1967

I was thirteen years old in July of 1967. I could see the glow of the fires eighteen miles away from my bedroom window. Newark, New Jersey was on fire. My own city, Plainfield, would also fall into rioting in the days to come, and Officer John Gleason would die in the fray. In Newark, twenty-six people died, over seven hundred were injured and fifteen hundred were arrested in five days of civil unrest.

The studies that followed the Summer of ’67 concluded that a number of factors contributed to the unrest in New Jersey as well as in almost every major city in the US that year. The police profiled black youths, stopping them and questioning them with and without reasonable suspicion; unemployment was high in the black community; government officials were slow to respond to the needs of the poor and economically disadvantaged; and the police were too far removed from the community that they served. Of course, there were more reasons and individual incidents that sparked the events of that summer, but these are the big ones.

Fast forward to January of 1973. Fresh out of high school and eighteen years old, I entered the law enforcement academy at Daytona Beach Junior College. One of the topics that we addressed in class was a new idea called “Community Policing.” (While Community-Oriented Policing would emerge in the early eighties, the basics for COP were already there ten years earlier.) With CP, the police were supposed to be more friendly, more available, more approachable, and less frightening to the public. Veteran cops thought that it was all high-level bullshit, and said so. But, the change was on, and those who didn’t like it were eventually eliminated from the departments…at least, most of them.

I went on the road on patrol in July of 1973, the visions of Newark and Plainfield nothing more than a distant memory. Treat people fairly, use only enough force to gain compliance, and don’t let the badge get too heavy. Wait for backup. Ask for help when you need it. Follow the rules.

Since that time, I carried a badge of some description for most of forty years. My adult life from high school until now has been spent enforcing the law, training cops and support personnel, or educating both sworn and civilians in criminal justice topics. I am also proud to say that I was never the target of an internal affairs investigation and was never disciplined for misconduct. I was also never hip injured in the line of duty, with the exception of a sprained ankle I got in a foot chase during Spring Break one year. (I caught him, too!)

It has been forty-two years since I first took the oath to uphold the laws and the Constitution, and I am so glad today that I no longer wear a uniform or carry a badge. The world of policing has gone mad. I don’t know why, but I remember my father, himself a part-time cop in New Jersey and later in Florida, lament about the conditions that led up to the riots and burning and death in 1967. I feel the same way today.

I don’t know where we are headed in policing in the near and distant future. There are those in our society and in our communities who are convinced that the police use force as sort of a sport, even keeping score and seeing how many people they can brutalize in a shift. Articles online talk about police not knowing the law, and worse yet, knowing the law and refusing to abide by it. Video is everywhere, with citizens trying to bait officers into some level of what they term as mistreatment. It is out of control.

Remember Officer Gleason, killed in 1967 in Plainfield? It seems that there was a confrontation between some local rioters and looters and some members of the Pagans Motorcycle Gang, definitely “white supremesists” bent on killing blacks, known even today to be a ruthless, violent and murderous bunch. Officer Gleason stepped in – literally – between the groups and convinced the Pagans to leave, which they did. The remaining crowd – the ones that John was protecting – then turned on him. John did fire one shot that wounded a young male, but the crowd continued to attack him with a grocery cart, kicking and punching him until he was near death. They then took his service weapon and shot him with his own gun. Two people were arrested in his murder and convicted.

John Gleason was a member of our church. I was in the choir and sang at his funeral.

John Gleason was killed forty-seven years ago by the people he was trying to protect, and did indeed protect them. Because they just hated cops.

Are we headed back there now? If so, how do we fix it?

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Grand Juries and the State of Ignorance…

They reached a decision, and the quotes from protestors being interviewed on TV, radio and internet are beyond belief.

1) The district attorney decided to take the case to the Grand Jury so that they could have a one-side trial in secret. The fix was in.

2) The district attorney didn’t bother to ask the officer any difficult questions, or take the opportunity to impeach his testimony with vigorous cross examination.

3) The Grand Jury only heard one side, and was not allowed to hear the “other side.”

4) The whole thing was a secret trial designed to clear the officer.

5) The officer should have been arrested and held in jail until the Grand Jury was finished with its deliberations – like most people who are arrested. The officer got special treatment.

There are only a few legal ways to charge someone with a crime. Let’s look at those, keeping in mind that in order to charge with a crime, the government/police must have probable cause to believe the elements of a crime have occurred and that the person to be charged did all the elements of the crime. Probable cause is NOT proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but instead is based on a set of probabilities that the crime occurred and the person charged actually did the things that constitute the crime.

1) An officer with jurisdiction sees the offense occur, identifies the person to be charged, takes him or her into custody, and charges him or her with a crime. In this case, the officer saw the elements, saw the suspect complete the elements, and that formed the basis for probable cause.

2) An officer talks to victims and witnesses, collects physical evidence, and determines that there is enough probable cause to identify and charge the suspect. The officer takes the suspect into custody and charges him or her with a crime. In this case, the statements and evidence in the judgement of the officer provides the level of probable cause needed to make the arrest.

3) An officer talks to victims and witnesses, collects physical evidence, and gathers all of these elements into an affidavit.  The officer takes all of this information to the State Attorney, who looks at it to try to determine if there is enough probable cause to charge with a crime.  If the State Attorney agrees, all of this is taken to a judge, and the judge makes a determination about probable cause.  If the judge determines that there is enough probable cause, he or she issues an arrest warrant, and the suspect is then arrested and charged with a crime.  In this case, it is the State Attorney and the Judge who determines if there is enough probable cause.

4) An event occurs, and the police investigate.  The State Attorney takes the information, statements and evidence, and presents it to a Grand Jury.  The Grand Jury is a group of citizens who are charged with hearing all of the prosecution’s information, hearing from the prosecution’s victims and witnesses, and seeing all of the prosecution’s evidence.  From that process, the Grand Jury decides if the person should be charged with a crime.  If they decide that the person should be charged, they issue an indictment, which is similar to a warrant issued by a judge.  With an indictment in hand, the police make the arrest.  This is the strongest manner that can be used to charge someone with a crime, since the decision to charge is made by twelve citizens rather than police or legal professionals.

After the arrest, the suspect enters the court system, where many things can happen.

It is also interesting to note that in the Constitution – the Fifth Amendment – says, in part, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury…”  So when someone is arrested on a capital crime and held in custody, within a month or two the case is taken before a Grand Jury for consideration of an indictment.  So when someone is charged with a capital crime, the case must go to the Grand Jury.

The people who are demonstrating today don’t seem to understand these legal facts.  And there doesn’t seem to have been any effort – by the government or the media – to explain these facts to the public.  So they are left to their imagination to figure out our complex legal system, especially as it applies to cases involving police and use of force.

Police use of force is another complex legal arena.  Police obviously have the right to protect themselves and others from harm, using force to do so.  What the public doesn’t realize is that under certain circumstances, police can use force, up to and including deadly force, to stop a person who has committed, is committing or is about to commit a violent felony.  Read the applicable state law and court decisions, learn from it.

 

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Ebola…

So we have ISIS terrorists beheading people all over the world, and in my last post, I mentioned the possibility of secondary explosions in addition to terror events. Now, ebola.

Ebola is spreading internationally, and there is little that we can do about it. The guy from Liberia who turned up in Dallas apparently told a coworker that he though he had contracted ebola, and knew that if he remained in Africa, he would die. So he boarded a plane for Dallas.

It is rightfully assumed that anyone with means who thinks that they have been exposed to ebola would seek treatment in the United States. Look at the stats – thousands are dying in Africa, and the few that have been flown back here for treatment are alive. So, where would you go?

The problem is that people with the ebola virus will come in contact with public safety personnel sometime in their travels, and the possibility of a sick traveler transferring the disease to a compassionate public service worker – police, EMS, TSA, or others – is very high.

So educate yourselves in the signs and symptoms. Be careful when coming in contact with anyone. And it’s okay to be a little afraid.

It’s 1983 all over again. AIDS…

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Local Response to Terror

We learned this week that ISIS put out the word to those members and sympathizers who were embedded in other countries – particularly “western” countries – should carry out “lone wolf” attacks on non-Islamic people. The purpose of such attacks would be to show the world the extent of its reach and power. The authorities in Australia took these warnings seriously, and made some arrests of ISIS members who were plotting to carry out public beheadings on random citizens. (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/18/australia-terror-raid-prompted-by-isis-plans-for-public-killing-pm-says/)

Fox News reported that there was a similar call to action for the United States. (http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/17/law-enforcement-bulletin-warned-isis-urging-jihad-attacks-on-us-soil/) Then it occurred to me that in my time on the streets, one call to which I have never had to respond…a random beheading of a random citizen.

How would you handle such a call? Is there something in P&P that would help? Sure, it would be a homicide call, complete with crime scene, evidence, witnesses – but what else?

Two words. Secondary Attack.

Right after 9/11, police nationally were trained and cautioned to be aware of secondary attacks after a terror event. Think of this scenario – you respond to this beheading incident, with hundreds of people around and a dozen or more emergency responders, and an IED goes off, taking out all the responders and some of the bystanders, but injuring most. Are you and your agencies, and your partner agencies, ready for that to happen? How do you respond to that?

I’m not sure how it will turn out, but this is something that we need to consider. How would it play out in YOUR city?

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As 9/11/14 Ends…

Well, another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against the United States is just about over. With all that is happening in the world, I was fortunately wrong in predicting that this was the year that another anniversary terror attack would happen today. We made it through another one.

But how? Are we just lucky that no one pulled off an attack today? I think not.

We have law enforcement officers on local, state and federal levels, as well as our international partners, who have surely prevented attacks planned for this day. We will never know about it, since all of this stuff is done under the radar. But luck isn’t what happened. International cooperation with all levels of law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the hard work of a multitude of dedicated individuals is what kept us safe today.

Thank you to those faceless, nameless heroes. We may not say it enough, but we appreciate it.

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What Ray Rice Means To You…

Even if you are not a football fan, you probably know what happened today to former Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice. A star in the NFL, Rice was fired from his team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. His career as a multimillionaire athlete is effectively over.

Ray and his then-fiance Janay Palmer were in an elevator in Atlantic City in February when Rice struck Palmer in the face, knocking her unconscious. When the elevator stopped, he is shown on video dragging her unconscious out into the hallway. Supposedly, the Ravens leadership and the NFL only had access to the video of Rice dragging her out of the elevator. They suspended Rice for two games at the beginning of the season for violating policy against domestic violence. At the time, Rice was arrested, but participated in a pretrial diversion program that would drop the charges. Rice and Palmer have since married.

Today, a video of what happened IN the elevator was released by TMZ Network. The video shows Rice hitting Palmer in the face, almost instantly knocking her out. When the Raven leadership and the NFL saw the video, they took the action today to separate him from his career.

So what does that mean to you as a sworn officer? The discussion today on the talk shows and in the media has centered around aggressive personalities playing football, arguments getting out of hand, the NFL’s response to domestic violence, and society’s concepts regarding the treatment of women. So this incident brings up two important questions for sworn officers and civilian employees alike.

Domestic violence has cost Ray Rice a career doing the only thing he knows how to do. Our business is stressful, full of violence on the street on both sides of the badge. We work in an environment that is potentially more violent than football or hockey, then turn it off and go home at the end of the day. If you don’t turn it off, what would a Ray Rice-like incident cost you? Your career? Your livelihood? Your life?

And, what is your community’s posture toward domestic violence? The NFL community is being accused of not caring much about domestic violence due to its initial response to this event. What happens when you go to a domestic violence call? Are you interested in helping, or – let’s be honest here – is it just another BS call that takes up time and resources and should have never happened in the first place? Your attitude, your agency’s attitude, and your community’s attitude all dictate how you handle that call for service.

So it’s time for some self-assessment when it comes to domestic violence. Ask yourself how you are perceived by those close to you – can you turn it off when you get home for the day? Can you put on your combat face and take it off at will? If not, you need to make changes. Now. Do you see domestic violence as a real issue with real problems needing real solutions? I hope so.

Something to think about. Most of us cannot survive the aftermath of a domestic violence event. Those who mean the most to us can certainly not survive.

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Ferguson, MO. What that means to us…

Take a look at this three minute video on the recent problems in Missouri, the DOJ investigations, and what that means to us as police officers and to our agencies.

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Accountability

The media (and the federal government) are now screaming for “more accountability” for police actions.  So what does that mean?  (USA Today, 8-25-14)

With the coverage of the situation in Missouri, local police have been characterized as untrained racist thugs who are given high grade weapons to use on anyone and anything they please.  The federal program that allows the transfer of outdated or surplus military equipment to police agencies is under review by the Obama administration.  But let’s look at a little history.

in the seventies, police agencies hired returning Vietnam vets and put them on the streets.  They had lots of critical skills, and could handle most anything the community could present.  What they lacked was equipment.  Many purchased their own equipment, including weapons, ballistic vests, and other essential safety gear.  Police officers in those days were not well trained, not necessarily motivated, and possibly doing the job for the wrong reasons.  Racism was common, and many Florida police agencies (my experience at the time) had few black officers, even fewer Latino officers, and almost no female officers.

Then came the vehicles.  With SWAT teams popping up, the need to get close to harm’s way to rescue downed officers and civilians, and to get closer to the bad guys, became important.  (A few years ago, Toronto police dealt with a mentally ill person for hours before approaching him with the protection of an armored vehicle, then used a Taser through one of the gun ports to take him down, disarm him, and take him for mental health treatment.)  The vehicles that are employed in these situations are large and expensive, and of course similar to the vehicles used by the military.  It seems that when the military gets done with them, the police could put them to good use.

If we fast forward to today, the complaint is that police officers can do whatever they want, including trampling on the Constitution, misbehaving and even breaking the law, without suffering any consequence.  The public perception is changing into one where officers are seen as bullies who use their power to abuse the citizens.  But think about this for a moment…

  1. Police can rarely do anything without a cell phone video or nine recording the incident.  It is now rare to have a complaint of misconduct without an accompanying video.
  2. Police officers are seen doing things that citizens don’t like, including speeding in patrol cars without an emergency; getting free coffee at the convenience store; parking patrol cars in fire lanes and other prohibited spaces; shopping at retail stores on duty; and more.
  3. Anything that an officer or former officer does that gets him or her in trouble is reported as, “(former) officer arrested and charged with …”  A recent local article in the news showed a “retired officer” arrested on child pornography charges; it turns out that the guy was retired at age 66, did have child pornography, but was an officer for a couple of years when he was in his thirties.  But the public sees it as an officer who is fresh from a thirty-year career and just retired, taking up the vocation of dirty old man.
  4. Social media has many more stories of bad cops doing bad things than good cops doing good things.
  5. Public misinterpretations of police actions lead to stories of bad cops, bully cops or overzealous cops when they are just doing their jobs and trying to keep from being hurt or killed.  A middle-aged woman related a story to me that started out, “I got stopped and the cop treated me like a bank robber…”  What really happened is that she had no tail lights visible on her car, and a state trooper pulled her over on the interstate.  The trooper approached the passenger side, asked for her paperwork, and while doing so stood outside the line of fire as he was trained.  It was night time, the road was busy, and the trooper did those things meant to ensure his safety.  The woman got a written warning from the trooper, but she was still upset that he approached in the way that he did.  In her mind, the trooper was a bully, throwing around his badge.

So what can we do about this?  The Missouri case is one that we can continue to watch and take some cues on what to do.  In that case, the agency administration did not release any information to the public, including the officer’s name, until after the rioting started.  The public wants to know, and experience has shown that if they don’t get any information, they will simply make it up.  We all know that within the first few hours after the shooting, the agency had a general idea of what happened, including the fact that the officer suffered severe facial injuries and was transported to the hospital for treatment.  This was not released to the public, and even now is not widely known.  Not being “up front” with the people is a bad idea, whether the information is good news or bad news.  The news conference that starts out with, “this is what we know so far…” is a great idea.

Officer should watch what they do with an eye towards public perception.  A speeding patrol car with no apparent reason is a bad idea.  Stopping at the grocery store or Wal-Mart on duty in uniform is a bad idea.  Being loud and obnoxious in the restaurant is a bad idea.  Cussing and swearing in public is a bad idea.  The list goes on.  In short, don’t give them anything to complain about.

Agencies should develop a relationship with the news media and the public through traditional media and social media that spotlights that good that their agency and officers do every day.  Sounds simple, not so much though.  (If the social media side is a little scary, find a fifteen-year-old and hire him or her to take care of the agency social media profile…!!!)

Finally, understand that these things happen, they come in cycles, and this too shall pass, and we will be better for it.

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Welcome

This blog is part of CJTraining.com, which is a news and training site for criminal justice professionals all over the U.S. And the world.  The entries and comments found here are topical to what is happening in policing and corrections, and categorized to make it easier to find what you need.

In my travels around the world working with police officers, supervisors, leadership and others in all kinds of governments and agencies, one thing I have found to be true everywhere…a cop is a cop, regardless.  We are all interested in getting the bad guy and protecting the weak – yea, that sounds a little pompous, but it is true.  Justice is one thing, but injustice is not to be tolerated anywhere.

Another observation is that we are all interested in what we do and how we do it in our own jurisdictions, legal systems and cultures.  I had an online student in Hong Kong just before the transfer to China in 1998…we asked him what the number one police issue was in his city.  His response – domestic violence.  Who would have guessed that? People are people…

So take a look at what we have to offer, and also take a look at what else is available in CJTraining.com.

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