By Richard Bleil
Several years ago, I worked with a police department, side by side with the men and women of law enforcement. Around that time, there was unrest in the country, set off by several claims of police brutality. These claims have since, to a large part anyway, subsided, but they are not gone.
It is estimated that there are over three quarters of a million police officers in the country. The simple fact is that, in any organization of this side, there will be people that are bad. Even among the police. But, there are probably no other organizations that are so self-regulating as law enforcement. Yes, oversight is appropriate, but their own internal oversight should not be forgotten.
For example, whenever there was a police involved shooting in our department, the investigation was always handed over to another external police group (often federal). The people in this second department knew the officers involved as they are all stationed in the area, but if the investigation was improperly done, or conclusions covered up, this second department has nothing to gain and everything to lose should word of impropriety get out. As such, I always trusted the results of the second group.
In one of these investigations, the individual that was shot (and he did die) was the son of the individual who called in the police. This was an adult, with a history of substance abuse and anger issues especially when under the influence and the parent had asked him to leave to no avail. When the police arrived at the apartment, the parent opened the door. The individual immediately charged the police officer, lifting a weapon of some form. The apartment was relatively dark, and the officer had moments to react. Although there are multiple non-lethal options available, many are not as reliable as desired. For example, the “taser” (which shocks the individual causing loss of muscle control) is only effective about 1/3 of the time. As such, officers are trained to draw their service pistol when they are alone and must act rapidly in self defense.
When interviewed by the outside investigators (it was an officer involved shooting), the parent corroborated that the son did indeed charge the officer with a weapon raised (it was a club-like weapon), which eventually lead to a conclusion of “justified police shooting”. However, speaking with the media, the parent said that there was no reason for the shooting, and that the individual was not charging.
There are a couple of possibilities for this discrepency. Either they are responding in grief, or they did not want to besmirch their son’s name. How do we know which story is true? The photographic and forensic evidence did, indeed, support the police officer’s story.
In Chicago, the story of a police shooting set of weeks of demonstrations and national outrage. Several of my friends were outraged that I didn’t immediately call for the condemnation of the officer, actions that were later exonerated. They asked me how I could be so blind, but the reality is that the stories that were coming out were of the friends and family of the individual that was shot. The part of the story that was consistent from the witnesses was that the two were struggling in the back of the police cruiser, but these witnesses included the individual that was also involved in the break-in that was the cause of the call, several people who were passing by but admitted they did not actually see what had happened and family that was not even on the scene. So how could I pass judgment without waiting for the findings from the investigators?
At a later date, an individual already in police custody died on transport to jail. The claim was that (and there were findings to support this particular claim) the police had stopped the van and beaten the individual that died. The resulting riots caused fires and destruction of parts of the neighborhood. Later, people would argue that the only reason the incident was investigated was because of the demonstrations, but this cannot be the case. The primary piece of evidence was video from a security camera that was taken from a convenience store, but this store was burned down during the riots. If the store was burned down, how could the police have obtained the security video unless the investigation had already begun?
Yes, there are bad police officers. Yes, some should, and do, end up standing trial for their actions and face appropriate sentences if found guilty. However, it does not surprise me that most of these incidents result in exoneration of the police officer. The knee-jerk reactions are based on emotion and fear, rather than evidence and logic. In the end, the actions of most police officers, while unfortunate when it results in a shooting, is necessary.
These complaints have lead several people I know to call for, essentially, the abolition of the police, but where would this leave us? There are really only two options. Either the country would fall into lawlessness, or become a military state like North Korea. Neither option is, in my humble opinion, a good one.
The reality is that the police have a very difficult job, and do the best they can. They are not as popular, say, as firefighters, but firefighters don’t have to enforce laws resulting in incarceration, investigations and tickets. As such, it’s easier to be a fan of the firefighters. Let’s face it, none of us have ever been pulled over by a firefighter, and it’s always easier to blame the police that pulls us over than ourselves for whatever the reason is that we were pulled over. I for one truly appreciate law enforcement, and until we find a better option, support them and their actions.