposed a 10% reduction in spending for the US Department of Education. The same budget calls for a 1.6% decrease in spending for the Bureau of Prisons.

There are myriad related issues—lack of addiction treatment, mental health care, housing, employment opportunities—which all compound the crime problem. Focusing exclusively on the police masks the real problem, and will do nothing to solve the long-term issues.

It is unfair to target law enforcement alone when considering ways to eliminate racial bias in public safety.  Police officers reflect society. The implicit biases we all carry inevitably affect our interaction with others if we are not cognizant and continuously alert to the problem.

Education is the key to better understanding.

Yet absent complete studies clarifying the level of racial bias in applying force by Law Enforcement, it would be wise to err on the side of caution and focus on the issue.  More attention within agencies to the possibility of prejudice will inevitably lead to better policies and controls over the use of force.

The very nature of humans precludes the elimination of all force by the police in many circumstances. There are bad people in the world who will commit violent crimes and resist efforts to stop them. While some level of force will always be an element of being a police officer, we must remember the root causes behind criminal behavior. Lawful application of necessary force is not the problem, brutality is.

Improving trust between the police and the minority community is a two-way street. Refusing to report information of criminal activity, particularly involving firearms and gang activity, because of a perception the police will either over-react or not show up at all just perpetuates the mistrust.

Minority communities rightfully expect police departments to change their behavior and treat everyone fairly. These same communities bear a responsibility to cooperate with the police to eliminate the criminal element which casts a shadow on these communities.

Trust requires both sides to move toward middle ground. Failing to act is not an option. Understanding the causes behind most criminal activity—and the shared responsibility to act to change things—rests with all of us.

Except for the rare sociopath, most crimes result from societal conditions often outside the control of the person committing the crime. Poor educations, inadequate employment opportunities, drug addiction, and mental health issues all contribute to causation.

There is little doubt about the prevalence of racial disparity within America. There is also little doubt things have improved. But until we eliminate as much as humanly possible the unfair treatment of others because of the color of their skin, the lofty goal of all men being equal will remain an illusion.

Until we address these issues, nothing will change. Not within police agencies or society at large. America is a country with a promise of equality unmet by reality. 

We all bear a responsibility to face it and change things.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed — Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Langston Hughes

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Black on the Blue Line

Truth and reason are eternal. They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail; however, in times and places they may be overborne for a while by violence; military, civil, or ecclesiastical.

Thomas Jefferson

During my career with the East Providence Police Department, I had the privilege of working with many outstanding local, state, and federal officers and agents. One of those federal agents is a man named Matthew “Matt” Horace, whose law enforcement career spanned twenty-six years.

I met Matt when he was a Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. We worked several cases together—wiretap, undercover narcotics, weapons—and I came to respect Matt as a dedicated and committed professional.

Matt has since moved on into the private sector, bringing his talents and experience to bear on security and other issues important to successful business operations. He has appeared on a variety of media shows–CNN, CBS–as an expert in use of force.

Recently, I wrote a piece on my blog that created a stir among the thousands of followers who regularly read my blog. This piece, First, Admit the Problem Exists (https://bit.ly/2XZ2JO3) acknowledges the existence of endemic implicit racism within law enforcement agencies.  The piece was shared hundreds of times across a wide spectrum of platforms.

The reactions were varied and, sometimes, troubling. Everything from “thank you for writing about this important subject” to “Blacks commit more crimes, that’s why they have more contact with cops.” Troubling to say the least.

It’s one thing for me, a white man who never faced rampant discrimination because of the color of my skin, to talk about the matter. Matt, a black man in a profession that, until just a short time ago, refused to allow people of color into its ranks, brings a much more personal and poignant perspective.

Matt has done this through a magnificently researched and incisively written book. He details both the overall experience of persons of color with law enforcement and some troubling personal experiences that underscore the extent of the problem.

The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement (https://amzn.to/3coAD48) lets everyone feel the tension and fear many black men and women experience when interacting with police officers.

But the book is more than just a detailing of this disturbing phenomenon in America. Matt’s unique perspective also puts one in the shoes of law enforcement and the often-chaotic moments leading to a decision to use deadly force.

Implicit Bias plays a big part in this issue facing law enforcement.  Matt details how implicit bias, more so than the absence of explicit or overt bias people often point to as a counterargument to these discussions, as the real issue we need face as a society.

Implicit Bias:  bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs: implicit bias in cases of racial discrimination.

The ensuing violence over the past few days and, as Matt points out in the book, the long history of violent reactions to fatal encounters of blacks with law enforcement, often results in unintended consequences. The violence is a cry of frustration. Yet the violence and destruction often reinforces the implicit bias held by those who only see the violence and not the cause behind it. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, the celebrated Civil Rights activist and proponent of non-violent protests, had this to say about such incidents.

” It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.”

 It’s one thing for those of us who’ve stood on the thin blue line to talk about and acknowledge these matters. While necessary and key to bridging the chasm between the black community and the police, it is only part of the solution. It is infinitely more impactful when an experienced professional such as Matt Horace, who knows both sides of the line, puts it so bluntly before us.

Perhap this will trigger more than talk followed by inertia.

I would encourage those who wish to understand the problem to read this book. The time to insist on change—permanent, responsible, and effective—was never more critical.

“The wrongs inside police departments are not about a handful of bad police officers. Instead, they reflect bad policing procedures and policies that many of our departments have come to accept as gospel. To fix the problem requires a realignment of our thinking about the role police play and how closely they as a group and as individuals are knitted into the fabric of society. Do they stand apart from societal norms, or will they uphold their motto of “To Protect and Serve”? Are they to be looked at as the men and women who sweep up the refuse left by our refusal or inability to tackle societal problems, or are they partners in our efforts to provide a vibrant and supportive community for all? The decision is ours.” Horace, Matthew. The Black and the Blue (p. 219). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition. https://amzn.to/3coAD48

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First, Admit the Problem Exists

The first step, the most important step, to solving a problem is to admit there is one. Police officers reflect our society; there are the overwhelming majority of good officers and the few, but dangerous ones, who harbor racial prejudices that impact their approach to the job.

Racial prejudice is endemic to America. The long torturous road to racial equality is not yet fully paved. Cultural misunderstandings, ethnic stereotypes, even geographic differences breed prejudice. The results are always tragic and often deadly.

While all of society must speak out and take a stand against racial prejudice, police officers, by the very nature of the authority they carry, bear a heavier burden. They must balance the oft-necessary use of force in enforcing laws against the fog of conflict they often operate in. More than any other segment of society, they need to recognize it is not a black and white world.

The nature of law enforcement—the uniforms, weapons, aura of authority—draws interest from a somewhat narrow spectrum of society. Rational people run away from gunfire, cops run towards it. We are all better for it that there are those among us willing to risk themselves to save others, even at the cost of their own life. No greater love…

Most seek the job to make a difference, to accomplish some good in the world, to make their neighborhoods, towns, and cities safer.

However, some seek the job to hold authority over others. These officers embrace the Us vs. Them mentality where everyone is guilty until proven innocent.  Every department has them.

Some departments do a better job of weeding out such officers. Others do not. Until agencies instill a sense of responsibility within the rank and file to work to remove such officers from their positions, situations like Minneapolis will happen again and again.

It is often politics within agencies that protect dangerous officers. This is a blight on the profession and a serious issue prolonging the problem.

EPPD

I served for twenty years with the East Providence Police Department. Every officer claims their department is the best. Pride is an important element of being a cop. But I would pit EPPD officers against any in the world in terms of professionalism.

Yet we had our share of problem officers. Some of it was generational, residual attitudes from a different time in America. But some was just plain ignorance. We did our best to deal with them. While we may not have been perfect, the majority of officers did their best to control the few problem children.

We can hope, with each new generation more embracing of our differences, officers holding these attitudes will fade into the past. But for now they are alive and well and we need to face them.

Being a cop is a dangerous job. The very nature of the job, if you want to survive, demands constant preparation for the worst to happen. A suspicious nature protects officers from complacency or letting their guard down. Yet, understanding they can resolve most situations with no or minimal force is key to minimizing deadly confrontations.

When one spends years on the streets seeing the worst of situations, it is easy to become immunized from the trauma. Officers develop a somewhat perverse sense of humor as a shield against the tragedy they see daily. Protecting oneself from the effect of traumatic incidents is one thing. Forgetting that you took on the responsibility to deal in a fair and impartial manner with everyone you come into contact with violates one’s oath to serve and protect.

Last, officers themselves need be a voice to point out and identify those among them who fail to act under the law and with common decency. The thin blue line is a necessary protection for society. We are fortunate that a few women and men will stand on that line and protect us all. But it does not confer on them the right to ignore those among them who act on racial prejudices out of some misguided sense of loyalty.

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Follow this blog for upcoming information on all new book releases. And please share this with readers everywhere. All comments are welcome. Or if you would like write a piece to be posted on my blog please send me a message.

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Forty Years

Time does indeed pass in the blink of an eye. It was forty years ago on this date I began my career with the East Providence Police Department.

Patch old

Original patch when I started

Forty years.

It doesn’t seem possible.

To serve on a police department, while challenging, terrifying, hysterically comical, and, too often, heart-breaking, it is also the front row seat to the most amazing show on earth.

Police officers see things most people couldn’t ever imagine. It is a reality few ever experience.

There were moments of profound helplessness and sadness.

A few days after my wife and I discovered she was pregnant, I responded to a medical call. I was the first one there.  As I walked in the house, a hysterical woman handed me a very cold, very dead, four-month-old child.

A SIDS death.

I can still hear the whole family screaming at me to save that child.

No one could, but they expected a cop to try.

There were moments of humor some would find abhorrent, but in the midst of a bloody fatal car accident, or suicide, or homicide, it keeps cops sane.

Without attributing this to any specific department or individual, I heard a story that illustrates cop humor.

It would seem there was this old school detective who, at the end of each day, would light his pipe and smoke at his desk as he did his daily reports (they did that back then in the dark ages.) Part of his routine was to prepare the pipe beforehand so it would be ready when he returned.

Some officers noticed this pattern and wondered what would happen if some of the tobacco was replaced with some excellent quality marijuana from a disposed case.

This was done with great stealth and cunning.

The detective returned, lit the pipe, and within a few moments the squad smelled like a 1970’s college dormitory. We, ah, they found this hysterical. But the best moment came when the Detective Commander, an old school guy, walked out of his office and said,

“Hey (name withheld to protect the innocent) what’s that tobacco you’re smoking?”

“Why?” said the now relaxed and happy for the first time in years detective.

“Cause my kid has incense that smells like that.”

The room, I hear, roared with the laughter of those in on the gag.

We had our moments.

There was great satisfaction in bringing cases to a full conclusion after a lengthy trial and the professional reward of a job well done.

In the twenty years I served on the East Providence Police Department, I worked with a fantastic group of men and women.

I stood shoulder to shoulder with them in those moments of terror.

We took a stand when those who would corrupt and corrode the department for their own political purposes refused to follow the law and forced them to leave when no one thought we could.

I was privileged to work with other local, state, and federal agencies experiencing the true nature and potential of cooperation in seeking justice.

I spent twenty years catching bad guys with some of the most exceptional people I have ever had the privilege to know.

Time has allowed me to reflect on those moments. Yet, no matter how bad some days and nights were, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Pro Bono Publico.

Patch new

The patch today