Indicting the police…all of them

‘It’s still a blast beating people’: St. Louis police indicted in assault of undercover officer posing as protester

The headline above is from the Washington Post news site. That paper serves a community 900 miles away from St. Louis, MO, where the incident described took place.

The headline is so wrong, yet so right at the same time.

It’s wrong because St. Louis police weren’t indicted for an assault, but rather, four of around 1000 of our officers were indicted for an assault of an undercover officer, one of our own.

It’s so correct though because, in reality, St. Louis police did get indicted, beyond just the four of around 1000 officers we have, in the court of public opinion.

Perhaps not just St. Louis police either, but police officers everywhere.

It doesn’t matter to the next person I pull over or stop to talk to that I wasn’t one of the four officers being charged with a crime in federal court. That I, or even an officer in some small town 1000 miles away, wear the same uniform makes us one of those four officers to most people in the community.

We are the police, and when one of us legitimately screws up, we all screw up.

We all lose.

Police officers lose.

The criminal justice system as a whole loses.

Society loses.

Is it fair?

Is it fair to cast a negative light on “the police” when one or a few screw up?

I want to say no, but I can’t, honestly.

If I were a regular citizen who didn’t have much contact with the police, I would be apprehensive of any police officer who stopped me too.

I’d walk on the other side of the street to avoid police contact altogether, were it an option.

It’s too risky to hope the cop you happen upon or who responds to your call is one of the “good ones.”

I always laugh when I read a police report that says a person was “acting nervous,” as though that’s something we should hold against them. I’ve been a cop for twenty years and I get nervous when a police car is behind me when I’m driving. That’s a true story.

Police activity, and especially police misconduct is a popular topic.

True crime books and podcasts are some of the most popular.

Search any major newspaper today and you’ll find this indictment story. From Tacoma to Kansas City to Washington, DC, it’s there.

It’s there, and it’s embarrassing. It’s the second most read story on the Washington Post web page.

I would love to be able to say that these were just four terrible people who became cops somehow and are accused of doing something totally in line with their terrible characters, but that’s not the case, and it’s a huge part of what makes this so frustrating for me personally.

They aren’t terrible people, or they aren’t people I know to be so.

They’re people I like.

I taught three of them in the police academy when they were recruits in training.

I was hyper-aware of bad apple potential when I taught in the police academy, and none of the three I taught were people I’d have pegged to be bad apples.

The undercover detective who was assaulted is a man I really like as well. I’ve known him all twenty of my years as a police officer and have never known him to be anything but a good, good guy. I believe whatever version of the story he says happened. He’s earned that credibility with me.

Why did this happen then? How?

I don’t know.

I want to talk about the bigger picture rather than this incident in a vacuum though. I don’t know enough of the facts, so it would be unfair for me to speculate on this indictment.

As to the text messages, which you can read in any of the news articles discussing this matter, I would say this – take those with a grain of salt, or at least consider the context in which they were said.

It’s casual conversation meant to stay between young men venting their frustration and anger during a period when they were under a lot of duress.

Is it dumb to put it in writing?

Big time yes.

Did Officer Don tell every one of his law recruits that they should assume that anything they type or text should be assumed readable to the world via open records requests and to be careful?

Yes.

Having said that, I can’t put into words how terrible Civil Disobedience Team response is.

It has to be done, but it’s frustrating. You really do almost have to lie to yourself to motivate yourself to do the job.

Even though many of us may agree with much of what many of the protesters are saying, they don’t believe that, and property still has to be protected, even if we’re all in agreement anyway.

If you’ve never looked into the eyes of people who disdain and hate you for no good reason other than your job, and who are willing and able to voice their opinions right to your face, then you just don’t get it.

You can’t, through no fault of your own. You have to experience it.

I’m not making excuses, and if these officers did terrible, unlawful things, they should be punished somehow, but the protests that led to this was an ugly situation that people above their pay grade let get out of hand.

I want my police officer readers to think about this though. Those who know these guys, or other police officers who’ve been in trouble with the law, and who you will or do still call friends and say things like, “they’re not bad guys,” ask yourself if you honestly give people you arrest for similar things the same benefit of the doubt, in spite of their arrests.

If your answer is yes, you’re probably lying. If it’s no, ask yourself why not?

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

I highlighted this text in a book I read called Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it.

Bryan Stevenson is a prominent civil rights attorney who helps people who’ve been wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

His description of the arrest and conviction of Walter McMillian is both unbelievable and frightening. There are other stories and even some of his own personal police encounters that are worth reading.

As a police officer, it’s hard to read these stories. It’s hard to admit that mistakes have been made.

It’s hard to own up to the fact that my chosen profession isn’t always perfect.

I’ve also started listening to podcasts. One of my favorites is called Criminal, by Phoebe Judge.

One episode that really struck me was the wrongful arrest of Willie Grimes for a rape he didn’t commit in North Carolina. You can listen to it here.

Willie Grimes spent 24 years, 9 months, and 23 days in prison.

Can you even imagine that?

His case isn’t really the fault of the cops, because a woman identified him as the guy who did it. Still, the “system” should have done a better job of allowing him to spend so much time in jail, whether that be to not allow the eyewitness testimony of one person be the determining factor in guilt, or by not letting rape kits or dna evidence sit in locker rooms untested.

If guilt or innocence can be ascertained with more certainty, especially in the most egregious cases, even after the fact, don’t we have a duty to figure that out? To at least try?

Mr. Grimes lost family members and friends to death during his incarceration, and left prison a sixty-seven year old man in a strange new world.

How terrible is it to send innocent men to prison?

It should disgust us to our cores, quite frankly. It’s third world country stuff, in my opinion.

We should be doing everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen, but we’ve become so accustomed to putting people behind bars in the United States, even for the slightest of crimes, that we don’t even give it a second thought.

What does this have to do with anything?

This is just policing in the United States.

We arrest and arrest and arrest, until being in jail is just normal or expected for people.

It’s become too disjointed.

You give us a gun and a badge and metal handcuffs and you throw us in the streets while asking us to solve some of society’s most difficult problems.

A crime occurred? Call the police.

There’s a dangerous animal running loose? Call the police.

There’s an elementary school student acting up and the teachers can’t control him? Call the police.

Somebody is having a medical emergency? Call the police.

There’s a naked person running around having a mental health episode? Call the police.

If an alien landed on our planet and we described to him what we expect from our police officers, and that we give the police the power to put other human beings in cages, sometimes for even the smallest of city ordinance violations, the alien would surely think that police officers are some of  the highest paid or well educated citizens in the community.

We’d all have a good laugh at that for sure, but why don’t we give it more consideration?

Why are police officer standards so low compared to the expectations and powers we are granted?

Because the truth is that sometimes, you need a ruffian to be able to catch a ruffian.

Higher standards would exclude too many ruffians.

The job isn’t for a lot of people, but we’re not even able to attract fringe candidates with more education and training with an offer of a great salary or benefits, so society is getting what it pays for.

Literally.

You call the police for everything and then you act outraged and shocked when a very tiny percentage of those contacts turn tragic.

It’s a terribly small percentage, but police misconduct is “out of control” in many conversational circles.

I’m just flustered at this point in my life, I guess.

I see goodness and talent all around me in my own department, but then something like this happens and it’s like we’re back to square one again.

I feel like I’ve wasted twenty years of my life.

I know that this department, mine, is one of the best in the area, maybe even the country.

It has a long and distinguished history, one that far surpasses that of most others.

That’s why when bad things happen here, I know that they can and do happen elsewhere, with more frequency, and it sucks.

It sucks that when it happens elsewhere, I will be judged again.

Other officers with nothing to do with it will be judged, and nothing will be done to make things better, or at least to make things different, to see how different works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Police, Police Stories, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Ubiquitous violence…who’s next?

A man was shot and killed on a recent Monday morning in the City of St. Louis, well before eight o’clock had rolled around.

The sun was out and it was a pretty nice day, especially for the end of October in St. Louis, Missouri.

The man was minding his own business, doing whatever it is that retirees do when it’s that early in the morning, probably knocking out some errands early so that he could get to the more enjoyable activities in his life later on in the day.

Three boys were involved in the incident that led to this man being shot and killed on that recent Monday morning.

The boys were not minding their own business though, or doing whatever it is that young boys should be doing that early on a Monday morning in late October. They were busy doing what they wanted to be doing instead.

The man was sixty-seven years old.

The boys were fifteen, sixteen and seventeen years old.

The boys should have either been in school, or on their way to school or at least at home getting ready for school.

Instead of doing what they were supposed to be doing, they were driving around in a stolen car, apparently looking to rob somebody.

Why were they out looking to rob somebody on that nice Monday morning?

That’s a million dollar question, since armed robberies happen so often in so many urban areas these days. It’s something that I hope the boys will be asked, for sure.

Maybe it was just for kicks that they had a handgun and went out to rob somebody, or for the rush that must come with confronting a stranger on a public sidewalk with a gun, or maybe they needed milk money or cash for a school field trip that their parents couldn’t afford.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. There is no reasonable excuse for why they were doing what they were doing.

They were armed bullies.

The man was white and the boys were black. Does that matter to this story at all?

Without knowing more, I would suggest that it doesn’t really matter.

Not this time.

I read dozens of police reports every month, and it would seem as though robbers aren’t very discriminating when it comes to who they’ll victimize.

White men? Sure.

Black men? Very often, maybe daily city-wide.

Black women? Every week on the South Side alone.

White women? Get in line, ladies. You’ll get a turn.

There used to be some dignity or honor among thieves, but that is no longer the case from my perspective.

It is completely normal for a victim to describe his or her robber as being young or young looking, sometimes as young as ten or twelve years old.

Ruminate on that for a minute.

Twelve year old boys are out on the streets with handguns committing robberies, and it isn’t surprising to any of us.

It should shock us to our very core, but it doesn’t.

It’s hard for me to fathom that while boys this age are out committing very serious and dangerous crimes, my own fifteen year old is worried about how to make her Eggo box fit into her backpack so she can go trick or treating as Eleven from Stranger Things for Halloween.

That’s what these kids should be doing, not robbing and killing.

It’s like Americans are living in alternate realities, right before our very eyes.

Is it any wonder that as the criminals have gotten younger that the victims have become more random?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in this age where so few people respect anybody different than themselves, that women and men alike, young and old as well, are free game on the streets.

There was a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman to be the victim of a homicide, but nowadays, it’s just another number on the annual tally sheet.

Other than their ages, I don’t know anything about these boys.

Were they abused?

Were they poor?

Were they fatherless?

Did some oppressive system of government fail them?

It doesn’t seem as though they came from bad homes, and it doesn’t matter to me. I’m so tired of people saying that it does.

Stop making excuses for the criminals!

The local paper has covered the murder of this particular man in some detail, because he was a retired St. Louis City Police Officer. A popular one at that.

He was a good man; a fun man, and he has other family members who have and still serve this city.

The same city where he lost his life.

The dead man spent thirty-three years working as a police officer and sergeant in the City of St. Louis.

Those thirty-three years total nearly half of his entire lifespan.

He was killed on a street that he probably drove upon as a uniformed police officer hundreds of times.

I wonder if he took the job all those years ago wanting to help people, with personal ideals that he’ll leave the city in a better place than it was when he started his job as a police officer.

Through no fault of his own, however, it is not a better place than when he started.

It is not a better place than when I started.

It will not be a better place than when the next class of recruit graduates start either, if things don’t change.

There is much animosity in this country, and it is most glaring along any line that divides us by race or wealth, two things that aren’t nearly as mutually exclusive as they should be in 2018, and that are most obvious in urban areas where blacks and whites and the rich and poor live in close proximity.

It should come as no surprise that people who can’t agree on whether or not abortion should be lawful or gay people should be able to buy cakes hinting at their lifestyle at any damn bakery they please or everyone who works any job should be making at least $15 an hour also can’t agree on what to do about crime.

Crime doesn’t affect the people in charge of making political or judicial decisions as much as it does the rest of us.

Most of them live in safer communities and are offered special government protections with a simple phone call.

Everyday violent crime has basically become second page news in most large cities.

People get shot and killed every single day, and we’re all immune and way too accepting of it.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife wanted to go to one of our favorite restaurants in the city, and one of the reasons I didn’t want to go is because, “we’re more likely to get robbed in the city.”

I was only half-kidding, and we did end up going, and we did’t get robbed, of course. Most people live in and visit major cities and are never victims of anything more than a property crime like theft or vandalism.

Still, sometimes, when you’re out doing even mundane things on nice Tuesday mornings before it’s even 8 am, you do get robbed, and when you’re a retired police officer, you fight back because that’s what’s in your blood.

The man who died that day, our friend Ralph, shot at one of the robbers and hit him, which is what led to his arrest. Even in death, a real first responder responds.

In that way, I guess, he did make the city a little bit better on his last day on earth than it was the day he began his career as a police officer.

YH

The ever classy New York Yankees send a bouquet of flowers to the funeral of every police officer killed in the line of duty in the United States, and in this case, even for a retired officer who was killed doing what he no doubt thought was his duty.

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Policing, the deterioration is real…

I’ve started and deleted several iterations of this post because I don’t know what I want to say.

I haven’t been following the news, so I don’t have enough facts to make an informed statement on my thoughts about the tragic ending to Stephon Clark’s life in the backyard of his grandmother’s house in Sacramento.

I watched one video (there was no audio) that appeared to be taken from a helicopter, and was a little bit torn and confused by the outrage I was seeing on Facebook.

The video looked as though there was a foot chase that ended with two officers both ducking behind a wall prior to Mr. Clark being shot dead.

Ducking for cover isn’t a natural thing for officers to do, unless they truly believe there is a threat, that threat mostly being a person armed with a firearm.

I pointed out on a friend’s timeline that I saw two officers who were spooked, and this is the response I got from a woman I don’t know:

“Pretty sure officers should be trained to not get spooked so easily.”

I guess I never wanted to talk about his incident specifically, but rather, I’d like to talk about police shootings more generally.

Last month in St. Louis, a woman with two small kids was accosted by a young,  black man with a pistol. He took her car from her, driving off in it with one of her infant sons still inside the car.

The woman didn’t speak English, so getting information from her took a little bit more time than it would have otherwise, but long story short, we got a description of her car and found her baby unattended in an alley.  The suspect had put him out of the car and into the cold.

Soon after, I spotted the car and the chase was on. Without getting into more details about a pending criminal case, there was a moment when the suspect got himself turned around and we found ourselves just a few feet from each other. As he fumbled around inside the car, it did occur to me that he could be reaching for a pistol, and I unstrapped the button that helps secure the gun on my holster, ready to use it, if needed. It turned out that the kid was probably fumbling for the gear shift, as he was able to get the car into reverse and try to escape in another direction.

After a nearly fifteen minute pursuit, this guy was ultimately caught that morning and taken to jail, alive.

This time, it worked out, but the point is that in a split second, this could have had a very different outcome.

Had the guy raised his hand where I could see it, how long would I have had to wait before I could justifiably shoot him?

Would his hand have to clear the door so I could see whether or not he was holding a pistol? I knew he had one at one point, so if he did have a gun, would I have to wait for him to point it at me, or could I shoot the second I saw the gun?

What if he had SOMETHING in his hand, but I couldn’t tell what it was?

Would I have to wait to verify that it wasn’t gun, even though I knew he had a gun in his possession less than an hour earlier?

Those are tough questions that have to be answered in very short periods of time.

I have a folder where I store emails and other electronic documents that have “officer safety” information related to otherwise innocuous, everyday items being converted into weapons.

I have seen pictures and videos of pens, belt buckles, water bottles and yes, even smart phones, converted to be able to fire small rounds, just as effectively as if it were a gun instead of what it was originally designed to be.

I keep them for instances like the Stephon Clark shooting.

Did the officers know he had a cell phone in his hand?

No.

Did they know he had what looked to be a cell phone in his hand?

Maybe.

Or maybe they thought he was armed, I can’t answer that.

Is it ridiculous to assume that a cell phone or belt buckle or pen is really capable of firing a bullet?

It would certainly be the exception rather than the rule, but police officers don’t have the luxury of hoping that they’re not experiencing the exception rather than the rule, when somebody doesn’t drop whatever item a suspect is holding.

A good chunk of our training is learning how to survive on the streets.

“Pretty sure officers should be trained to not get spooked so easily.”

Training.

It’s a good thing, training.

We police officers need more of it than ever before.

We need lots of training, and preferably, that training entails real life scenarios where dangers can be simulated and decisions made in the safety of a training session can be discussed and criticized constructively.

Alas, the truth of the matter is that during a time when we need more and more training, we are getting less and less.

Why?

Training costs money.

Good training costs lots of money.

Assuming that most cities are like St.  Louis City, budgets are tight and training and pay for police officers is no more important than buying accounting software or new tires for a refuse truck.

Two years ago, before the criminal law in Missouri changed drastically, I offered to train all the officers in service, and even had the man who helped draft the new laws onboard with coming to train me and others on how to best present the information to our officers. It would have cost the city the price of a hotel room for a night for the instructor, and it was never approved.

Instead that year, officers learned about LBGTQ rights and how to properly address and treat these folks. The trainer herself, unlike many of the officers who had to take this training, was neither L,B,G,T, or Q. She was an academic though, and had read books and gone to seminars on the subject.

While there is absolutely a place for such training, it should never have been a priority over the most extensive change in the criminal law that Missouri has had in thirty-five years.

Soon, officers will receive training on how to administer NARCAN to heroin addicts who have overdosed. NARCAN brings people on the cusp of meeting their maker back to life, so it’s not a terrible thing, especially if it’s an officer who needs it after exposure to fentanyl or some other dangerous substance.

The training will involve trying to convince officers that heroin addiction is a disease, and how we should have sympathy for such folks just as we would somebody with childhood cancer or a severe mental disorder.

Knowing most officers, it is training that won’t be well received, and again, while it’s not unimportant, it is not the most important thing that officers should be learning right now.

I would be curious to know what the public thinks police training entails.

I bet many people would be shocked to find out that it’s not nearly as extensive and constant as we would want it to be in a perfect world.

Training doesn’t magically change a person into a different person.

A person who enters the police academy as a coward or a racist or a jerk will graduate the academy as a coward or a racist or a jerk still.

Our training is lacking and it shows in these tense encounters.

As protests continue and officers find themselves subject to ever increasing scrutiny, departments are finding it harder and harder to both retain and hire good people who want to do this job.

Even I am counting the days until I can retire with a piddly pension (under 340).

As departments lose their senior officers, they are forced to have younger officers step up to be trainers and supervisors, and the results are unsurprisingly terrible.

There is no substitute for experience, but that experience is getting harder and harder to find.

That another young, black man was shot by police should surprise absolutely nobody.

It shouldn’t.

Just like school shootings, nothing gets done about these things outside of yelling and screaming until we lose interest and we wait for the inevitable next one.

Until society decides that it wants to recognize that police officers have important jobs and pay them accordingly, we will continue to struggle to hire good people and take risks on people we never would have before, because we have to.

It’s no secret that departments need bodies.

If I was twenty-one years old today, I would laugh at a police recruiter asking me about my interest in law enforcement.

Not on the streets at least.

I’d be too spooked about the prospects of lasting the twenty years I’ve been able to nearly handle in this lifetime.

They would have to move on to another person, probably somebody with less education and prospects for employment outside of police work.

A person who takes this job because they need a job is a terrible candidate, and no amount of training or lack thereof, can change that.

Posted in Police, Police Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 25 Comments

Damned if you don’t…

In a city that consistently ranks as one of the most violent in the country, if not the world, this is what today’s online paper looks like:

The top story on the front page of the most read website in St. Louis is about a cop giving a fist bump to a motorcyclist on Natural Bridge Blvd.

If that road sounds familiar to you, even those of you who’ve never been to St. Louis, it’s because you’ve maybe heard it in a Nelly or other rapper’s song, or you may have read that it’s one of the most dangerous streets in the country.

Murder after murder and shooting after shooting, none of it creates more than a blip on the local media scene, because dead young people is old news.

We’ve grown accustomed and oblivious to the fact that a couple of hundred young men and women will die on our city streets alone at the hands of violence, and we honestly couldn’t collectively care less, as long as it’s not a police officer who is the “killer.”

Those damned police officers. I guess we make for good ratings.

Every Sunday, when the weather is nice, hundreds of people take to the streets in their cars, motorcycles and even their ATV’s, and cruise all around the north city and downtown areas.

The cruisers are loud, oftentimes armed, and almost always end their night with somebody getting shot or killed over something stupid. It has been a headache for police officers in St. Louis City for every bit of the almost 20 years I’ve been a cop, and nothing has changed other than it’s gotten worse.

It’s gotten worse in part because police officers aren’t allowed to enforce the law by chasing down those who choose to break them, and the “bad guys” know this.

When a police officer in the city gets behind a car and turns the lights on, there’s a 50/50 chance the car will stop. If that car is a sport bike, those odds go down in the officer’s favor tremendously.

To be quite honest, I don’t even waste my time trying to stop them when I see them break a traffic law now, and I’m sure this officer feels the same way. In a best case scenario, the biker takes off and maybe crashes into something hard, hopefully not injuring himself too badly, so he or she can be ticketed and arrested. An ambulance has to show up to take him to the hospital, and then officers will have to sit with the biker until a doctor declares them fit for confinement. It’s a lot of resources being used to enforce a traffic violation.

In a suburb or small town, that’s great.

In the City of St. Louis, we simply don’t have time for this. We don’t have time to chase bikers and cruisers around, especially when the odds are great that our state prosecutor, not only won’t issue any charges against the offending biker, but would bend over backwards to find a way to charge a police officer criminally, should a biker kill himself or god forbid, somebody else.

I’m not condoning fist bumping the biker, but an officer trying to be cool with somebody who presumably doesn’t like him is what we’re all about now. Building bridges and all that feel good crap, right?

Where there’s one sport bike, there are many. Turning lights on and causing bikes to race off in various directions at high speeds is not a better alternative to doing nothing.

Monday morning quarterbacking from people who’ve never answered a 911 call is tiresome to witness over and over again.

“I would’ve done this…” or “He shoulda done that…” Ya know what?

Shut up.

If you’ve never pursued another car on city streets, you have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s the most dangerous thing that we as officers can do, and it’s a last resort reserved only for the most violent of offenders.

That wasn’t a decision made by a police officer.

No, we actually love to chase cars. The decision not to allow pursuits, and it’s probably the right one, up to a certain extent, was made because that’s what society has decided it wants, either explicitly or via large judgements in courts of law across the country against officers and departments who are involved in pursuits that end in injury or death

Losing money causes change, and now, we don’t chase people.

That the local newspaper has thrown it on it’s online version’s front page should be more of a reckoning as to what passes for news nowadays than the perception that city officers, or this one specifically, did something wrong.

Viral videos shared by others on FB or Twitter is one thing, but viral content sharing being passed on as journalism is putrid. I’m not suggesting that the Post is wrong to share the story, but the way it’s presented is antagonistic against city officers, and that’s what the goal is. The paper loves to have a lively group of pro versus anti police readers clicking away on their website. It’s trash journalism, but it’s apparently where we are today.

This officer was in a no-win situation. He knew these bikers weren’t going to stop. We all know that. Why risk injury or death or even just the embarrassment of having bikers race off on you only so you can turn your lights off and carry on in your travels?

While the commenting is certainly entertaining, at the end of the day, the problem won’t be solved until somebody decides to put their foot down.

I don’t have the answer to what that is when it comes to keeping sport bikes from doing stunts on busy roads, but I know that if I have a choice today between fist bumping a wheelie rider or chasing him until somebody crashes and I lose my job, then I’ll be sticking my fist out the window next time as well.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Apathetic is pathetic…

Apathy…

It doesn’t seem so long ago that death was something shocking and emotional.

What happened to us?

Several months ago I responded to a house for a baby in distress, but by the time I had arrived, there was no more distress.

The baby was dead.

A formerly healthy two month old baby was dressed in her onesie, laying on her back with her arms to her side, eyes closed as if she was asleep. One could imagine she was asleep, without having to use much imagination.

As teams of first responders made their way through the house, the mother, a teenager herself, pecked away on her phone with enough seeming disinterest that part of me wanted to slap her upside her head. The baby’s grandfather couldn’t wait for all of us to leave, because he had to water his flowers. He left at one point to go and buy a bag of chips, all while this little person who lived with them for two months laid dead in a bed upstairs.

A few weeks later, we got what has become a dime a dozen call these days, an overdose.

Heroin is a hell of a drug, and its contribution to the death toll in the St. Louis region isn’t insignificant.

This particular woman was also on her back, arms to her side and eyes closed. There was no pretending that she was asleep though. Her pale and bloated body was on the floor of the disgusting apartment she shared with her drug addict boyfriend. Dressed in nothing but her purple panties, her contorted face tried in vain to share the horrors of what her last few minutes on earth, as she realized she was dying, must have been like.

The boyfriend’s convoluted story about what happened to his girlfriend were also significantly lacking in empathy or sorrow for the woman he allegedly loved. His emotions all centered around the possibility that he was about to be in a heap of trouble, with no hint of concern over the death of this woman.

Accidental deaths and deaths from drugs and violence, especially gun violence, is nothing new.

The types of drugs change, as do the players and the reasons for the violence, but the one thing that society could deal with for years was that most of the issues surrounding drugs and violence were other peoples’ concern.

Poor people, usually.

Druggies were people who lived on the streets, maybe they were hippies or high school drop outs. Violence was mostly afflicted upon people who didn’t have clean hands themselves. Mob and gang violence was mostly reserved for other mobsters and gangsters. People who were buying or selling drugs should know the dangers of such activities.

Shame on them, we could all say from suburbia as we stockpiled our guns and worry just in case one of these crazies tried to come into our homes.

As the drugs and violence spread into suburbia, laws were changed to protect the kids. Suburban kids had joined the homeless and high school drop-outs as everyday drug users.

To protect our new suburban drug addicts, drug laws became looser, even going so far as to incentivize calling 911 for help, should one of your loved ones find himself overdosing on heroin. In Missouri, if you call for help on behalf of a person overdosing on drugs, and drugs are found on them or somebody nearby, they can’t be arrested. The idea that we want people to call for help instead of worrying about going to jail and letting another human being die instead, isn’t a bad one, but let’s not pretend it didn’t take white kids in the suburbs becoming the drug addicts to change the rules of the game.

The violence that often follows drugs has also made its way into suburbia, not only into suburbia, but into the most trusted of places in our communities, our schools.

School gun violence was never even an afterthought when I was a kid.

I remember in junior high that one of the bussed city students was dismissed from school for having a gun in his locker. He used to sell us baggies of bubble gum, which we weren’t allowed to have in school, so his sudden absence was noticed.

I doubt a letter was sent to our parents, and it never occurred to any of us that he ever intended to use it against another person.

Our junior high student body had a fight date every Friday after school. If two people got into it, they would agree to fist fight each other behind the nearby McDonald’s. Sometimes, other kids would choose sides and it would turn into quite a rumble, but nobody ever died and by Monday, we had all forgotten what we were mad about on Friday.

Today, fights are too often settled with guns, and those that are settled with fists are videoed and posted online and talked about incessantly, so that it is next to impossible for today’s kids to forget on Monday why they were mad on Friday.

Kids have always had cliques with other, similar kids in school.

The jocks and cool kids hung out with like minded friends, as did the nerds and goth kids and all the other different groups that I’m sure still exist today.

The popular kids did their thing and the less popular or social kids did theirs. On Mondays, the less popular kids may have learned that there was a big party they weren’t invited to, but it could be shrugged off, because they didn’t necessarily know what they were missing. The nerds or “weird” kids did their thing on the weekends, and nobody cared or gave them grief.

Today’s kids know what they missed at the party they weren’t invited to because they see it on Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat or whatever app that these kids know how to use that adults don’t. The things that weird kids do to make them weird are likewise shared online, meant to tease them as a joke, but oftentimes, they go viral and that joke ends up more hurtful than we could ever know to those private kids.

Bullying is a big deal nowadays because it often leads to suicides, and even violence.

Seventeen people were killed in a high school in Florida last week, and if you read most of what can be found online, very little of the response has to do with empathy, sympathy or love for each other.

Most of it is vitriol and politics.

Extremists on both sides of the political spectrum are yelling and shouting nonsense at each other, and it’s causing those of us in the middle to tune it out.

We have become apathetic, even to death in our schools.

Our childrens’ schools.

I think the kids have noticed this and have come to the conclusion, rightfully, that if things are going to change, then it’s up to them.

Watching empassioned kids articulably plead for their futures is encouraging.

How we as adults can’t draw the line at kids being murdered in the streets, and especially in schools, is mind boggling, but not surprising. In a society where Nazis have made a resurgence and racism is proudly trumpeted in public, any asinine occurrence is possible, especially anything that lacks logic and reason.

More guns in schools is one such illogical and unreasoned potential occurrence.

Arming teachers or custodians with guns literally makes a bad problem worse by introducing guns where they weren’t before.

There is no argument, no matter how passionate you are about whether or not gun possession is your God given right, that guns make it easier to kill people.

Don’t even try.

AR-15s are fun to shoot.

I’ve shot them at targets and it really is a rush, but they are meant for killing, and they do it well.

These sorts of rifles are not only popular with rural/suburban school shooters, but also with the murder suspects in many urban neighborhoods.

Victims shot by most handguns, assuming the bullet doesn’t go through their brain or heart, actually stand a pretty good chance of surviving, if they make it to a decent trauma center.

These same victims, shot by rounds from an AR, are normally less likely to survive. The damage is exacerbated by the speed and strength of the round.

That’s why the homicide rate has gone up in so many cities recently. The firearm used now isn’t a .22 or a .9mm. ARs are turning yesterday’s “assault” charges into today’s homicides because the victims are dying more often as a result of being shot.

The rounds will more easily go through doors and cars and even a police officer’s bullet proof vest, because that’s what they’re made to do.

The idea that Mrs. Brooks, my amazing 3rd grade teacher, could match a madman’s rush with an AR-15, with any sort of firearm she might carry, makes me laugh and cry at the same time.

It’s such a stupid idea that when I asked my eight year old what the thought, he literally said, “That’s stupid,” when I asked him if he thought it would make the school safer for him if Mrs. B. Had a gun in the classroom.

Don’t ask me what the answer is, because law enforcement spoke fifteen years ago when we didn’t want the assault rifle ban lifted. We said that we would be outgunned, and we are. We are outgunned everyday, and we have SWAT officers to help back us up.

Arming teachers with anything less than hours and hours of training each year, along with firearms equal to or more powerful than what the bad guys are all using is a waste.

At the end of the day, who will benefit from more guns and ammo and training for teachers?

The gun people will.

The NRA.

Let’s make this decision on our own, people, without money or profits or whatever clouding our judgement. I mean, if we can’t come together to protect our own kids, then fuck us all. We’re awful and useless.

I think these Parkland kids and kids all around the country see that we adults can’t be trusted, and they’re right.

Godspeed, kids. May your lack of apathy make a difference.

—————————————————————————————

As a reminder that gun violence against kids isn’t just a “school shooting” problem, here’s a photo of a six year old’s blood all over the shirt of a good friend of mine. The boy was shot with a smaller caliber bullet, and still died after bleeding all over the shirt of this officer who tried to save him. Imagine this blood times 17, and if you can’t be moved to help do something to fix this, then we’re all screwed.

Posted in Police Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 41 Comments

City blocks…

A few weeks ago, I was flagged down by a pretty little girl in the Gravois Park Neighborhood of South St. Louis.

It was maybe 8:30 in the morning and she was wearing a back pack as she stood on the corner of an intersection where very recently a man had been shot and killed.

“What’s up, young lady?” I asked.

“I think I missed my bus.” She said.

I laughed. “You think you did?”

“I did miss it. I know I did.”

“Do you want me to take you to school?” I offered.

“Can you drive me to my house?” She asked instead.

“Sure, kid. How old are you?”

“Seven.”

“Oh wow,” I said. “You’re right in the middle of my two boys. One of them is six and one of them is eight.”

She looked at me puzzled as she climbed into the police Tahoe.

“You have kids?” She finally asked as she settled in and put her seatbelt on. Kids often seemed shocked that police officers have kids of their own for some reason. Like with teachers, I guess.

“Yes ma’am I do. Those two little boys and a beautiful daughter like you, but my daughter is a teenager. Yikes, right?”

Unimpressed with my attempt at humor, she pointed north and said that her house was that way.

We called her house on the way and I told her older sister that I was bringing my new friend home because she’d missed her bus.

I made my way slowly up the state street she lived on, expecting that she would say to stop very shortly after I began moving. Instead, she just looked ahead through the windshield.

“Keep going,” she said. “I’ll tell you when we’re close.”

I gave her the puzzled look now and started driving north.

“Do you know your address?” I asked. “What are the numbers?”

She said that she didn’t know the numbers because she’d just moved there recently.

We drove up one block, and then another.

I stepped over the corpse of a woman who just died in that house two days ago from a drug overdose. She was one month pregnant.

Crap, I suddenly thought. Did I just say that out loud?

My passenger was still staring straight ahead, hands clasped in her lap.

Good deal, I thought. That was an inside voice.

Another block passed and another crime scene came to mind, this time an armed robbery, a carjacked pizza delivery guy. Nobody was hurt. That was just a few months earlier.

The next block, it was a shooting victim. The man who was shot lived, in spite of being shot three times in his torso in the middle of the afternoon of a nice summer Saturday.

I wondered what my passenger was doing that day the man was shot. Maybe she was playing in a nearby park or playground. Maybe she heard the shots. Maybe her mother heard them and they all took cover in their living room.

That’s a sad reality for a lot of inner-city residents.

I sighed to myself.

Two more blocks. Two more crimes.

These were petty crimes.

Petty for the Gravois Park Neighborhood anyway.

A stolen car.

Shots fired into a vacant house.

No big deal, those two.

Another block. At the stop sign I see what I recognize to be spent shell casings at the curb. They look to have been there for a while.

City kids kick spent shell casings around like country kids kick rocks. It’s sad.

Up ahead, our path is blocked by a car with its flashers on. It’s in the middle of the road facing north, the same direction we are traveling, and there’s another car facing south. Both with their hoods up.

We stop and a woman walks to my open window.

She’s sort of dressed up, but sort of a mess, like maybe she had a long night out the night before.

Oh officer, she says. I’m so sorry.

She looks at the little girl. “Is she okay?”

“This is my daughter,” I said. “I’m taking her to school. Why wouldn’t she be okay?”

The woman, who is black, looks at me incredulously, and then looks to the little girl in the passenger seat, who is also very much black, and shakes her head.

I see my passenger smile, or maybe smirk, as she turns from me to stare out the windshield again.

She’s stifling a laugh.

The woman out my window touches my arm as it rests on the door.

“Don’t judge me, but I ran out of gas.”

“I’m not judging you, ma’am. Certainly not for that.”

I stare at her for a few moments and then look to my passenger. She’s looking at me now, clearly confused.

“I’m confused too, I tell the little girl.”

“My neighbor over there is trying to help me out,” the woman says. “I don’t know anything about cars outside of making them go.”

I look at the woman and then the little girl. She’s looking at the woman outside my window as well.

“What?” The woman finally asks.

“You ran out of gas? Are you sure that’s what happened?”

“Yes,” she said. “I ran out of gas.”

We looked at each other a bit longer, perhaps waiting for the other to say something helpful, but nothing came out of our mouths that was helpful in the least bit.

Finally, I told the woman that she seemed to have everything under control, and that I needed to get my “daughter” to school, so I would turn around and let her get her car moved with her neighbor and be on her way.

We turned around and drove past the shell casings and bullet riddled vacant house again, and made a right turn and then another right up a different state street.

We made it to the next block and turned right past what used to be a gas station.

A man killed his wife several years ago in the street here. He stabbed her to death. Another person was killed right here too, and this gas station was set on fire.

Inside thoughts.

We turned left back onto the little girl’s street and waved to the ladies with their car hoods open. The woman who talked to us briefly waved back. She had a gas can in her hand.

“Hey officer?” The little girl had a question.

“Why did they have their hoods up? The gas doesn’t go there, right?”

“You’re pretty smart,” I said. “Who knows what’s going on there. We deal with a lot of that sort of silliness.”

The girl flashed her pretty smile and then turned back to stare out the windshield.

I continued north.

“You’re pretty sharp, young lady. You should think about being a police officer. We need some smart people instead of the dummies we have now.”

She turned to look at me.

“Dummies like me,” I finished.

The girl laughed and said, without missing a beat, “No way.”

“It’s too dangerous and people don’t like the police.”

She’s not wrong, I thought, as we drove past a house where I had one of my very first ever resisting arrests. That was over fifteen years ago.

It seems odd, but I remember the address still.

There was nothing to it, really. The officer I was with wanted to arrest a man who had assaulted his niece, and I had chased him into a backyard and tackled him.

I pointed to the house and said, out loud.

“I wrestled a man in that back yard one time, way before you were born.”

She looked out her window towards the house. “What did he do?”

“He beat up his niece. She was only a few years older than you. I think she was ten.”

“That’s terrible,” she said.

“It was, yes. He wasn’t a nice man,” I answered.

I told her about how I had to mace that man and we landed inches from the mouth of a snarling pit bull who was chained up to a dog house. That dog was just itching to bite somebody.

I told her how other police officers responded because there was an “aid call” and we always come to help those in need.

We also laughed when I told her about how one of the police dogs who showed up bit my boss on the hand because he got too close to its mouth.

I drove forward in silence for three more blocks. Each block brought back a recollection of something bad that happened while patrolling over ten years in this girl’s neighborhood.

I wondered if the people who lived nearby knew of even half the things that happen while they’re away or asleep or inside watching television.

The little girl finally pointed me to a house she said was hers and I pulled to the curb.

She grabbed the door handle and looked at me for a minute.

“Did you win?” She finally asked.

“What? Did I win what?” I was confused.

“When you wrestled that man, did you win?” The seemingly genuine concern on her face was sweet.

“I’m here, right? The police always win versus the bad guys. You remember that, okay.”

“Okay, thank you.” She said.

After she got out and closed the door, I quickly rolled down the passenger side window and called to her, before she got to her steps.

We’d just driven well over ten city blocks in what is one of the harshest neighborhoods in all of St. Louis City, certainly outside of North St. Louis, where the violence is epic, and I wanted to know how she got to her bus stop everyday, so I asked her.

She seemed taken aback, like it was a dumb question, but she answered anyway.

“I walk to my bus stop.”

She turned to go inside, but before she opened the door, she turned back to me and, perhaps because she sensed I was appalled, said, “I don’t have to walk home in the dark after school though. I get a ride.”

With that, she went inside her house.

I drove off and thought of that little girl, and all of the other city kids I see playing at bus stops, and wonder how many blocks each of them has to walk to get to a bus stop.

How many drug houses and homicide scenes have these kids unknowingly, or maybe knowingly, traversed from their homes to their bus stops?

I thought of those kids this morning, as I looked outside at my own kids at their bus stop.

I can see it from my house.

There are no drug houses or homicide scenes or bullet riddled houses along the way.

I’m thankful that policing has offered me enough, even if I must work numerous side jobs, that I can provide this environment for my family, but I’m also thankful that it’s allowed me to see how others live, and what they have to endure to do something that seems so simple, like catching a bus to school.

Posted in Police Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

United we fall…

Unless you’re living under a rock, and if you’re reading this I assume that’s not the case, you’re familiar with the United Airlines PR disaster from yesterday.

Long story short, United did what many airlines brazenly do, overbooked a flight, and as often happens, it bit them in the ass when everybody showed up. While cramming every single seat with a body into the tight confines of an airplane cabin is no problem, four United employees suddenly “had” to catch that particular flight to be somewhere as well, alas there were no empty seats for them to use. Their time was apparently more urgent than the probably hundred or so other passengers who also needed to be somewhere, passengers who paid for the honor of flying United, and so passengers were asked to give up their seats in exchange for airline vouchers and a hotel room.

Nobody wanted a voucher to fly later, so a good old fashioned stalemate ensued.

Now this here is the point where somebody with a brain in his or her head needed to come up with a solution before things went south in a hurry.

Here were the options, as I see them:

  1. United sweetens the deal until four people finally agree that they will trade their seats for the offer to do so, because everyone has a price, or
  2. United employees understand that the plane is full of paying passengers already and tells their four special little flyers that THEY have to wait and either fly on the next plane to Louisville, or utilize some means in United’s vast array of resources to get where they need to go, and
  3. DO NOT, under any circumstance, call the police to get involved in a non-criminal incident.

United decided to use some arbitrary system that apparently chose four passengers at random to be removed from the plane. As everyone on the planet outside of United employees can imagine, the four people chosen, who had just moments prior refused to volunteer to leave, were none too pleased to be told they were not allowed to fly on the flight they paid for already.

One couple chosen begrudgingly left the plane, but contestant number three, an Asian doctor, refused to budge. He claimed that he had patients to see the next day, and insisted that he was only chosen because he was Asian.

Ah, the race card…

I’m giving United the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t chosen because he was Asian, but either way, he had every right to be pissed off, and he was.

He was not leaving that plane……now what?

Again, United found itself in a potential pissing match with one of its customers and needed to make an intelligent decision to keep from upsetting all the people watching this go down.

How important were these four employees who needed to get to Louisville?

They were clearly more important than the paying customers, because instead of sweetening the deal to gain voluntary compliance, the police were called.

NO!!!!!!!

Again, how difficult would it have been to get four people to volunteer to leave that plane? I’d have done it for all the Bud Light Lime I could handle at an airport bar, a hotel room to crash for the night and enough cash to buy a slinger and coffee in the morning.

Surely, somebody on that plane could have been bought out of their seat, right?

We’ll never know what that price was, because instead of further bargaining, United drew a line in the sand and brought in the law. They told the law that the intractable doctor HAD to go.

I can assure you, as a police officer for nearly two decades, that people who don’t want to go somewhere and who feel strongly that they shouldn’t have to, are the absolute worst people in the world to deal with.

At least people who break the law and don’t want to go to jail know that they’ve broken the law, and while they may fight a little bit, at the end of the day, they know they’re wrong and have to go.

People who are sick, mentally especially, and who have to go to the hospital for their own safety, are a good example of folks who don’t feel as though they should be forced to go against their will, and will fight you HARD to keep from being removed against their will.

This doctor no doubt believed that he was within his rights to not be removed from this plane, even when told by a police officer that he had to go. That never works out well.

I can’t speak as to the law as it relates to airlines, and it’s possible that the doctor was in violation of some law by not leaving, but either way, there was no hurry that required grabbing this man and dragging him off of a plane.

There was another way to handle this.

There had to be.

Instead, the good doctor remained stubborn and was dragged literally, off of the plane.

It was third world country looking bullshit, and was 100% avoidable.

To his credit, the doctor wasn’t fighting, he was simply being passive aggressive/non-compliant – pouty even. His recourse was to leave and take it up with a grievance or complaint, but the reality is that his complaints would have fallen on deaf ears.

I am completely of the mind that this doctor’s time was no more valuable than a teacher’s who needed to get to a classroom the next day, or a grandma, who wanted to see her out of town grandchildren the next day. His occupation is irrelevant to me.

Passengers, such as this woman below on the right, were understandably appalled.

plane_face

Do you know what though?

Nobody on that plane was appalled enough to say, “Wait, wait, officers. Here, just let this man have my seat. I’ll give my seat up to end this madness.”

Nope.

Everybody either sat there in silence thanking God it wasn’t their name drawn randomly, or videoed this ordeal on their phones completely oblivious to any thought of doing something to make this matter right.

After the madness, the four United employees took seats that we can only assume they felt entitled to, and had an uncomfortable flight amid incredulous passengers.

This whole clusterfuck was United’s fault, but we’ve let this become our norm.

Massive corporations know that they will make their money due to the quantity of available customers, so they have very little incentive to get to know their customers’ needs and cater to them.

There are a limited number of airlines, so United doesn’t care that you don’t like them today. There are enough people out there who will still fly United.

You see this same treatment by the giant cable/internet companies. Customer service is a perfunctory act where you complain and gripe and the rep on the other end of the line, “Steve” from New Delhi makes a jerking off motion while telling you that $189 a month is the best he can do for you.

It’s ridiculous, but we’ve allowed it to happen.

We’ve also allowed our police officers to be the go to for everything in society that needs fixing, whether it’s criminal or not.

That also must stop.

We “joke” with the recruits that they can expect to play many roles once they hit the streets. They’ll be asked to do the job of a police officer, teacher, doctor, social worker, therapist, psychologist, animal catcher, fire fighter, mechanic and on and on.

We joke about it, but at the end of the day, it’s not funny.

We’re paid, and more importantly, trained, to be police officers. We catch law violators and participate in programs that hopefully prevent future violations.

The problem on that plane is that had the officers simply said, “Look, you guys have a civil matter here. Call us back when a crime has been committed. Bye,” they’d have been in trouble just as they’ll find themselves in trouble now for using what looks like unnecessary force.

They were put in a no-win situation.

Police officers can’t be arbitrators for all of society’s problems.

We can’t be the strong arm of corporations or people with power to get recalcitrant people to obey a contract or some societal expectation that isn’t a criminal law violation.

That’s how we as police officers become associated with what’s wrong in society and we lose the public’s trust.

 

Posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 21 Comments

Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero),

Originally posted on The Pleasant Farm:
? Dear Trent & Tyson (Daddy is a Hero), Whoa.? To say the last two days have been a whirlwind would be a ginormous understatement.? I don’t know how much you can understand at…

Gallery | 1 Comment

Post ferguson lessons still not learned…

I was cleaning out my drafts folder a little bit when I came across this post. I was asked by CNN to write a post for them a couple of years ago, I think during the Fersuson rioting, and either I never sent it to them or, more likely, I did and they didn’t use it. Either way, it’s pretty clear that my hope here for things to get better not only between the police and citizens, but among all citizens, is not only not happening , but are unbelievably, getting worse.

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I’ve not intentionally sat down to watch more than five or ten minutes of news coverage about Ferguson since Michael Brown was shot.

He was laid to rest on Monday, and I didn’t watch that either.

What little I have seen has come from social media or other readable sources. I just can’t bear to watch people with agendas, people who will never accept that their opinion isn’t 100% correct, feuding with other people who have agendas and will never accept that their opposing opinion isn’t also 100% correct.

If you’re reading this, then it was published, which means I guess I have an agenda as well, but I promise I’m at least open to hearing every side of an issue. My agenda, as it were, is for peace. It’s for simple things like being able to drive a patrol car down a city street and exchange a wave or a pleasant smile, instead of angry glares, with people I’ve sworn to serve and protect.

How do we do that? How do we get to that point?

Let’s start by learning something from the events in Ferguson. We’re all eager to get over the ugliness of the past three weeks, but shame on us, if we don’t take away some lessons from the mess. Ferguson is about much more than Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. It’s a culmination of things that have been simmering for a long time. What finally boiled over in violence in Ferguson isn’t about a single incident or even a few incidents, it’s about decades of things not getting better for the poorest in America, while things continue to improve for the wealthiest.

It’s about how many black people, especially parents, feel they or their children are perceived and treated by the police. Their beliefs can’t be marginalized or ignored as unrooted in reality hysteria. Too many people have similar stories for that to be the case, people of color from all walks of life. 

It’s about whether or not the militarization of police in this country is necessary, or even real. It’s about the hundreds of thousands of honorable police officers in the United States who do a difficult job with honor and integrity and pride, those who never make the news for the hundreds of thousands of calls they handle each year that end without an ugly incident. It’s about people losing friends on social media or at work because they can’t agree to disagree when the issue has any tint of race involved. It’s about blacks and whites and Democrats and Republicans and Liberals and Conservatives and us and them.

It’s about you and it’s about me.

It’s about our kids.

It’s about all of us.

We as Americans need to learn from this horrible incident and make positive changes to help us not only to heal, but to move forward as a nation of civilized human beings.

What can we learn? Let’s start with these discussion points.

1. The police are here to stay. Law enforcement isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Like us or not, we serve an important role in society. Go to any neighborhood meeting in any large city in America, and safety is somewhere on the agenda.

Law abiding citizens have a right to know what the police are doing and to have a say in how we go about doing it. The police, in turn, have a right to expect support from the law abiding citizens in their community, and to be equipped with tools sufficient enough to go about doing a very dangerous job so that we can go home safely at the end of every shift.

The police have big guns because the bad guys have big guns. Take care of the latter issue and we’ll listen to your complaints about what we have in our arsenal. I have access to a 9 mm Beretta pistol, and either a shotgun or 9 mm carbine rifle, depending on which car I’m in on any given day. The rifle is rarely ever taken from the car by most officers. The high octane equipment everyone is up in arms about (pun intended) is used by specialized units and for special circumstances only. They are an unfortunate necessity in a terribly violent world.

2. Race is an issue. When I see a person standing on a street corner, of course I notice whether or not they’re black or white, just as I notice whether or not they are a man or a woman. Police officers are trained to notice these sorts of things and make decisions based on these observations. Where I patrol, over 90%, maybe more, of the population is black. In the district where I patrol, we do have many black officers, but it’s not 90%. The racial make up of the police officers in any given district isn’t a perfect representation of the area they serve. Just as I notice the color of the person I’m dealing with, citizens are equally aware and interested in the race of the officer who they’re encountering as well.

If citizens, both black and white, aren’t trusting police officers based solely on their skin color, then the problem is not one of police versus society that we as a police department can fix, it’s a problem of whites and blacks in general, and how we’re not doing a good enough job of getting to understand one another.

I like to think I’m an okay police officer, and I can be a lot of things as an officer. I can be fair, calm, empathetic, polite, concerned, brave, strong, whatever you as a citizen need, but I can’t be black.

I just can’t. I can’t be black or gay or a woman or Muslim or any of the myriad things that some people want in a police officer standing in front of them at any given time. We aren’t Burger King, so you can’t have it your way, unfortunately. You get the officer we send, there are generally no substitutions.

If certain citizens in black communities want all black officers, regardless of talent, then I can’t be that officer for you. I work for a department that does have a large number of minority officers, so we’re blessed in that respect. I understand the desire for the department in Ferguson to more closely mirror the demographics of the entire community. Officers from the communities they serve are bound to be better in tune with the people they protect, but there’s something wrong with a person who would take a rude officer who shared their skin color over a truly eager to help officer with a different complexion than theirs. That works both ways, as many white citizens I’ve encountered over the years have expressed disgust at having black officers show up to their calls in the past.

3. The police aren’t the root of the problem. Police officers have become and unfair symbol of all that is wrong in society. It’s easy to blame the police for a lot of the ills in society, because we’re the ones on the streets dealing with the people first hand. A lot of the laws passed by city, state and federal leaders are, quite frankly, stupid, for lack of a better word. Even so, it’s the police officers who have to go out and enforce those laws whether we agree with them or not, because the folks we elect are supposedly passing laws based on the good of the people. The police are also not to blame for teenage pregnancy, rampant drug abuse, divorce, high unemployment rates, kids dropping out of school, terrible public school systems educating those who don’t dropout, or most of the other issues that cause the poor to stay poor while allowing the rich to get richer. 

It’s not my opinion when I say that black men are responsible for most of the crime in my patrol area. That’s just fact. It’s also a fact that most of the victims, the people who are calling us for help, are also black. Why are these men committing crimes? What can we do to fix that? I am not a fan of putting drug addicts in prison where they’ll never get the help they need to fix themselves. I’m also not a fan of the robbing, killing and everything else that comes along with the drug problem in this country. Those crimes must be punished. How do we balance this? This is a conversation the police should be a part of, but we can’t be expected to fix crime when society isn’t offering alternatives for these young people to turn to instead. Rec centers where kids can play basketball and hangout aren’t the answer. Education, learning a trade, fair practices in hiring, housing etc. are the answer. 

4. The police can do a better job to earn trust and respect. I’m not a police homer. I will be the first one to acknowledge when we’ve dropped the ball on something. Police officers are notoriously pessimistic and resistant to change. We see the writing on the wall about having to wear body cameras at some point in our careers. It’s going to happen and we will adjust. Video evidence doesn’t have to be a negative concept. It can often help to exonerate officers who are wrongly accused and even moreso, they can help illustrate just how crazy people can really behave, even in front of a police officer. There are stories that police officers have that are simply unbelievable, and are hard to believe, but for seeing with one’s own eyes. 

If you’re an officer, or really any person out in public nowadays, you should behave under the assumption that somebody is filming you, because they probably are. 

5. We are here to help you. I’ve yet to meet a police officer who has said they’ve taken the job because they hate people and want to make as many people miserable as possible. Are these type of people out there? I’m guessing yes, but overall, most officers are good men and women. We don’t live as officers 24 hours a day. When I take off my badge and gun, I coach my kids’ soccer and baseball teams, I hang out with my neighbors and family, I have to cut the grass and get my oil changed and help with homework, and do all of the daily chores that you and your loved ones do. 

Part of the public relations problem we suffer as police officers is that officers aren’t always able to meet people at their best. We so often deal with people who are either committing crimes or are angry, hurting victims of crimes or accidents, that we forget that there are millions of people in this country who live their lives everyday without giving the police a second thought unless something happens. 

We need to get in touch with those folks again. 

These are the people who run small businesses or who are outside watering their lawns on the weekends. How do we get officers to be able to interact with these people again? My department, just as an example, emphasizes getting to calls as quickly as possible over sending the best officer to a particular call. The best officer to send, is the officer who patrols the area where the 911 call is coming from, but if that officer is not available, then we send a nearby officer, even though that call can safely be held until the area officer returns and is available. 

If officers are tasked with patrolling a certain area and taking ownership of what goes on there, then crime outcomes will matter to that officer more than they do otherwise. Officers getting to know the people who live and work in his or her area are officers who will care for these people and do what they can to help them. Departments can do a better job of this. We used to call it beat integrity, and that we’ve lost that concept is a shame.

The problems faced by society are myriad, not just police and crime related. Solutions to issues of race, community, crime, employment, etc. can only be addressed by cooperation among all members of society. When the dust has settled here in Missouri, and the pundits and news vans and blow-hards have left, my hope is that what’s left is different. That what’s left is hope for a better future and a commitment from all of us to do what it takes to make that happen.

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Probably not even kraft singles…and shame.

Imagine a thirteen year old girl standing in a crowded lunch line at her middle school; she’s holding a tray of hot food in her hands. She is not an unpopular kid, but isn’t what passes for “popular” in the middle school hierarchy either. She’s a perfectly content to get by unnoticed straight A student.

In between glances at her French Dip sandwich and the open spot at the table across the cafeteria that she hopes stays open so she doesn’t have to sit alone or worse, find a seat with kids she doesn’t know very well, she’s thinking about how good her tater tots with ketchup are going to taste. She’s pleased because her sandwich has lots of pickles on it just as she likes and looks bigger than many of the other kids’ sandwiches. She got a lucky draw this time.

While shuffling closer and closer to the cash register, a boy much larger than she is suddenly takes the tray of food from her hands and tells her that there are no more French Dip sandwiches left, so he’s taking hers since it looks the biggest.

Momentarily stunned out of her sandwich and tater tot induced trance, the girl sees that her lunch has been taken by Cliff Jenks, every coach’s favorite athlete, but known as a bully to the kids who couldn’t care less about middle school athletics.

Cliff walks off triumphantly, while the young girl is left in line dejected, hurt that she was the center of attention in a crowded middle school lunch line, and now also faintly aware that her stomach is growling at her, seemingly aware that the French Dip sandwich it had craved just seconds before was now a pipe dream, never to be on this day.

The girl watches, incredulously, as Cliff is walking away towards the seating area when he suddenly says, “Gross, this sandwich has pickles on it!” He turns far enough around to make eye contact with the girl before smirking at her and tossing the rest of the sandwich into a nearby trash can. He took one bite and was done.

Several kids laugh out loud, while many others look away from the girl, uncomfortable with what they just saw but unable to find the right words to make everything “normal” in the lunch line again. Awkwardness among middle-schoolers is palpable.

The girl leaves the lunch serving area empty handed, thankful that the spot near her friends is still open at least. One of her friends has just enough change for the girl to get a bag of chips, and for that she is grateful. She eats her chips for lunch, all the while thinking about how good that hot sandwich would have tasted, and acutely aware, at least in her mind she believes it to be so, that every set of eyes in the cafeteria is watching her eat her chips.

She suddenly can’t wait to be in Spanish class.

Some of you, hopefully, have at least some sympathy for this young lady, right?

Now imagine the same girl in the same scenario, but replace Cliff the bully with the school’s lunch lady.

The girl who was so looking forward to her sandwich approaches the checkout and is suddenly told, “Your account is $2.20 overdrawn. You can’t have a hot school lunch today.”

The lunch lady then grabs the tray full of food from the girl, right in front of all her classmates, and tells her that she is welcome to have a cold American cheese sandwich instead. A cold cheese sandwich and a milk. The girl looks around and is uncomfortable because now she’s holding up the line, and all eyes are on her. Her body doesn’t handle dairy very well, so she declines the generous offer and joins her friends at the far away table, without any food and hungrier now than when she walked into the line.

She’s embarrassed to be today’s “cheese sandwich” kid.

Creating “cheese sandwich kids” is the “unwritten” policy of the middle school where my daughter goes to school. Public schools are subject to open record requests, so there’s a reason this policy is “unwritten” and can’t be found on the school’s website or handbook.

Because it’s asinine and the staff has to know it shames some kids.

All the kids know what’s going on and when they see another child being given a cheese sandwich and milk by the cafeteria staff.

You can almost hear the whispers from the line…

Do you think her family is poor?

I heard her dad lost his job.

I bet his parents are getting divorced.

I heard they live in a trailer park.

For God’s sake, people, why are we allowing our kids to be embarrassed in front of their peers by adults we trust to care for them all day?

This very same thing happens ALL THE TIME.

Is this a big deal in the great scheme of things?

No, probably not.

It’s not easy to manage funds and make sure all the kids and parents are happy, but whatever the proper way to make sure a school district doesn’t lose money, and that all kids are nourished, should not include embarrassing a child in front of their peers. Not by adults, and not at this age, where kids are so fragile mentally, especially about social aspects of their lives.

When my wife first brought this incident up to me, I really didn’t think anything of it, because it was absolutely our fault that money wasn’t in the account. My kids are well fed at home, so I don’t expect the school to feed them for free when they’re at school.

But when Ace described the way it happened, it was clear that the whole ordeal shook her up at least a little bit, and that got me wound up. The account was literally $2.20 overdrawn. If it can be $2.20 overdrawn, then it can surely be twice that or ten or even one hundred times overdrawn before a child has food taken from her hands and tossed into a trash can right in front of her face.

That’s silly and certainly not fiscally responsible in the least bit.

I’ve asked for an explanation from the school, and have had to even bring in the school district’s superintendent at this point, because I’ve yet to be satisfied that anybody truly cares about this issue.

The district has responded in typical bureaucratic fashion with vague promises to make sure this doesn’t happen again, but has said nothing as to how they are going make that so.

The principal finally talked to my daughter but never asked her what happened or how it made her feel. She told Ace that she looked pretty and that she should tell an adult, if this ever happens again. She also promised that she would buy her lunch, if she’s around and there’s no money in our account.

Sigh….

I appreciate that a woman who makes well over $120,000 a year is offering to buy my daughter’s $3.00  lunch next time we forget to fill her lunch account, but this completely misses the point of my disgust.

I’m upset because adults embarrassed my daughter in front of her peers about finances, a part of our family that she has zero control over. I’m upset because if it happened to Ace, then it happens to other kids too, some of whom are no doubt much more fragile emotionally than my own tough daughter, and she did get upset.

Whether or not there’s money in the account is nobody’s business outside of the parties involved in the transaction, i.e. in our case, the school district and Mr. and Mrs. Donofalltrades.

Nobody else, especially the kids should be brought into the matter, and no child should ever be shamed for the stupidity of their parents.

Ever. Especially at school, where they need to feel safe.

Have you had or heard of similar situations like ours? Am I overreacting?

Do please comment.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments