Author: Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.
I regularly watch for law enforcement news to guide my column topics. There is never a shortage of material, but this recent set of headlines provided a generous buffet of possibilities. I couldn’t choose the craziest reality, so I present them in no particular order. Maybe readers can rank them in the comment section.
1. Charlottesville demonstrators criticize police response
Chants of “Cops and Klan go hand in hand!” and “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here!” rang out at police officers wearing protective equipment as they monitored protests on the anniversary of the Charlottesville white nationalist gathering of one year ago. Two police officers died in a helicopter crash associated with policing last year’s event, and one person died after a car ploughed into a crowd.
Memories seem to be short among this year’s police critics after last year’s post-Charlotte headline: Police in Charlottesville criticized for slow response to violent demonstrations. Is it just me, or can some people never be pleased?
2. New Jersey officers suspended for doing “nothing” as man jumps, stomps on police car
Speaking of can’t win for losing, a rookie cop in Newark and his backup officer were suspended after a video showing a teenager jumping on the rookie’s patrol car while the officer stayed inside his vehicle went viral. The backup officer failed, in the boss’ judgment, to act quickly enough to subdue the vandal.
While I am reluctant to Monday morning quarterback a fellow chief, I still must agree with the safe approach the trapped rookie took to the situation. Is there anything more dangerous than being in an awkward position (as in unfolding from a patrol car’s driver’s seat) to be immediately confronted with a person on higher ground whose sole purpose might be to attack you at the first available moment? And don’t be fooled by that innocent sounding word “teenager.” This 18-year-old could be in Marine basic training instead of dancing on a police car, so let’s just call him a man.
As for the backup officer, we know that an arrest was accomplished, so that should have been a mark in the “win” column. The officers made decisions based on their training, discretion and the circumstances. I’ll grant they may have been wrong, but I’m not seeing it. They traded this headline for the one that could have been “Teen injured by police after minor vandalism complaint,” or “Boy knocked off patrol car by Taser-wielding cops.”
After headlines praising restraint and de-escalation, we now have this official complaint that not enough force was used fast enough. Oh, and by the way, do we scale our discipline by whether the video goes viral or not?
3. The Chicago Police Department is under fire for using “bait trucks”
A video surfaced showing department officers helping the Norfolk Southern Police in an operation that used “bait trucks” filled with goods left to attract potential thieves.
Speaking of viral videos, after yet another murderous week in Chicago, the police are being hammered by activists for proactively catching criminals. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped charges on a deaf man after an activist showed a video of criminals breaking into the bait truck and being arrested.
While we don’t know exactly why the charges were dropped, it is reported that the burglar was just breaking in to find food. Perhaps it is the old ethical question of a poor man stealing bread to feed his family, even if the railroad police reported that the suspect “cut open the safety seal with box cutters, broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside.”
4. Ala. LEO charged with murder in OIS after being cleared by PD
Police officers are frequently criticized for abusing their discretion, but prosecutors seldom get the same scrutiny. In Huntsville, Alabama, an officer responded to a suicidal man with a gun who refused to drop the weapon and was shot. The officer’s chief made a courageous statement of support. “Officer Darby was called upon to make split second decisions in a nightmare scenario, the likes of which most people will never experience,” McMurray said. “His training allowed him and his fellow officer to survive as he rushed bravely, without hesitation, into one of the most volatile and unpredictable situations a police officer is called upon to face.”
The District Attorney, however, was “gravely concerned,” and the deceased’s family’s attorney, not surprisingly, issued a statement saying how pleased the family was with the charges, adding that there was a “growing concern about the mistreatment of the mentally ill by law enforcement.”
How this case went from closed and cleared to a murder charge will be one to watch. Hopefully a jury will render a sensible verdict.
These aren’t the most common-sense defying stories out there, but I have limited space – both in my column and in my head – to cover it all. I’m looking forward to the comments!