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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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Policing, the deterioration is real…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I keep them for instances like the Stephon Clark shooting.

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

No.

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

Maybe.

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

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

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

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

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

Training.

It’s a good thing, training.

We police officers need more of it than ever before.

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

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

Why?

Training costs money.

Good training costs lots of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It shouldn’t.

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

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

It’s no secret that departments need bodies.

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

Not on the streets at least.

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

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

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

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

Damned if you don’t…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shut up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Apathetic is pathetic…

Apathy…

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

What happened to us?

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

The baby was dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poor people, usually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of it is vitriol and politics.

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

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

Our childrens’ schools.

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

Watching empassioned kids articulably plead for their futures is encouraging.

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

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

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

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

Don’t even try.

AR-15s are fun to shoot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gun people will.

The NRA.

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

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

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

—————————————————————————————

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

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

City blocks…

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

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

“What’s up, young lady?” I asked.

“I think I missed my bus.” She said.

I laughed. “You think you did?”

“I did miss it. I know I did.”

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

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

“Sure, kid. How old are you?”

“Seven.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We drove up one block, and then another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sighed to myself.

Two more blocks. Two more crimes.

These were petty crimes.

Petty for the Gravois Park Neighborhood anyway.

A stolen car.

Shots fired into a vacant house.

No big deal, those two.

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

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

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

We stop and a woman walks to my open window.

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

Oh officer, she says. I’m so sorry.

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

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

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

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

She’s stifling a laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” The woman finally asks.

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

“Yes,” she said. “I ran out of gas.”

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

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

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

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

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

Inside thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

I continued north.

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

She turned to look at me.

“Dummies like me,” I finished.

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

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

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

It seems odd, but I remember the address still.

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

I pointed to the house and said, out loud.

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

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

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

“That’s terrible,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you win?” She finally asked.

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

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

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

“Okay, thank you.” She said.

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

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

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

“I walk to my bus stop.”

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

With that, she went inside her house.

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

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

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

I can see it from my house.

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

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

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