Skip navigation

I enrolled in the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) in Shawnee, KS.  Relations have not been pleasant between the African-American community and the police (especially, white police officers) so I enrolled to get an inside perspective or view. I wanted to entered their space or go to their turf. I have completed three (3) weeks at the academy. This is what I have learned thus far:

(1) These men and women doing the presentations, many of whom are police officers, are human beings; and they appear to be genuine and normal. Some of the guys are goofy (my kids charge me with being goofy too).

(2) I am clearly outnumbered in two ways.  Not only am I the only African-American in the class but most of the students are pro-police.  Their positive bias clearly shows; and my cynical bias clearly shows.  However, one of the officers, after class told me, that most whites are pro-police but they cannot tell you why or they have not been very thoughtful about it.  This same officer told me that he is glad I am in the class and that I am asking the difficult questions.  For example, this same officer fields and investigates complaints against officers. I asked him, “how can you be objective when you are biased (he told us that he thinks their police department is really good)?”  His response, “I am almost, always correct or objective.”  I literally laughed out loud at that response! Another classmate asked, “are there more ‘checks and balances’?” I was happy to hear that this officer that evaluates complaints does have additional ‘checks and balances.’ This same officer that evaluates complaints, that can range from an officer being rude, not completing a report, etc., told me after class that he has grown to be a bit more compassionate.  I told him, in turn, that I am cynical because of the ugly history of white police officers and the black community.  He understands; in fact, he recognizes that we, as a nation, have not dealt adequately with the aftermath of slavery. He also admitted that his worldview was at one time very narrow because he lived in a white bubble. I was happy to hear that he began reading about the history of America; and his personal awakening that relationally, blacks and whites did not get off on the right foot, occurred when he was 40 years of age (he is now 52 years old).

(3) These men and women are witnesses to some horrific crime scenes. On the first night, the chief told us that earlier that day some of his officers had found a 3-week old decomposed body. At the break, I asked, “after seeing such things on a routine basis, do your folks get counseling?” He said, “it is mandatory.” And their psychologist decides if the officer is ready or not to return to active duty.

(4) This particular police department has been doing training on race and biased based policing since 2007 (seems to me that it should have started sooner?). And race and biased based policing training is required annually. Again, I am the only African-American in the class so it was a bit satisfying for this white presenter to share with the class some of the foolishness they have to put up with. For instance, the radio dispatcher received a call one night that “two African-American men, who did not live in the area, were walking in the neighborhood.” Some of my classmates thought that was absurd! I said “yes” to myself.

(5) The reason why one may see more of a police presence in a geographical area is because criminal analytics and analysis has shown that these are high crime areas – speeding, burglaries, etc.

(6) There seems to a correlation between holidays that occur on the weekend and alcohol usage and the occurrence of more crimes. Domestic issues typically occur at higher rates around the Thanksgiving Holiday. An officer said he wished that most holidays occurred on Wednesdays and not the weekend.

(7) Generally speaking, the Shawnee Police Department enjoys the benefit of cooperating witnesses.  One officer lamented the fact that their neighbors, the Wyandotte Police Department, does not enjoy such a luxury.

(8) Police officers’ loyalty and camaraderie to each other is quite obvious.  Police officers, from other states, will travel to attend the funerals of slain police officers or officers who die in the line of duty.  And in many instances, those attending do not know the deceased officer on a personal basis.

(9) Force, used by the officer, must be “reasonable”.  The landmark case Graham v Connor (1985) established the rule of ‘reasonableness.’

(10) Police officers can use deadly force to stop a threatening action. They have been trained to aim at the largest mass of the human body – the chest. And they have been trained to aim for the head too (think Michael Brown).  I asked, “why not go for the leg to disable the person?” First, the audience (mostly white) chimed in, and grumbled a bit about this suggestion. Second, another officer said if a bullet hits a certain artery in the leg, a person can bleed to death.  Another officer said, “this is not TV.” I said to the presenting officer (after class), aiming for the chest will likely kill a person and he will never have a chance to change or turn his or her life around.” Oh well.

(11) A police officer cited some of the unintended consequences of wearing body cameras.  One example he gave was finding a unconscious naked woman in a bathtub; that footage will be recorded for perpetuity.  So, I asked about his views on conceal and carry. While he agrees with the right to bear arms (Amendment 2), he also laments the unintended consequences associated with conceal and carry.

(12) These guys and gals must make split second decisions.  For example, one officer gave this illustration (based on an actual case in Arizona): imagine a man with a baby hoisted over his head.  He charges a police officer while threatening to throw the baby to the ground. Should the officer shoot the man or should the officer use deadly force?

(13) Several of the presenters are quite negative toward the media which regularly reports a “white police officer shooting an unarmed man.” (Think Tulsa. I know this was on the presenter’s mind.) One officer clearly ‘tipped his hand’ and illustrated his negative bias of the media.  “The media is all about ratings,” one student said out loud. After class, this same officer admitted to me that there are certainly legitimate cases where officers do get it really wrong.  I brought up Eric Garner and Rodney King as examples.  I said to him, “I know sensationalism is a driver for the media; however,  I wish you had said that during your presentation.”

Many scenarios were role played out at Class #3 around when deadly force should be used or not used. For example, what if a distraught husband comes out of a house with a hand gun pointed to his head while charging a police officer, should the officer use deadly force and stop the threat? If a police officer is being choked from behind, should the officer use deadly force? After these role plays, I raised my hand and said, “my respect for you guys has increased.” For about deadly force, see www.policefoundation.org/general-resources/use-of-force-infographic/.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: