Mike…

I was directing traffic before a Cardinal’s baseball game when I got the news.

“Did you hear about the nonsense?” An officer stopped at my intersection in a golf cart asked me.

“Nonsense?”

I hadn’t heard about anything to do with the police department up to that point in my day, and I wondered what it could be.

With law enforcement, it could be literally anything.

Anything.

It was the worst thing.

“Langsdorf was shot and killed,” the officer said.

Langsdorf is Mike Langsdorf.

It was Mike Langsdorf.

Mike was a friend from our time in the old Third District. We worked together in South St. Louis many years ago.

He was a friend to me and he was a friend of many other first responders as well.

Mike Langsdorf loved being a police officer, and I mean he loved it more than most of us do.

It was just in his blood to wear the badge.

It was in his blood to help people.

Mike spent the bulk of his career arresting the most violent of offenders, oftentimes in the most violent and underserved of our city’s neighborhoods.

He was very good at his job, beyond just the arrests as well. He was there for any police officer or citizen who needed him, young or old, black or white.

He was a mentor to many young officers and hero to countless citizens he helped over the years.

He was a hero to this little guy who needed him the night his family home caught fire and his own daddy had to throw him from a roof to save his life.

IMG_9389

Mike was good with this kid when he needed him to be because he knew what to do.

He knew what to do for him because Mike was also a dad.

Perhaps most tragically, Mike leaves behind kids who will never again feel the comforting embrace of his hugs or see his face at all their future special occasions. They will always wonder what dad would have thought about this or that and never know from him just what it was dad was thinking.

They won’t get to hear anymore of his dumb dad jokes.

They won’t see him at their graduations.

They won’t see him at their weddings.

They won’t have him around when they go to the beach or the zoo or to the lake or even just out to dinner ever again.

That was all stolen from them.

It was all stolen from them in one minute and sixteen seconds.

That’s how long he struggled with a man who ultimately shot him to death to escape being arrested for trying to pass a bad check at some shithole convenience store that serves people who mostly could give two fucks about the police, but sure will call us first when they need any sort of help.

Mike was always willing to be the guy who answered those calls.

After the officer in the golf cart told me that Mike had been killed, we were joined at the time by a female officer who also worked with Mike in the old Third District. She caught wind of what we were talking about and immediately had tears in her eyes, because she already knew what happened.

It’s one of the queer things about policing, but even with tragedy less than an hour old, life goes on.

Calls for police still needed to be answered.

Crimes still needed to be solved.

While thousands of people waited happily for a baseball game to start, a handful of police officers had to continue directing traffic and tending to the security of a large event like a MLB game with news of Mike’s death fresh on our minds.

We struggled to focus on the tasks at hand while trying to get the facts on what happened to our friend.

Why was our friend dead?

What were his last moments on this earth like?

Fortunately, but more honestly, unfortunately, we know what his last moments were like.

We all know.

Perfect strangers know.

His coworkers know.

His friends know.

His family knows.

His kids will also know.

EVERYBODY KNOWS!

Everybody knows because as he laid on the cold, hard floor of that store, where employees had just called for him to come and help, which he did, they took a video of it.

A police officer in uniform is shot.

He is dying.

His blood is pooling under him and he is clearly dying.

A man, a human being, is dying in front of you and the one thing you think to do is to get out your phone and live stream his death to thousands of morbid onlookers.

This is our culture today.

There is a lot of anger at the woman who videoed our friend dying, and rightfully so. Some of the comments on her feed were disgusting and typical of what you’d expect from the sort of people who probably frequent that store and are friends with this lady on Facebook.

There is a lot of anger at local media as well, because many of them posted links to this disgusting video on their own websites or social media pages.

They deserve any backlash they get for using the death of a police officer to boost page views and clicks.

I don’t know when society began to lose all its couth, but it can become frustrating, if you let it.

I’m choosing to take the high road for now and try to see the good in what I saw in a video I wished I’d never seen.

The woman did have some genuine concern in her voice, I think. Others held Mike’s hand and I think they may have prayed for him as he lay there as well.

Unlike the man who lay dying before them, I just don’t think the people in the video knew what to do in an emergency, so what may look to many of us like indifference, could very well just be panic or shock or whatever.

For now, that’s what I’m choosing to believe.

It’s not easy to see any good in this situation for sure, but if anybody would have wanted us to at least try to do so, it would have been Mike.

Rest in peace, brother.

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments

“Those people…”

There’s an article in today’s local paper that  summarizes the fact that here in St. Louis, four children have been killed in the past four days as the result of gun violence.

Read it again.

Four children.

Four days.

All dead.

I read the article, of course, because it disturbs me when anybody is killed, but especially the most vulnerable among us, like kids.

The four dead aren’t even the only kids who suffered from gun injuries during this time, sadly.

One of the kids was only three. Her and some of the neighborhood kids had gathered to eat some pizza when a white car drove by and somebody fired shots into the group. She was with a six year old girl who was also shot, but didn’t die.

She’s critically injured.

She’s six.

A thirteen year old boy was shot in his hand here on the South Side as well, but that’s not newsworthy at this point. I only know about it because I’m familiar with the case through work. I guess we can take solace in the fact that his shooting isn’t random. The boy is allegedly in a gang, and was probably shot by rival gang members.

Still, he’s thirteen and in a gang.

Why?

My fifteen year old asked me yesterday if I would take her to a local state park to ride bikes on some trails with her thirteen year old neighbor friend.

We did that, along with her eight year old brother and then had sno-cones afterwards.

It was a great night.

That’s what kids should be doing, riding bikes and eating sno-cones.

Why aren’t so many kids in St. Louis City riding bikes for fun and having sno-cones with their parents?

Why are so many running around armed with guns?

Why are so many kids being gunned down, especially kids minding their own business like this three year old girl?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can wonder why we as a society don’t seem to care.

As I read the article on the four dead kids over the past four days, I was drawn to the side of the screen, which was showing the most popular articles on the news site.

Here they are, to the right:

PD

A college cheerleading coach was fired and a lot of St. Louis Blues information.

A cheerleading coach being fired is news??

I get that we’re all pretty excited locally to have the Blues in a game seven for the Stanley Cup Finals, but damn, we’re talking about kids.

Babies even.

Look at the face of this baby girl, and explain to me how we can’t do better?

JT

The wording above the pictures is from a friend of mine, a police officer.

A police officer who had to see this little girl’s dead body along with a six year old with critical gunshot injuries and a group of distraught family members.

The images hit him and other cops on that scene hard, because why wouldn’t it?

It should, and it does.

Dead kids matter like hell to police officers, and I have no doubt that our already busy Homicide Unit will do all they can to solve these crimes, but why isn’t there more outrage outside of law enforcement?

Have we become so morbidly jaded that this is an acceptable status quo?

Is it because the four dead kids are named Myiesha, Charnija, Kennedi and Jashon?

Yes, all four dead kids are black.

They all live in the city.

Does that matter?

This violence seems to have become a “those people” problem.

The people who can do anything about this madness, like elected officials, judges, etc. don’t have enough of a dog in this fight.

They can watch the news from their nice homes and shake their heads that another one of “those people” is dead from a violent encounter.

Four gunned down white kids on four consecutive nights in the county or even here in the city would be big news. I don’t have any doubts about that at all.

Why is this any different?

Urban gun violence has become ubiquitous. It’s odd, and even surprising, when the city goes any period of days without a gunshot victim.

What do we do to stop this nonsense?

The police will be expected to do something about this, ultimately, but while we’re currently undermanned and outgunned, the powers that be are removing officers from the streets for social media posts, or hiding them in administrative positions while the Circuit Attorney’s Office drags its feet on deciding whether to charge some officers with trumped up crimes or puts them on “lists” that make them virtually useless in prosecuting violent offenders.

There are very few violent offenders in the city who haven’t been arrested before.

There is little more frustrating to police officers than seeing these people not prosecuted or released for reasons that boggle the mind.

Nobody holds the prosecutors or judges or even defense attorneys responsible for the continuing cycle of violence.

Nope, it’s the police who take the brunt of the blame, when there’s blame to be had.

They want violence quelled, but don’t want us to hurt anybody while doing it.

They don’t understand that there are terrible people in this world doing terrible things who don’t want to go to jail voluntarily.

Maybe if more of the folks who aren’t “those people” had to show up on gruesome, terrible scenes, or deal everyday with violent offenders smug in the knowledge that there’s a good chance they’ll be out soon enough to offend again, things would matter.

When things matter, things get done, but right now, it just doesn’t seem like what should matter most to all of us matters at all to enough of us.

Except maybe to “those people,” but “those people” don’t have the means or power to make the necessary changes. Too many of “those people” are busy grieving or trying to figure out how to make it through another day or feed their kids or find a way to move to a safer community.

There’s little time to commit to causes when life is such a struggle.

People who are trying to survive don’t really have time to live, not live like life is meant to be lived anyway.

It’s up to the rest of us to figure out how to help in a way that’s agreeable to the masses.

Does anybody care though?

Maybe after game seven, but until then, I’ll be sure to hold my breath that another of “those people” don’t lose a baby to senselesss violence.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

On charging do nothing cops…

When I was teaching law in the police academy, I used to throw out this hypothetical.

Let’s say that I was in my police uniform, on duty, and I was walking into a convenience store to get myself a drink when I see a man beating the crap out of a woman near the soda fountain machines.

He’s punching her with all his might, and as I approach, he stops and I say, “excuse me, I need to get to the cups over there,” and then I proceed to fill my cup with soda and walk out the door, ignoring the crying woman’s pleas for help.

Am I liable to this woman for not helping her?

The answer, as with most things law related in policing, is somewhere between yes and no, but closer to no.

Am I a terrible human being for not helping?

Yes.

Am I a terrible cop for not helping?

Absolutely.

Should I be terminated from my job as a cop?

Unequivocally, yes.

Should I be charged criminally, if the beating continues and she ends up dead?

No.

It is fairly settled law in most places that nobody owes another person a single iota of assistance unless there are extenuating circumstances. We very seldom charge people criminally for failing to do something, and when we do, there must be a basis in law to do so.

That basis may exist in the form of a criminal statute, such as a law that requires us to pay taxes.

That basis may exist in the form of a relationship that gives rise to what the law calls a duty of care. As an example, if one of my neighbor’s children comes to my house everyday asking for food, and I never give him a morsel, and instead I shoe him away, even noticing that he’s getting thinner and thinner each time, it’s not my fault or problem, legally, if that kid starves to death. That same child’s mother or father or other guardian, on the other hand, does have a legal duty to care for and nourish that child, and so the law has no issue with charging them with neglect or abuse or whatever the law allows.

Other extensions of that duty arising are a bit murkier, but don’t necessarily require a familial relationship.

A few months ago, a woman who had been stabbed by an acquaintance on a nearby highway made her way to the front porch of a nearby house and banged on the door, waking a couple who lived at the house. The couple saw her on their porch, and did nothing to help her out, outside of calling 911. One of the couple was a nurse. The woman eventually died from her injuries.

Even assuming that offering this woman aid would have saved her life, there is no chance that criminal charges would be brought against this couple, even if they didn’t call 911.

But, let’s assume the same facts, but instead, the couple drags the woman, still alive, off of the porch and into the backyard, so she wouldn’t get blood all over their front porch. If it could be reasonably assumed that moving her body made it unlikely that she would be found by another person, and that the woman wouldn’t be able to have moved herself to find help, then the couple could now find themselves facing criminal charges.

Even police officers don’t have a special relationship with the public that gives rise to any duty of care, for the most part, so police officers don’t have any liability when somebody is injured or killed and they could have done something about it.

This duty of care would arise though, if an officer arrests somebody and puts them in handcuffs, because now that person is at the mercy of the officer and is vulnerable because of the officer’s actions (the arrest). There are other situations where a duty arises between police and the public as well, such as when a dispatcher says police are coming and people rely on that message. If the police don’t show up and something happens, then there could potentially be liability.

Civil liability.

Criminal liability for police inaction is a stretch, even for a terrible situation like the Parkland School shooting.

News this week that the police deputy, Scot Peterson, who didn’t run into the building while students were being murdered by a former student, is being charged with crimes that could cost him nearly a hundred years in prison, got to me.

It’s one thing to hold officers accountable for their intentional actions, when those actions cross a clear line and lead to injury or death, but to punish officers for inaction criminally is opening a can of worms that will make it nearly impossible for already struggling departments to find people willing to do this thankless job.

I completely understand the anger and hurt of the parents of students killed or injured during this shooting, but the reality is that there is no way to know that this officer would have saved even a single life had he ran into that building.

While student safety is a component of the job, the position of school resource officer is one of community engagement, and many who work these positions are filled by officers who, quite frankly, aren’t necessarily wanting to do “police work” anymore for various reasons.

These aren’t SWAT officers trained in clearing buildings or squashing volatile, violent encounters. They are there to make nice with the kids and hopefully be a preventative influence against drugs or fights or the usual school related problems. The idea that a single school resource officer would always be able to stop a person with the advantage of knowing what his plan is and who is armed with assault rifles and God knows what else, is misguided.

These Florida legislators, prosecutors and sheriffs looking to extract a pound of flesh anywhere they can is ridiculous. They’re out for blood and taking it out on an essentially innocent, though clearly unpopular, bystander.

The shooter is the problem.

He is the bad guy.

This nonsense of charging the police officer detracts from that fact.

It also detracts from the fact that this deputy, if he’s like most officers these days, hasn’t been adequately trained in how to respond to such an incident.

Not enough anyway.

Training, training, training….It’s expensive, and it has been cut out of many police budgets completely, or shifted towards something else, usually more popular with the issue of the day.

While there is never enough training on gun violence or defensive tactics, departments always seem to find money to fund training on how to be sensitive or more politically correct to certain segments of society.

These things are important for sure, but so is knowing what to do in extraordinary, violent situations.

They become extremely important, if decades of jail time is the result for the officer who screws it up.

Police officers work best when they aren’t using their brains. Like athletes, muscle memory is our friend in high stakes situations, and clearly, this man didn’t have it ingrained in his police dna to run into that building.

I think most cops do now, like these guys.

t_85f5ea98d2674a56979c091c35c34a65_name_1___1920x1080___30p_00_00_09_10_Still014

These officers are running towards a gunman while college students are running away.

I bet they’re not even thinking about what they’re doing, they’re just doing it.

This is absolutely what we want to see from our cops, and I get that, but when that doesn’t happen, it can’t suddenly be criminal because we’re angry and need a scapegoat.

Florida is trying to use the child abuse/neglect statute to criminally charge this police officer. That I’m aware, this has never been done and is a complete stab in the dark effort to apply the criminal law where it wasn’t meant to reach.

Here’s a portion of the Florida child neglect statute, § 827.03 :

Neglect of a child” means:
1. A caregiver’s failure or omission to provide a child with the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health, including, but not limited to, food, nutrition, clothing, shelter, supervision, medicine, and medical services that a prudent person would consider essential for the well-being of the child; or
2. A caregiver’s failure to make a reasonable effort to protect a child from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by another person.
Except as otherwise provided in this section, neglect of a child may be based on repeated conduct or on a single incident or omission that results in, or could reasonably be expected to result in, serious physical or mental injury, or a substantial risk of death, to a child.

 

In order to be found criminally liable, the state would need to prove the officer was a caregiver, which is also defined in the Florida criminal code as follows:

(1) “Caregiver” means a parent, adult household member, or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.

It is quite a stretch to suggest a police officer is responsible for the welfare of a child because he’s assigned to the same school the child attends. If the child forgets his lunch, the police officer isn’t responsible to feed the child. The relationship isn’t what the law intended at all, and I’m sure digging into the legislative history of this law would show that to be the case.

As a final note, and I’m sorry this, I guess rant, went on so long, I will repeat my often unpopular opinion that no police officer or first responder owes his life for another.

When I hear people say that this officer knew what he was getting into when he took the job, I wonder if he really did.

Thirty years ago, when this man started his career, people weren’t free to run around with AR-15s or other assault rifles strapped to their bodies without it breaking the law.

Mass shootings and bombings were problems for other countries to deal with, not us.

Children being slaughtered in schools was unheard of back then, and police officers were supported as being the good guys, and given the tools they needed to do the job, including the most current training available.

Today’s police officer is under appreciated and more importantly, under equipped and trained to handle a situation like this.

Many don’t have assault rifles in their vehicles, or helmets/shields, etc. readily available, because those things cost money that most cities won’t spend.

Running after a person shooting an assault rifle, who may or may not be wearing body armor, with nothing but a handgun and your own body armor, is potentially suicide.

It’s a risk all of us say we would take though.

We all say it.

Most would probably do it.

Many, when the chips are down though, wouldn’t.

Should they be charged with a crime?

What if they’re not the SRO assigned to a school? Where do we draw the line?

Do we punish nearby officers who don’t drive to the school fast enough?

Are off-duty officers who live next to the school and hear shots potentially felons too, if they close the windows and go back to watching tv?

What if it’s shown that there were officers at the police station miles away, doing other work, who never left the building to go help? Do we charge them?

It’s a slippery slope that only the State of Florida could undertake to go down.

 

 

Posted in Police, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Reckless? i don’t know…

I was sitting in a barbershop yesterday when some of the men around me started talking about a recent police involved shooting in the St. Louis area.

Long story short, a black woman, who is alleged to have been shoplifting at a grocery store in a VERY affluent part of our region, was having no part of a white, female officer arresting her, and ran off after one handcuff had been applied to her wrist. This is not unusual, as most resisting arrest incidents happen at this point of contact between a suspect and a police officer.

What is unusual however, is that the officer apparently told the woman that she was going to be Tased if she didn’t comply, and when the woman didn’t comply, she was shot, but not with the officer’s Taser.

She was shot with the officer’s pistol, a Glock nine millimeter.

The woman is still alive and will apparently live, but of course her injuries are painful and severe.

The officer, through her attorney, says that she yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” as we are trained to do, and then, thinking that she was holding her Taser, shot at the woman once, which is completely consistent with using a Taser.

Once the officer realized her mistake, she rendered first aid and called for an ambulance.

The officer was very quickly charged by the new, Progressive County Prosecutor, Wesley Bell, with Assault in the 2nd Degree, a class D felony. Class D felonies can carry a prison sentence of up to seven years.

Back to the boys in the barbershop.

All of the men were white and all of them presumably lived in the area of the barbershop. My assumption is that they all had limited interaction with police officers outside of speeding tickets and the “usual” suburban law-abiding person/police contact.

To a man, each one had it in his head that the shooting was an accident and that the injured woman shouldn’t have been shoplifting in the first place.

Curious to see if this was the general consensus, I spied the local newspaper’s Facebook account and wasn’t disappointed at the varied reactions.

With nearly 600 comments, it’s obviously a hot topic, and, as with nearly everything nowadays, there are two camps.

Camp one would include the likes of the men in the barbershop. They argue that it was simply a mistake on the part of the officer and that the victim brought her injuries upon herself by shoplifting in the first place.

Camp two pundits insist that you’d basically have to be an idiot to mistake a Taser for a pistol and agree that the correct charge was filed against the officer because she acted recklessly.

What should the outcome here be?

I think most sane human beings in the United States could agree that shooting a person who is only suspected of shoplifting is egregious. A couple of years ago, this suspect’s behavior, because she struggled with an employee on her way out of the store, would have been a robbery, but that is no longer the case. Missouri law changed in 2017, so unless the grocery store employee is injured, she would only be guilty of stealing and maybe a minor level assault or peace disturbance, none of which would likely be felonies.

Assuming that the Tasing would have been justified initially, and I have no reason to suspect it wasn’t, if the officer truly thought she was firing her Taser, will the Assault 2nd charge stand?

I think that answer is no.

The prosecutor in this case has alleged that the officer was reckless in discharging her firearm. That word, reckless, is a legal one, and has a distinctly different meaning than I suspect many of the lay people who are calling her reckless are using it to mean.

Reckless is a word used to describe what the law calls a person’s mens rea, which is basically a person’s mental culpability in committing a crime.

We generally don’t charge people with a crime unless there is some iota of criminal intent on the part of the suspect. So, for example, when a person who has never had a seizure suddenly has one while he is driving, and kills a pedestrian, we would chalk that up as a terrible accident. The victim’s family would have to seek redress in a civil suit.

If that same man has another seizure while driving again and kills a second person under the very same circumstances, he could very easily find himself being charged with Involuntary Manslaughter. The idea is that he now had notice that he was prone to seizures and consciously disregarded the risk when he went ahead and drove that second time.

The conscious disregard is critical, as that’s what recklessness requires.

Did this officer consciously disregard the fact that she was holding her firearm and not her Taser? If the answer is no, then she cannot be found guilty of Assault 2nd or any charge that requires at least recklessness as its culpable mental state.

If she truly yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” and fired just one time, that is consistent with Taser use and would hint that she truly thought she was holding her Taser.

Most officers are trained, because deadly force is meant to stop a threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer or another person, to shoot a firearm multiple times, usually twice. If it’s found that she did fire twice in this case, which the victim’s family is claiming to be the case in spite of investigators saying otherwise, then maybe there’s merit to the state’s claim.

Mistaking a Taser for a gun is certainly stupid, and probably negligent in this context, but every person deals with stress differently. There will be arguments that the loaded gun is three times heavier than the Taser, and that the Taser is yellow and worn on the opposite side of the body from the firearm, etc.

All of these arguments will help to decipher, in the minds of the judge or jurors, whether she could have possibly not known that she was firing her gun and not the Taser.

Tunnel vision is a very real thing, and it’s entirely possible that this officer became stuck in a cloudy haze with respect to what her body was doing as she focused on the suspect running away. I can’t speak to that, but some have suggested that officers who work in areas with very little crime, especially violent crime, are perhaps more prone to find themselves subject to tunnel vision when they do have to react to a dangerous situation than those of us who can find a reason to chase and wrestle with a suspect everyday, just by leaving the police station.

This case hinges on what a judge or, potentially, jurors, think was going through the officer’s brain when she shot the suspect. I don’t know this woman, but her teary eyed mug shot makes me hope that she’s crying because she made a terrible mistake, not because she can’t believe she didn’t get away with attempted murder. That’s essentially what the prosecutor is saying with this charge.

mug

Tears of regret over a terrible mistake or tears of disbelief that she was caught trying to kill a shoplifter? I think it’s the former.

A woman several years ago was warned that she had to keep her kids away from a certain area near her trailer because there was a duck pond nearby. One day, the woman let her two and four year old kids out to play and didn’t check on them for forty-five minutes, until the four year old came inside to tell his mom that his two year old brother was in the pond.

Forty-five minutes is an eternity to not know what your two year old is doing, right?

Any parent would agree with that.

The two year old was found floating in the pond, dead.

Ask yourself if this mother was reckless.

An appellate court said no, she wasn’t.

The court wanted more than just the duration of time and the warning about the pond, because we try not to incarcerate people for mistakes, even terribly stupid ones.

It’s not easy to prove what’s going on inside a person’s brain, and the shooting in this case happened, I’m guessing, very quickly from the time the suspect broke free of the officer and when the officer fired her gun.

Luckily, this woman will live and undoubtedly, this woman will get paid for her injuries and suffering and whatever else tort law allows.

That’s how the system, imperfect as it can be, is meant to work.

Charging the police officer to placate certain members of society is a travesty, unless the state truly believes it has a good case, and it might here, I don’t know all of the facts.

The officer’s attorney didn’t help her cause, in my opinion, by insinuating that the town would burn, once the officer was acquitted of the charge, which he called overcharging of his client.

People in this area are tired of protests and rioting, so to imply such a result could certainly sway a juror to simply find the officer guilty to avoid that mess.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that sort of statement is reckless.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Police, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Some final words…

A few people who couldn’t make Officer Alix’s funeral have asked if they could read my speech, and this seems to be the easiest way to share it. It was apparently way too long, I guess I see that now, but who the hell puts a time limit on grievers talking about a loved one?

I was honored to be one of the speakers at her funeral. So honored.

You have to read it in my voice through tears and choke up several times to get the full effect.

Thanks,

Don

——————————————————————————————–

Good morning.

I have worked for the Department now for just over 20 years.

During those twenty years I’ve answered, I don’t know how many thousands of radio calls.

Domestic Disturbances.

Calls for people suffering some sort of mental distress (OBSs) we call them.

Shots fired calls.

Assault calls.

Burglary calls.

Calls for Prowlers.

Calls for Robberies in progress.

Cuttings

Shootings.

Like most city officers, I’ve seen terribly grotesque injuries and deaths from all types of things befallen upon all types of people, from folks just a few months old to the elderly.

I’ve had foot chases and car chases down dark alleys and streets and had to wrestle countless people into handcuffs.

I’ve been cursed at, spit on and injured on-duty, but despite it all, if I retired tonight….

If I retired tonight, and somebody asked me, Don, what was the most difficult thing you’ve ever done in your 20 years as a police officer?

I would say, unequivocally, this.

This, standing in front of all of you people, many friends, but a lot of strangers, right here, right now, to say a few words about Katlyn. To talk about a small part of the life of a young woman, a beautiful young woman, whose death has quite frankly, shaken me, her friends, and of course her beloved family, right to our collective cores,– a young woman whose life had really only just begun.

This right now, is literally the most difficult thing I’ve ever done while wearing my police uniform.

I’m ashamed, a little bit, to admit that when I was asked on Sunday night by Lieutenant McCloskey if I wanted to say a few words about Katlyn, I didn’t say yes right away. I was caught off guard at first, so I told him that I’d like to get back to him, if that was okay.

If I’m being honest, when I hung up the phone, I knew that I couldn’t say no to Katlyn’s family, and that I would be here today. I knew it.

I was admittedly nervous about whether or not I could come up with anything to say, let alone something worthy of honoring the way too short but very meaningful life Katlyn lived.

Even if I could cobble together a passable speech, would I be able to get the words out?

I literally made it fourteen steps into the Kutis Funeral Home yesterday before I saw one of Katlyn’s Academy classmates and started to break down in tears.

Standing up here and breaking down in tears again as I look out at all of Katlyn’s family, friends and well-wishers was and maybe it still is, a real possibility.

Maybe though, that would be more meaningful than any of these words I’ve written, because it would show, better than I can articulate with words, how I’m feeling right now.

So yeah, the thought of standing where I am right now scared me a little bit.

But, I talked to my wife and some of Katlyn’s other friends and I got over it fast, because they all assured me that Katlyn would want me to do this, and I knew that too, in my heart.

She was so darned feisty, that girl. I could just imagine her in heaven, shaking her fist and yelling at me while she called me terrible names that I can’t use here in the house of the Lord, and threatening to sock me in the gut or worse, to haunt me the rest of my days, were I to have declined to do this.

As I talked myself off the proverbial ledge in order to assure myself I could do this semi-competently, I thought about a seventeen or eighteen year-old Katlyn signing her name on the dotted line to enlist in the Army during a time when being deployed into some war zone was a very real possibility. That right there is something worthy of being nervous about, not what a bunch of people think about you because you’re terrible at public speaking.

It takes a lot of courage for any person to agree to enlist in the armed forces, especially a young woman fresh out of high school. The military is still very much a man’s world. That she was willing to thrust herself into that environment speaks volumes about her commitment to others as well as her bravery.

I thought of that very same young woman, now twenty-two years old, agreeing to join the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, also during a time of considerable unrest.

It’s no secret that the post-Ferguson reality for police departments is that it’s becoming harder and harder to find good people who want to do this job for a lot of reasons.

The job is tiresome and dangerous and so often thankless, especially on pay days.

In spite of all this, Katlyn badly wanted to do it. She wanted to be a police officer.

She wanted so badly to do it, I believe, because it’s just who she was. It was just in her personality and in her heart to be selfless; to give of herself in the service of other people. That is what brought her joy and meaning to her life.

So, in June of 2016, she started the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Academy.

That’s where I first met Katlyn.

I was an instructor at the Police Academy. I, along with Officer Donnie Walters, were her class supervisors. I also taught everybody’s favorite subject, law, which is why I was clearly the most popular instructor there.

In June of 2016 Katlyn was Recruit Alix to me.

Recruit Alix was one of thirty-nine men and women who made up Recruit Class 2016-02 on that first day.

The police recruits don’t have their brown recruit uniforms when they come into the Academy on that first day, so they dress in business attire.

I remember Katlyn, even on that first day.

She was dressed sharply, with her hair pulled back tightly against her head, up in a bun, almost uncomfortably looking so, but nothing was out of place. She moved with an obvious military infused precision, with no wasted motion or dawdling. She just had this sort of infectious energy about her and it was clear to me early on that she was ready for any challenge that we were going to throw at her.

Knowing her now, today, I know that she wasn’t a shy or bashful person per se, but she played that part those first few days in the Academy. I think she did that because she was smart. She was trying not to be noticed.

Not being noticed is a good game plan for getting through the Police Academy successfully, honestly. The best recruits don’t make any waves and just sort of fly under the radar for thirty weeks.

Unfortunately for Recruit Alix, she was already on my radar that first day.

In spite of her reluctance to be singled out, it was clear that she had the makings of a leader. I don’t know that I can pinpoint what it was then that made me think that, even today, but I remember being impressed with her. There was just something about the way she carried herself, her self-confidence and her maturity. Her mannerisms and personality belied her young age.

Each Academy class has a class president and a class vice president. These are fellow recruits who act as liaisons between the other recruits in the class and the staff. They are invaluable for an Academy instructor to have when they are competent.

I called Recruit Alix into my office sometime that first week and broached the idea of her being vice president for her class.

She was literally shaking her head no before I could even finish asking her the question or ask what her thoughts were on the matter.

She didn’t want any part of it.

I chuckled and assured her that she didn’t have a choice, that I was just being nice by asking, but I did appreciate that she thought that Officer Walters and I were running a Democracy.

Recruit Alix broke out of her shell, real or otherwise, soon enough and became a strong leader among her peers in that class.

She was very passionate and she was obviously driven to succeed.

I remember during one of the very first days of class, Katlyn raised her hand and asked – and I think I blame Donnie Walters for this – she asked about stats.

Stats.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, stats for arrests and tickets and stuff,” she replied. “How do we get them?”

Stats are sort of one way the department gauge’s an officer’s productivity. An officer with a lot of arrests or tickets or reports written or whatever, is clearly doing more work than somebody who has a stat sheet with a bunch of zeroes on it, and she wanted to be one of those officers known as a worker.

Later, maybe it was days, maybe weeks, during a riveting Con Law discussion in the classroom about the criminal process, we touched on the warrant application process. This is basically where a police officer, believing he or she has probable cause for an arrest that he or she has normally already made, presents that case to the Circuit Attorney’s Office. If the assistant circuit attorney thinks it’s a good case, he or she will issue the officer’s case and it will move forward towards trial. When I mentioned that sometimes, or oftentimes nowadays, cases are also refused for various reasons, Katlyn’s hand went straight up in the air.

She sat in the very back row, and I ignored her for a minute, because I knew what was coming.

I knew what she was going to ask me, and sure enough, she did…

“Do we get credit for the arrest?” She asked. “If the warrant is refused?”

Do we still get a “stat?”

That’s just how she was.

She was a competitor, and she wanted to win. She wanted to be a champion. Good stats meant she was winning, that she was doing the job well.

Ask any of her recruit classmates what they remember about her and I bet many of them will tell you that they remember her yelling and screaming at them to push themselves harder while running on the track during physical training.

She wasn’t yelling to be mean. She was yelling because she got it.

Katie just got it.

She knew that pushing yourself in the Academy meant you’d naturally push yourself on the streets, when your very life might depend on pushing yourself past your comfort zone.

She was pushing her classmates to make them better police officers. She was pushing them to help protect their very lives.

And she wasn’t just rattling cages and yelling to be heard, either. That girl practiced what she was preaching. Once, she pushed herself so hard running on the track that she lost her breakfast and caught it in her shirt. She finished the rest of her run like that without complaint.

The police academy isn’t easy.

There is a lot of material for recruits to take in. Just the laws and department policies alone are overwhelming to try to remember, let alone defensive tactics maneuvers, cpr, mental health best practices, and everything else that goes along with learning how to be a good police officer.

Recruits have to be able to balance their personal lives with their Academy work to succeed.

In the end, class 16-02 lost thirteen good people from that first day of class for various reasons and finished with twenty-six at graduation.

Almost each class loses a handful of recruits and graduates with less than what they started with. Some fail academically, others just aren’t quite prepared for the physical rigors, others are booted for disciplinary issues and some just decide on their own that the job isn’t for them.

Those people are to be applauded for recognizing that before they get themselves or somebody else hurt.

This job is not a job for everyone. In fact, I’m loathe to even call it a job. It’s a calling, really. Policing chooses you, and if it is your calling, you’ll be hooked and you’ll know you’re hooked.

The academy is hard because policing is hard.

It’s hard for obvious reasons such as those risks inherent in the work like dealing with armed bad guys hellbent on avoiding jail, or traffic accidents, but it’s also hard for reasons that are more mental than physical.

Patrolling in the city, every day, in areas where there is so much blight and violence can wear any person down, mentally.

Dealing with other peoples’ problems, some big and others small, all the time can wear any person down.

Having a front row seat to watch human beings treat each other so often with such callous disregard can wear any person down.

Katlyn wanted to be in the middle of all of these things anyway.

She wanted to go where the action was when she graduated, and she certainly got her wish when she was assigned to the Sixth District after graduation. District six covers basically the northernmost part of St. Louis City, and finds itself the leader in violent crimes nearly every single year.

That’s a stat that I’m sure made Katlyn eager to begin her career there.

In spite of its reputation, I never worried about Katlyn going to the Sixth District. In fact, I knew it was going to be a perfect fit for her. Every day there is a new adventure, a new challenge, and the mix of officers there are some of the best in the city. I had no doubt she’d fit right in.

I was further tickled to learn that she would be assigned to then Police Officer Suzy Kearney in Field Training. I worked with Suzy in the 6th District and don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed answering calls with another officer as much as I did with her.

Suzy is a detective now, deservedly so.

I knew they’d not only be great policing partners, but they’d get along great as friends to boot. Or “pals” as Suzy would say.

To know Detective Kearney is to love her, same as with Officer Alix. They were a great match.

I think women have a different experience with this job than men do, at least a little bit, so I thought it was outstanding that Suzy could impart what she knew about that aspect of the job to Katlyn as well.

Katlyn and I stayed in touch after she graduated from the academy, and during the course of my getting to know her as Police Officer Alix, I became impressed with her quick understanding of the realities of the job and the city.

She learned quickly that her thirst for stats wasn’t always congruent with her even stronger thirst to do what was best or right in her mind and to help people who were down on their luck.

We talked about the rampant poverty that she saw in so much of that part of the city and how hard it was sometimes to know that you just can’t help everyone.

She understood not to take the job personally and that people who misbehave after a few drinks on Friday night aren’t necessarily terrible people come Monday mornings. She didn’t hold unnecessary grudges and she brought a fresh attitude to each person she encountered.

She made going to work more enjoyable for everyone who worked with her.

It took me years to appreciate some of these nuances that Katlyn was beginning to understand already, with just two years on the job.

You have to grow up fast when you start your career in the sixth district, and she certainly did just that.

Katlyn worked hard and she brought that same effort to her personal life.

After she graduated, Katlyn would come to the academy gym regularly, not be seen, but to work her butt off. She would push and push and push herself because, as she confided in me one day, she wanted to be able to see whatever in the world these muscles were. (point to hips)

Katlyn was strong of body and of mind.

She had a heart of gold and would do anything for anybody.

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals and children.

Katlyn worshipped her doodle dog and puppy and absolutely loved her curly haired little nephew. She talked about how she wished she could take all the homeless dogs and less fortunate kids and give them a better life somewhere safe.

She meant it.

It literally hurt her heart when she felt like she couldn’t save a dog or a kid from a less than desirable situation.

When I saw her name on a recent transfer list, I was surprised, and I had to tease her for being moved from the Sixth District to the much less violent Second District.

When I ribbed her about her being tired of the action after only two years, she told me that she had to make the move so she could work nights in order to go to nursing school.

I loved hearing that from her.

I always harped on the recruits and even now, the officers who work for me, to get as much training and education as they can, especially if they can get the department to pay for it, so I was so proud of her, but not surprised, of course, because if there’s any profession that requires more heart and soul and commitment to one’s fellow man than policing, it’s nursing.

She would have been an amazing nurse, unfortunately, of course, Katlyn’s story ended before she got to be a nurse or even step foot into a nursing classroom.

To say that her death was unexpected and shocking is an understatement.

Like many of you, I’ve spent nearly the past week in a mental fog, in a daze, sometimes angry, but more often just hurt and frustrated that a light that shined so bright, could be extinguished just like that.

I don’t feel the loss of Katlyn so deeply because she was a police officer. That’s a part of it, sure, but I feel it because of who she was, because of the kind of person she was, and because I know that the world is a worse place without her in it.

She still had a lot of growing up and living left to do.

I only knew Katlyn for two and a half years and I am almost twice her age, a generation apart, really. Even so, we were more alike than you might think. For me to be able to tell you that I loved that kid like she was one of my own is a testament to what an incredible young woman she was.

To her family, especially Tony and Aimee and Taylor, and her friends who knew her even better than I did, and to all the great current and former soldiers and police officers who went to battle side by side with her every day or every shift, I can’t imagine your grief, if mine has been any indication.

You all have my gratitude and my condolences.

Thank you so much for giving me the honor of doing this today. It means so much to me.

May we all find peace during this terribly sad time.

Thank you and God bless.

Posted in Police, Police Stories, The not meant to be funny stuff | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Tragedy spares nobody…

When it comes to tragedy, there surely can be no better place to have your heart broken or spirit crushed than by being associated with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

I don’t know if egregious misfortune is endemic to this police department, but it’s the only place I’ve ever worked as a police officer. I suspect most other major, urban departments have the same issues that we do.

There just seem to be so many.

It’s never a matter of if something stunning or unfortunate is going to happen, but rather when.

Long spells of  quiet have always made me nervous, because that always means we’re due.

If it’s not a police shooting, it’s a cop’s young wife or child or the cop himself dying of cancer. If it’s not cancer, it’s a police officer having a heart attack or falling from a roof and dying, or blowing his brains out in the parking lot.

It’s just one awful thing after another.

Maybe part of the problem is that police officers don’t take just the local deaths to heart. Many of us feel it when another police officer is killed or dies tragically anywhere in the country, and for some, maybe the world.

We mourn for strangers we call brothers and sisters in a way that I don’t think other professionals do. Maybe it’s not healthy, but family is family.

When I posted last, I used a picture of a young lady who was shot and killed while responding to a mundane traffic accident call.

She was a police officer in California. She was young and appeared happy and had a bright future ahead of her, until she was gunned down by a lunatic for reasons I still don’t think we know for certain.

49402037_2239237979472850_6058912713814310912_n

Davis, CA Police Officer Natalie Corona

I remember being taken aback a little bit by the picture of this young lady, because she reminded me of one of my favorite St. Louis Police Officers, PO Katlyn Alix.

img_8714

PO Katlyn Alix. EOW 1/24/19

If you told me they were sisters, I’d have no reason to call you a liar.

Last night, Officer Alix was shot and killed, while she was off duty, in what is currently being called an accident.

I suspect that’s the best term for it, an accident. I have zero clue what happened at this point. I have no details about the shooting and I don’t want to dwell on that or what I think the fallout might or should be, depending on what happened, instead, this is just a post about my friend to help me move on.

I met Officer Alix when I was teaching law at the Police Academy. Back then she was recruit Alix.

I was her class’s supervisor, which meant that I would basically help guide them, begrudgingly at times for all of us, through their thirty weeks of training, until they graduated into police officers.

She was one of thirty-nine in her class on that first day in June, 2016.

I recall she was quiet and shy, or at least she acted that way back then. I think she wanted to fly under the radar and just get through unnoticed.

That’s how the good ones get through the Academy, quiet and unassuming.

I had other ideas, however. She was or acted almost too bashful, so I appointed her the assistant class president, along with another young lady who served as president.

I chose Recruit Alix because I knew she’d been in the military, so she wasn’t soft. She would stand up to the other recruits on my behalf and put her foot in their rear ends, were that necessary.

There was something about her that told me she was a good egg and that she would be a good recruit. We have to compile all of the recruits’ personal information when they start, so I knew she was also a Pisces, like me.

I only remember that because she was born on the same date as a grade school friend of mine, Mark Martinez, March 12th. I remember Mark’s birthday because we shared our class parties during our time in grade school together. He was born on the 12th and another girl, Jeanie, the 31st. She also shared in the March party.

Oddly, Mark also died way too young. He was shot and killed when he was just seventeen in the old McRee Town Neighborhood, which would later be the first area I would patrol as a brand new police officer.

Recruit Alix sailed through the Academy with little problem. She was athletic and smart. She was inquisitive and asked good questions.

She stood out in a final recruit class of twenty-six very good recruits at graduation. I knew that she was going to be a special police officer.

16-02

PO Alix, front and center with her 2016-02 class

Officer Alix wanted to go where the action was, and got her wish when she was assigned to the Sixth District.

If you’ve read this blog for any time, you’ll know that the Sixth District is where I patrolled for a few years and where most of my terrible stories come from.

On duty, Officer Alix was assertive yet compassionate. She understood, early on, really, the human aspect of this job and she empathized with people she saw everyday who were struggling to survive, let alone live.

She’d mentioned to me a few times that she didn’t understand it, the blight and despair, but she wanted so badly to help.

She once posted a picture on Facebook of herself in uniform; she was holding a baby in her arms and wrote a long post about the baby’s mother’s struggle with heroin. I don’t remember the details, but I remember I was in my patrol car when I read it and was so moved by it that I texted her right away to tell her how proud I was of her.

She was made to remove that post by her commander, because God forbid a young officer show any heart or compassion about this job on social media. She was told her post violated HIPAA, which is complete garbage, as police officers aren’t subject to HIPAA. Please tell me, if I’m wrong about that.

Anyway, it was so moving and just showed the sort of person she was, even in uniform.

In spite of the oftentimes depressing surroundings, Officer Alix knew how to have fun with the job, which is important, if you want to do it for any extended time.

img_8713

Always having fun.

She also loved her dog, who I suddenly feel terribly sorry for as I type this right now, because nobody will ever be able to love that puppy like she did, no matter how hard they might try. She loved him like only those people who are just so goddam good hearted and sweet can love an animal. You know the type. They’re just special human beings.

Once, before she graduated from the Academy, she came to me and asked rather sheepishly if I knew anybody who wanted a dog.

It was a weird question under normal circumstances, but even weirder then because my mom had literally told me less than a week earlier that my dad wanted a dog.

He wanted a little dog. I think maybe it was another midlife thing.

Anyway, her mom had found this dog on the side of a roadway all matted, lost and confused, but they couldn’t keep it because her mom had a dog already and get this….monkeys.

THEY HAD MONKEYS IN THEIR HOUSE!

When Recruit Alix first told me that she had a brother and sister who were monkeys, I didn’t know what to make of that info, so I let it go. It turns out that they’re literally monkeys, sort of like Ross from the show Friends had.

Anyway, they couldn’t keep the dog and my parents couldn’t have been anymore interested, so we made a match.

I drove a ways to get the dog and got to meet Katlyn’s mom. She was a sweet woman and, of course, mentioned that she worried about her daughter’s safety.

I never assure anybody that their son or daughter will be fine, because with this job, you never know. We talked a bit about how Katlyn had the tools to be better than most officers, and I think we parted ways with her feeling better about her daughter’s future venture into North St. Louis.

The dog has made my folks imminently happier for whatever reason, and I’ll be forever grateful to Katlyn for that.

I would send her a pic of the dog from time to time, because I knew it made her happy to see Tennessee Whiskey Hangover (Tenny for short) doing well.

image-1

Officer Alix was a friend to many. She was a daughter, a wife, a sister and a super proud aunt to a handsome little guy she loved with all her might.

She served her country in the Army and the St. Louis community as a police officer. She squeezed more into her twenty-four years than many of us will into our whole lives.

Her death really sucks.

This one stings, perhaps maybe more than any other in my twenty years of SLMPD deaths.

I used to only jokingly call my recruits my babies, but the truth is that I did and do still care for all of them, all of you, since I know some of you will read this.

I hope, if you’re a police officer, and you’re grieving, you will think about what you wished you could have said to Katlyn, if you had the chance, and make sure you say those same sorts of things to those who are important to you that you still can say them to.

Godspeed, young lady.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Police, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

The appreciation is appreciated…

National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day is apparently a thing.

It’s January 9th, the same day as National Apricot Day and National Static Electricity Day.

I kid you not.

I had several people send me thoughtful messages on National Law Enforcement Day, and I loved every single one, even though I had no idea when it was.

It’s always nice to hear that you’re appreciated by people, especially when the appreciation is for the job you do.

I oftentimes go out of my way to make sure that my kids’ teachers and nurses and other people who do jobs that seem so thankless, yet are so important, know that they are appreciated.

I do it because I know that in my own life, just when I have myself convinced that I’ve wasted a good chunk of my life doing a job that many others find so appalling, somebody will say or do something so sweet, and I’m reminded that I matter.

That policing matters.

The people who sign up to do this job, no, it’s not really a job….this calling, matter.

It may be a simple “thank you for your service” from a stranger, or a meal comped by a restaurant owner, or a phone call from a victim or victim’s family member to tell you that they appreciate your help, even though that’s just doing the job.

It’s little things that add up and mean so much, and for me, these messages have always come at just the right time.

I remember being at my lowest about being a police officer during the unrest in Ferguson back in 2014.

Disdain for police officers and disregard for the law were at all time highs, particularly in our region. While the riots were going on to the north in Ferguson, stores here in St. Louis were being looted by mobs of people with total disregard for any consequences.

Drivers were racing up and down city streets and weren’t stopping at red lights as though they didn’t exist at all. Society, at least where I was in North St. Louis, seemed to literally be crumbling right before my eyes.

I hated that we seemed to be losing control of a semi-civilized society, and I seriously wondered if I could tolerate wearing my uniform much longer.

But, we persevered.

Officers worked hard and did the best we could to maintain law and order until the crisis blew over, at least for the time being.

At one point though, when I was at my lowest, an elderly black woman stopped me in the parking lot of a truck stop to ask if she could pray with me.

Not for me, but with me.

She had clearly been waiting by my parked police car for me to come outside.

She was adorned in a yellow dress and white gloves that went halfway up her forearms. She wore a circular, white hat, angled on her head. It had some sort of netting over her eyes and she carried a white purse that seemed too big for such a petite woman. It was not unusual attire for a Sunday morning in North City, as many of the best people in the worst part of our city are women such as this, a woman whose faith has probably carried her through a difficult life.

When old women talk, I listen.

Always have.

I agreed to the prayer and put my iced tea on the hood of my Tahoe.

We held hands in the parking lot and she did the praying for both of us.

She prayed for my safety, and also the safety of the community and she prayed that God would give me the wisdom and courage to use good judgement and to treat people fairly.

I sensed the prayer was in no small part a message to me, but she was sincere in all that she asked God for and I felt blessed for the two or three minutes we spent together.

I left that encounter with renewed vigor for my job.

It’s people like this old woman and others like her, who need us to have their backs, just as they silently have ours.

The helpless and vulnerable appreciate us, even if they don’t always get to say it, every day of the year.

In the two days since January 9th, Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, two officers have been shot and killed.

They were both young females, new to the job, and they were both doing mundane and seemingly harmless activities.

Davis, California Police Officer Natalie Corona was shot and killed as she responded to a three car accident. There are fewer types of calls for a police officer less perfunctory than an accident call. I’m sure the officer figured she’d write a report for the parties involved to give to their insurance companies and be on to the next call in no time.

As a new cop, I bet she itched for a more exciting call next time, rather than this ridiculous accident call that ended her life.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, Officer Chateri Payne was getting dressed in her uniform when she was shot and killed.  I’m not aware, at this point, whether her death has anything to do with her being a police officer, but still, she was a beautiful, young woman.

Her life mattered, regardless of why she was killed.

There was a time when the violent death of a woman was in many respects unusual, particularly when the suspect was a stranger.

There used to be some chivalry, even among gangsters and crooks, when it came to women and children.

They were off limits.

There are no longer boundaries it seems, and anybody, young or old, man or woman, is fair game for thievery and violence.

This includes police officers as well, of course.

Locally, a new class graduated from the St. Louis Police Academy last night, and I wonder what they’re thinking.

They’re excited to start a new job, I know that. I remember that excitement myself.

I hope they’re also fearful about the realities of the job they swore to do in front of their families and friends.

I hope they’ve read about Officer Payne and Officer Corona and appreciate how quickly things can take a turn for the worse in this job.

Complacency gets people hurt or killed on the streets, so finding the line between being on guard and being overly paranoid with everyone they meet is something that they’ll have to learn on their own.

It’s important for officers to trust their instincts, and not put themselves in obvious danger, but it’s just as important to understand that danger lurks even when one’s radar doesn’t sense it at all.

Five officers have died in the United States in the ten days since 2019 started, including the two most recent young ladies I’ve mentioned.

It’s demoralizing and frustrating for officers to deal with the deaths and assaults of other officers, even officers hundreds of miles away.

We all take the blame when an officer does wrong, and we accept that, so it’s only right that society understands that we all share the pain when one of us is killed senselessly.

We know that we can be next.

We’ll mourn in our own ways and we’ll learn, tactically, from their deaths.

While it’s important for officers to remain vigilant, it’s also important to remember that most people are not out to get us.

Most people appreciate us and the job we do, every single day, and not just on the day we share with National Apricot or Static Electricity Day.

 

 

Posted in Police, Police Stories, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Police, Police Stories, The not meant to be funny stuff, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 12 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.

Posted in Police, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

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