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When Police Misbehave [Apr. 28th, 2016|10:56 pm]
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An Austin Police Department officer, who lives in a nearby town, got into an argument with an older female neighbor--he was off duty, out of uniform, not in his jurisdiction, you will note.  He came into her yard to confront her.   She told him to get out of her yard.  He didn't.  From the images of both shown on  TV last night, he is markedly bigger than she is--heavier and taller.   She said if he didn't get out of her yard she would spray him with a garden hose.   He continued to stay in her yard and argue with her.  She sprayed him with the garden hose.  He then physically attacked her, picking her up and throwing her onto the ground (I think it was the driveway, but am not certain) causing injuries for which she needed medical treatment.

An internal investigation by the Austin PD did not find he had done anything wrong, but the chief fired him.  Now the police officers' association is mad at the chief, claiming that the officer did nothing wrong, didn't break any laws, and shouldn't have been fired.  They claim he acted "in self defense."  (Against being sprayed with a garden hose...while trespassing.  Yeah, that really calls for a physical slam-down.  NOT.)

It's bad enough that a police officer who is not in his jurisdiction, not on duty, and is not in the process of apprehending a criminal--just having an argument with a neighbor who is older, smaller, and on her own property--would trespass, refuse to get off her property, and then pick up and throw down this citizen because she got him wet.

It is worse that his fellow officers--and supposedly his entire chain of command except the police chief--see nothing wrong in what he did and accept the trespass, the refusal to leave, and the injury to the property owner as justified by "self-defense."

Because if it had been two other neighbors--big younger man, small older woman--and the man had invaded the woman's yard to yell at her more effectively, and refused to leave when asked, and she had sprayed him with a hose (getting his clothes wet, I suppose--it was a garden hose, not a fire hose)  and he'd slammed her to the ground, injuring her, and she'd called the police...I will bet you that man would have been found to have committed the criminal offense of assault and battery, as well as trespass, as well as disturbing the peace (especially if he had been black and she had been white.   She had a reasonable fear of injury when a larger man came onto her property and yelled at her.  I believe police officers would see that if the perp had not been a police officer.   I believe that the police officer in this case simply lost his temper (something police officers do, with the excuse that theirs is a hard life) and threw her down because he could and expected to get away with it, because BADGE.

Routinely, internal investigations find no fault in situations like this where the reasonable and educated citizen knows that the same act committed by anyone else is a crime.  Routinely, law enforcement "stands behind" acts that are morally wrong, legally culpable, and indefensible except by those who, in their arrogance, claim the right to do anything they want any time they want no matter what.

And thereby are losing, steadily and inexorably, the respect of the populace.  The bad apples--the ones who do these things and the ones in the force who support what they've done--destroy the reputation of the whole.  Which is sad because there are still a lot of good, honest, law officers who are not like this fellow.  Not like the man in Ohio who shot a 12 year old without giving him time to obey and then lied about what happened.  Not like their chief and commissioner who suggested that the family should spend the settlement money on a program to teach black kids about the danger of having toy guns that look too real.  Not like the Texas state troopers who performed a roadside cavity search on young girls...right out there in full view of everyone...because I guess they wanted to cop a feel.   Not like the cops in New Mexico who--when a cavity search for drugs by a doctor came up with nothing ordered the hospital to give the man enema after enema just because they could...and then tried to lie about it.   Or the ones in New Orleans and elsewhere who kept a "ham sandwich" in the car so they could plant a gun in someone's car or apartment...or the DAs who hide exculpatory evidence from the jury in order to get a conviction of an innocent citizen.

One of the reasons policing is harder now is that law enforcement has repeatedly not only done bad things, but failed to admit that they were bad.  Coverups...excuses when the coverup is penetrated...the belief that sticking together, in a gang-like attitude, is more important than the oath they swore to serve and protect the population...all that has eroded citizens' trust in law enforcement, its willingness to work with them.   Precisely because law officers are allowed more leeway when on duty than ordinary citizens--to enter property, to order people around--abuse of those powers makes things worse for them in the long run.

Good police officers have got to quit protecting the bad ones.   They've got to start policing internally--seriously--telling jerks like the guy who threw an older woman down in "self-defense"  (a patently stupid claim)  that such behavior is wrong.  Trespassing on a neighbor's property is wrong, and if you're asked or told to leave--you leave.   Feeling girls up alongside the highway is wrong.   Raping girls at a traffic stop (as one county constable did here years ago) is wrong.  Planting evidence is wrong.   Hiding evidence is wrong.  Good officers need to be tough toward their own, and police chiefs are absolutely right to discipline or fire officers whose behavior brings the department into disrepute.  Departments need to be honest with each other when hiring from another department.  Police academies should flunk out, not keep in, cadets who--like the guy who shot Tamir Rice--are considered emotionally unstable and thus unsafe with firearms.

Additionally, officers need to have access to mental health care that will help them deal with the very real stresses of police work, and give them tools to manage their own problems--police officers have a higher rate of domestic violence than the average population, and often show signs of anger management  and control issues.  (A difficult shift before the current one is NOT a good reason to lose your temper, scream at a citizen, and beat on them.)   Mental health visits should be standard, required, for all personnel at regular intervals and after any incident where violence is used, be it on assignment or otherwise.

[User Picture]From: anais_pf
2016-04-29 04:21 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: ann_mcn
2016-04-29 09:54 am (UTC)
I highly recommend @greg_doucette on Twitter. He's a defense attorney in NC, who posts some magnificent rants about bad policing (one is pinned at the top of his page). He's young, and a Republican, and deep down angry at what goes on.
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[User Picture]From: londonbard
2016-04-29 11:26 am (UTC)
You are absolutely right. My own degree included industrial and relations and the way in which deviant subcultures can drive out non-deviant. A society is in real trouble when some of the law-enforcers are as dangerous to the public as the criminals, and the problem is brushed aside and concealed by their superiors; sub-cultural norms like that contaminate and spread.

Edited at 2016-04-29 12:39 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: thewayne
2016-04-29 12:30 pm (UTC)
I did database work for a major police department from '92 to '01, I left before 9/11. This sort of behavior would not have been tolerated, and this cop should clearly be charged with assault. And once he gets a criminal conviction, it won't matter if the union pressures the SA chief to re-hire him, he can't work as a cop with a criminal conviction.

Our rules were that if you followed all of the operational orders and general orders, i.e. did what you were trained to do, management would back you to the hilt. But if you violated those orders or someone's constitutional rights, you would get hung out to dry.

But that was then, this is now. It's a very different world. I enjoyed working there, I felt like I was doing good, but I don't think I could step back in to that environment in this country.
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[User Picture]From: cynthia2015
2016-04-29 02:49 pm (UTC)
This is one of the reasons that I don't trust the police.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-30 01:45 am (UTC)
My experience, as a white woman who has never had to report a sex crime, has been generally good. When our autistic son collapsed in the street and someone called the police, the officer who responded (and who called us to tell us and ask some questions about him) was professional, polite, and thoughtful. He congratulated us on having such a nice, courteous son.

But: Our son is clearly white, with blue eyes, was wearing clean clothes, didn't smell like a drunk or a homeless guy, and had been schooled heavily in being polite in all circumstances. I know perfectly well that if he'd been black or brown, or had had on dirty ragged clothes, or had smelled bad, or had been drinking...it would have gone down very differently. Young men and teens with developmental problems have been shot dead because police do not get enough training in de-escalating tense situations, let alone enough in recognizing their own racism and holding to professional behavior anyway.

Police now are much more likely to be violent than when I was a youngster down on the Border. Shooting an unarmed kid in the back because he ran away...no. It was of course a racist society, but nothing like today.
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[User Picture]From: cynthia2015
2016-04-30 02:00 am (UTC)
My father has a mental condition and is unable to look after himself. He ran away and my brother had I reported him missing. When he was spotted by the police, they did nothing.

They said he was an adult and that was it. A year later, he is found but with money that people gave him on the street because they thought he was homeless. The police charge him because they think he stole it.

We had to go to court on and off for a year to prove my fathers condition while being harassed by the police. They came to my home and kept asking me all sorts of questions. I found out later by my lawyer that they are not allowed to do that.

The experience has change my perception of the police force. How can you tell which ones are genuine and which ones are not?.

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[User Picture]From: mlknchz
2016-04-29 06:54 pm (UTC)
Had he been a non-cop black man, the police would have shot him...a LOT
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From: sheff_dogs
2016-04-29 07:46 pm (UTC)
I agree. It's not a problem confined to America either. Here in the UK we have just had the results of the new inquest into the deaths of ninety-six Liverpool fans at Hillsborough football (soccer) stadium twenty-seven years ago. For all of that time the South Yorkshire police have insisted that they were not at fault, that the deaths were the result of drunken fans behaviour and protected the officers who made the decisions that lead to the deaths. The cover-up went from the boottom right to the top of the force and persisted for years. There are now calls to dismantle the whole force. I moved to Sheffield in South Yorkshire a few years after Hillsborough and came into contact with the police on a few occasions, most notably when we were burgled. The officers who responded were comletely professional, extremely helpful and kept us informed to the extent that when they eventually caught the guy six months later we were told, then later again after his trial told that he had been sent to prison. Those good officers along with all of their professional colleagues now have a mark against them simply because they worked in South Yorkshire. As you say the good officers need to start being har on their corrupt colleagues, despite the inevitable and necessay culture of loyalty a police force requires.
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From: (Anonymous)
2016-05-01 01:13 pm (UTC)

It's us against them

You nailed it in the last two paragraphs of your posting. As a photojournalist who has worked with police and has been on a couple of ride alongs (try riding in a police car when the officer is responding to a possible robbery in progress and an you realized that you forgot to buckle your seatbelt after taking some pictures of him driving, exciting to say the least). I also covered the State Trooper Academy towards the end of my working on the street. I can tell you that being a police officer from what I observed, is a job where you see the worst of people, the people who they deal with are often hostile towards them and the pressure on the job is incredible. I can see the officers banding together and forming a defensive barrier to protect them from attack from the community just because they were doing their job. At least that seems to be the mindset and unfortunately what the bad apples rely on to get away with murder, both figuratively and real. The police I dealt with were for the most part good people, some were not including one who is I believe now on the sex offenders list. The good officers need support, both with counseling and training. The bad ones need to be weeded out and removed before they can do harm. We as the community need to stop judging by the uniform and instead judge the person behind the uniform and badge. The good cops at the very least deserve this treatment.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-05-01 05:15 pm (UTC)

Re: It's us against them

You said: "The bad ones need to be weeded out and removed before they can do harm. We as the community need to stop judging by the uniform and instead judge the person behind the uniform and badge."

The weeding out needs to be done at the very beginning--in police academies and college law enforcement classes, before an officer gets on the street and injures a fellow officer or innocent citizen. I know from having been in EMS, and even taught a class or so, that you can spot some problems early. In the military, experienced instructors can spot the person who will never have good judgment with a firearm. I'm sure that such instructors exist in police academies, but how much leeway do they have in making decisions? Training organizations must be free to state their experience with a trainee to any police force making an inquiry prior to hiring.

As for "stop judging by the uniform"--that will not happen until a) a police force *stops judging citizens* by color or any of the other group judgments they make, and every citizen in that town knows that they will be treated as an individual. Police have the power to change the perception that the public has, by changing the way *they* judge others. What they're getting back from communities now is what enough men and women in uniform--themselves-- have *done* to communities. Police must recognize that every time they use a racial or religious or cultural slur--every time they react angrily, defensively, arrogantly, they are individually damaging the reputation of their own police force *and all others.*

In addition, in order to be known as individuals, so that people can judge them as individuals, police officers must get out of their cars and mingle with the public, so they can be seen as something other than a uniform driving by. They have to be *known* as individuals, recognizable as individuals, and must interact enough that citizens can make that individual judgment you recommend. Citizens also need to know that if they complain about Officer Green (who clearly does not like or respect anyone who's black, brown, yellow, white, or purple) that the department will pay attention and not remind them that police work is difficult as if that's excuse enough for being a bigot.

The thing for every police officer to ask himself/herself is this: "Is what I am about to do/did something I would think OK if it were done by [whatever age/sex/race/religious group I already think of as criminals]?"

Police are supposed to be trained professionals in handling difficult situations, from emotionally upsetting (like a car wreck) to potentially lethal (like a hostage situation.) They're the "adults". That means they are 100% responsible for managing their own emotions while the situation is ongoing. Other people (EMS personnel, ER nurses and doctors) also deal with dangerous, sometimes life-threatening situations, and face many of the same stresses--and are far less violent and explosive doing so.

I could cite examples from my own experience, but this is not about me--it's about how police can improve community relations, and absolute need to recognize that they created part (not all but part) of the mess they're now faced with. Individually, police officers must take responsibility for their own behavior and recognize the damage that bad behavior does to *all* police. And those who aren't going it must become willing to call out their bad apples, refuse to cover their misdeeds, and take pride in being a police force that does not tolerate crap. Even with the best practices, it will take years to undo the many, many decades in which bigoted, sadistic, careless, etc, police officers corroded the reputation of their forces.

Just as, for many officers, it will take decades of communities recognizing, and respecting, the good apples before it's easy to pass that respect back down. But those in power have to start it--because they have the power.
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-05-03 12:19 am (UTC)
Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Good police officers have got to quit protecting the bad ones.

True words. It's vital for people to recognise stress and bad behaviour, especially in those in positions of power, before it escalates into something more severe (throwing down a person on their own lawn because they wet you is severe enough in any case).

Kudos to the chief for doing the right thing, even if it wasn't recognised for the unjustified assault that it was.
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[User Picture]From: alex_antonin
2016-05-03 04:23 am (UTC)
Ugh. Cops suck. We need to disband all police forces, they're more trouble than they're worth.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-05-03 01:34 pm (UTC)
Can't agree with that: in the absence of all law enforcement, there's still enforcement--from bullying to warfare--and there's no recourse at all. Bad police forces are bad, and need reform, but without any police forces the situation would be worse. Maintaining good police forces is difficult, because any time people have power over others, some of them will abuse it. But removing police entirely means any one--or any group/gang/tribe--is free to abuse power with anyone and nobody can walk down a street without being attacked and robbed if someone stronger/meaner/greedier wants what she's got or just feels like kicking someone around. Better to reform a police force--look at the structural reasons it's going bad (e.g. profiting from arresting people...having a career depend on arrests/convictions is a classical way to ensure that a police force will go wrong and yet it's how many police forces are funded. Very bad idea.) Then root out the individual bad cops, enforce the rules, include community members on supervisory boards, provide better training (specifically aimed at the "soft" side of what police need to know) and better support for traumatized police. I lived for a few years in a small community that did not have any local law enforcement (the county allotted each precinct in the county a constable which meant in practice that the town got about 1/8 of a constable's time, grudgingly. Since the people in that town were the usual mix of personalities and problems, no local police did not mean no local crimes...in fact, since it was known the town had none, criminals in that end of the county congregated there, while the constable (whose salary was not paid by the town) preferred to spend his time finding teenage girls to stop for (sometimes imaginary) traffic violations so he could fondle them. An actual police force, tiny and imperfect as it is, made a change for the better.

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