Tag Archives: police unions

Police Union Actions Imperil Public Sector Unions

I wrote a post on the subject of police union conduct and public relations last July, and it seems to be an appropriate time now to link back to it.  There was also a post on police accountability.

I’ll repeat for those who haven’t read those posts that I am a former public sector union member and former office holder in a public sector union.  I am not an opponent of public sector unions, and I am not fond of those who pile on the criticism when there’s bad publicity.  However, I am concerned that police union leaders are treading a fine line, which if crossed too often or too far will cause more harm to their associations than good.

We now have two more unfortunate examples of union leaders who are jeopardizing the effectiveness of their organizations:

(1) Philadelphia, PA — police union president calls members of Black Lives Matter a “rabid pack of animals,” after previously asserting a police officer’s Fatherland tattoo with an eagle was just a picture of a bird.

(2) Cleveland, OH — the police union doesn’t want to hold the flag because Cleveland Browns’ management supported players’ protest.

Why do these actions and announcements imperil public sector unions? Let me count the ways:

(1) There are those who don’t support public sector unions and these people would be ever so pleased to remove your capacity to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions.  Police and Firefighters have been lucky thus far that many anti-union pieces of legislation have carved out exceptions for first responders — but make no mistake, if the criticism gets too vehement and too prolonged those exceptions will be more difficult to maintain.

(2) One of the most common arguments against public sector unions is that they “protect bad apples.”  This contention has been widely employed against teachers and other public sector employees.  By focusing on protecting individuals who have behaved badly instead of on the provisions of the contract the union leadership gives credence to these voices.  A pro-tip might be: If someone is about to hit you don’t hand them a bat.  There are times you might have to say, “We will defend the rights of Officer X, and help him present the best possible defense.”  Unspoken in this context is “we’ll help him present a defense if he can dream one up.” The less the personnel issue is “personalized” the more likely a positive outcome in the long run.

(3) Focus on what’s important.  Every union needs to focus on wages, hours, and working conditions.  The more the focus is extended into politics, social issues, religious controversies and other realms the less effective the union can be in improving those three basic elements.  Getting involved in local (or national) political controversies, such as the one in Cleveland, creates distractions and distractions create eventual problems at the bargaining table.

(4) Don’t forget you do work for the public.  That would be all the public, even the ones who don’t like or trust you. I once had a prolonged dialog with a person who offered an initial disparagement of public sector unions with a common generalization about “they are in it for themselves and not the public.”  My admission that I was a former public sector union member who agreed with some of the criticism and yet could provide a rationale for some rules and contract provisions was met with “you’re different.”  The more members of the general public can be convinced that “we” are mostly “different” and do not fit the convenient generalizations parroted by opponents the better.  However, taking sides isn’t helpful.

Another point should be emphasized.  No one would dream of allowing a nurse to refuse to treat a person because of the patient’s nation of origin.  That would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of the patient’s rights.  No one wants a teacher to refuse to assist a student who is a member of an ethnic minority, that too would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights.  No one wants a county clerk to register only members of one political party — that would be unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights. No one could imagine a firefighter refusing to rescue a person because the individual was a member of a particular religious faith.   So, how is it not unconstitutional and a deprivation of rights to refuse service to a group because members of that organization, team, or party hold views not in accordance with your own?

(5)  Don’t let management off the hook.  There are, in any organization of any size, some individuals who cannot or will not perform up to expectations and standards.  The reason that some “bad apples” are in the barrel is that someone hired them and put them there.  And, that someone isn’t the union.  A shop steward’s or union rep’s job is made much easier when management is encouraged to maintain or increase its hiring and performance standards.  Speaking of performance standards, a union representative’s life is smoother when those standards are mutually agreed upon after thorough discussions concerning the most appropriate elements to incorporate into the standards and practices, and how performance is to be measured.  For example, if a person’s performance involving interaction with the public is jeopardized by personal tattoos which seem to align that individual with Neo-Nazi or other white racist elements  then that’s something the union and the management need to discuss.  A standard should be agreed upon and mutually enforced.  To do otherwise is to invite all the criticism upon the union and its representatives and let the management off the hook.

Perhaps it’s time for a gentle reminder that to be elected to union leadership means not only do you represent your union members to the management, but that you represent your union to the public?

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Filed under football, labor, Politics, public safety, racism

Unsolicited Advice for a Police Union

Rockwell cops I write this from the perspective of a former public sector union member and officer. I write this without rancor for other public section union members and their officials, but I write this because there is a difficult line to walk between protecting the interests of the membership and drawing lines between the members and the communities they serve.  Once those lines are drawn they are very difficult to erase.

There is always a temptation on the union side of the ledger to focus  on protecting the individual member from disciplinary actions, from demotions, involuntary transfers, dismissals, or refusals to re-employ.  That’s part of the job.  However, some disciplinary actions are both appropriate to the situation and often inevitable. Therefore, the focus of the union representatives is more productive in the long run if the philosophy is to protect the due process rights of the member, and the provisions of the master contract.  Put ever so much more bluntly, there are times when it’s necessary to tell a member, “I’m here to help you offer the best defense you can, if you can dream one up.”  

What is not helpful is to operate on the assumption that every member (or non-member in some instances) is worthy of full throated public support.  Nor is it helpful to assume that criticism of one, or a few, is necessarily criticism and vilification for all.    Yet, that seems to be the standard operation in a few high profile union/community examples.

“The St Louis Police Officers Association claimed that officers found the actions of (St. Louis Rams) Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook, Chris Givens and Tre Mason to be “tasteless, offensive and inflammatory”, and demanded that they be disciplined.

Five of the players emerged for their game against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday with their hands aloft, a gesture used by protesters who claim that Brown was surrendering when he was shot dead by officer Darren Wilson on 9 August. Last week a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.” [Guardian] December 1, 2014

Wouldn’t it be nice if ALL police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, aviation employees, letter carriers, and state and municipal employees were respected for the countless hours of service they provide?  If everyone understood that first responder vocations are of paramount importance? If everyone understood that teaching and nursing are high stress occupations with long hours and little overtime?  However, respect doesn’t necessarily indicate adoration, reverence, and exaltation.   Further, demanding veneration means there will be higher standards applied to the members of the organization.  The old line applies: If you want to be respected do your job; if you want to be worshipped you have to do your job perfectly.

Mix a bit of racial tension into this toxic stew and there’s a recipe for unhelpful recrimination.  

“Pat Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, blasted de Blasio for his inflammatory remarks, which followed Wednesday’s decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict cop Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“What police officers felt yesterday after that press conference was that they were thrown under the bus,” Lynch said.

De Blasio had called the Garner case “profoundly personal for me,” saying that because of “the dangers [Dante] may face, we’ve had to literally train him . . . in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” [NYPost] December 4, 2015

That a father would have The Talk with his son about interactions with police officers is common in the African American community.  I have yet to meet an African American who hasn’t been followed in a department store at least once, or hasn’t had The Talk with a son, grandson, or nephew.  Yes, The Talk implies a negative perception of the police, but an essential part of The Talk is to show respect for the officer and the directions given.  No one is getting tossed under the wheels of any imaginary bus – this is simply generational wisdom passed along regarding how to cope with some people in authority.  There are also  Talks about how to cope with cranky teachers, or how to behave in a department store.  These same talks are replicated in the white community, although without the sense of urgency and fear.  “Respect your teachers, respect police officers, keep you nose clean and mind your manners.”  Aren’t those things what we want all kids to do?

When the dust settles, let it settle. The outcome of mediation, arbitration, or litigation may not be the desired outcome for the union, but once it’s done it should probably “stay done.”  Such as in the case of the Eric Garner settlement in New York:

“Sergeants Benevolent Association head Ed Mullins, meanwhile, had a different take. In an interview with the NY Post (who else?), Mullins described the settlement as “obscene” and “shameful,” asking the tabloid’s readers, “Where is the justice for New York taxpayers? Where is the consistency in the civil system? In my view, the city has chosen to abandon its fiscal responsibility to all of its citizens and genuflect to the select few who curry favor with the city government.” [Translation: AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON AL SHARPTON.] [Also: AL SHARPTON.]

“Mr. Garner’s family should not be rewarded simply because he repeatedly chose to break the law and resist arrest,” Mullins concluded. (Police claim Garner had been selling loose cigarettes outside a Staten Island deli when officers approached him.)” [Gothamist]  July 14, 2015

Or, in the case of Tamir Rice’s family in Cleveland:

“The head of the Cleveland rank-and-file police union says the family of 12-year-old Tamir Rice should use money from a $6 million settlement to educate children about the use of look-alike firearms.

Steve Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association association, was criticized on a national scale for statements he made to the media in the weeks and months after two officers in his union were involved in Tamir’s death.” [Cleveland PDealer] April 25, 2016

When enough has been said, enough has been said.  Until it happens again —

“Four off-duty Minneapolis police officers working the Minnesota Lynx game at Target Center on Saturday night walked off the job after the players held a news conference denouncing racial profiling, then wore Black Lives Matter pregame warm-up jerseys.  Lynx players did not wear T-shirts supporting the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio.

“The Lynx organization was made aware about the concerns of the off duty Minneapolis police officers,” the team said in a statement. “While our players message mourned the loss of life due to last week’s shootings, we respect the right of those individual officers to express their own beliefs in their own way. … We continue to urge a constructive discussion about the issues raised by these tragedies.” [MSTrib]

[…]

“Kroll (Minneapolis Police Federation) criticized Lynx players, citing the “false narratives” in the past two years in which some allegations of police misconduct in the killing of black people were refuted. “Rushing to judgment  Police sign up for off-duty jobs to work Lynx games, Kroll said. “They can start or stop a job whenever they want,” he said. “They are working on an independent contract.”

Asked about a report that seven or eight officers had walked off the job, Kroll said, “They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.” [MSTrib]

Here we go again.  Lt. Bob Kroll commends the officers for walking off, and then slathers on a bit of misogyny about the “pathetic draw.”  Putting distance between your union and your community doesn’t serve most positive purposes – in terms of  issues both philosophical and practical.

On a philosophical level, if we assume  there is already a divide between the African American community and the police – how does walking away from a potential opportunity for “constructive discussion” help anyone? What of, “I protect and defend your rights, including freedom of speech, until you say something I find offensive?” From a practical standpoint, the Lynx organization already hires private security; does it help other police officers trying to earn  extra pay if they are perceived as potential ‘walk outs’ should they be in any way offended by players’ statements?   The police chief tried to tamp down the rhetoric:

“Walking off the job and defaulting on their contractual obligation to provide a service to the Lynx does not conform to the expectations held by the public for the uniform these officers wear,” she said. “While I do not condone the actions of the officers, I realize how every member of law enforcement throughout this country, including myself, is feeling right now.” [MSTrib]

Here’s a thought: When the employer is trying to smooth the waters for the union, there’s a possible need to curtail wave making actions.  There are already calls for the privatization of police  [HuffPo] popular in some libertarian quarters, and touted as a ‘solution’ to police/community relations.  If your opponent wants to make a cudgel, refrain from handing him a tree branch.   Or a tree trunk, as in Denver:

“It’s only natural that some police departments reassess how they handle protests after the terrible shootings in Dallas last week that left five officers dead. But the demand by the Denver police union in the wake of the tragedy that local cops wear riot gear during protests was truculent and out of line.

The union has been pushing for the use of riot gear at protests for two years, ever since demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., spread across the country. But the tone adopted by Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association, in a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock and police Chief Robert White, was rude and combative, while some of its factual content was questionable.

Basically, Rogers warned those two officials that if any officer not wearing riot gear is injured during a protest, the union will attempt to hold them personally liable, citing federal court decisions that “officials can be liable for the acts of third parties where those officials ‘created the danger’ that caused the harm.” Presumably he means the union will sue the mayor and chief in an effort to blame them.” [DenverPost]

There’s also something to be said for an employer who is trying to maintain the public image of police as public servants and not an armed militia out to suppress citizens, some of whom are already reluctant to give the police the benefit of the doubt.

Highly publicized emotional comments in highly volatile times, too often made from intransigent positions predicated on “us vs. them,” may garner approval from some quarters but approbation from others.   It’s best to function from the position that there are those who will always be in support no matter what the issue; however, it’s the increasing level of approbation which ought to be of primary concern.  Listening to supporters is always comforting; listening to the adversaries is always necessary.  On a more tangible level one thing the police unions would do well to avoid is the perception (now conveniently applied to public school teachers) that the union will protect the “bad apples.”

The recent devolution of respect for the teaching profession includes the argument that “schools are bad, they are bad because of bad teachers, and unions are bad because they protect those bad teachers.”  That none of this makes any sense isn’t the point. We certainly don’t need for some elements in the political spectrum to start arguing that “policing is bad, it’s bad because of bad officers, and the unions are bad because they protect those bad officers.”  Once this contamination spreads it’s more difficult to resist the privatization proponents.

If the perspective is truly to defend the due process rights of police officers, and to protect the provisions of the master contracts, then it’s much easier to defuse confrontations.  Due process and contractual elements aren’t personal.  Personalizing them adds emotion, emotion reduces discourse, and reduced discourse increases confrontations.  Negotiations are rarely improved by adding confrontation into the milieu. There is, indeed, a time for more collaboration and less conflict.

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Filed under civil liberties, conservatism, labor, Politics, privatization, public employees, racism, unions

Police Accountability: No one model and no single system

Crime Scene Tape

There was a meeting in Reno, NV between members of the community, representatives of Black Lives Matter, and law enforcement officers. That’s good. [RGJ]  It’s a start. Or, to put it another way it’s another step on a path forward which has the tortuous feel of a mountain trail with numerous cut backs.  We might be able to more fully address the issues related to policing our communities if we’d take some additional topics into consideration.

One of the most obvious topics is the use of force, in perhaps too many cases deadly force, and how police officers may be held accountable in controversial situations.  The importance of Tennessee v. Garner can’t be overestimated, and further, administrative and legal cases do seem to have an effect on policing policies and practices. [Hudson] However, public perception is also related to faith in the system, and the system is fragmented.

In Nevada, for example, how a citizen can report instances of police misconduct varies with each jurisdiction, and sometimes within a single metropolitan area.  Reporting a favorable comment about policing is very easy in Reno.  There’s a website form for that.  Reporting an instance of possible police misconduct isn’t as simple.  Reno, Washoe County, and Carson City each have their own process and requirements for filing an allegation of misconduct. [ACLU]  There are four ways to file a complaint in Reno, three ways in Washoe County, and only one way (in person) in Carson City.   The report information goes to the Internal Affairs Office in Reno, passes to the Sheriff’s office in Carson City, and through the Sheriff’s office in Washoe County.

The Accountability process is also a matter of local jurisdiction. There is a local Review Board in Las Vegas, which while it does have some investigative powers is confined to making recommendations only.  Even this improvement met with a critique from the Justice Department in a 2012 investigation:

“Metro’s Use of Force Review Board — currently a mix of residents and department personnel — needs revamping because of procedures the COPS Office found “outdated and insufficient.” To remedy the situation, the report recommends Metro create a stand-alone manual for the board, which would outline its purpose, operating procedures and clarify roles of the board’s members.” [LVSun] [DoJ] [DoJ Report pdf]

This wasn’t all the Department of Justice had to say on the matter in October 2012.   The report found that the Coroner’s inquest process related to the review of the use of deadly force was ineffective at the time. The District Attorney’s office needed more training and expertise related to investigating deadly force incidents, and while the Clark County DA had begun to review officer involved lethal shootings, and to issue decision letters, there were no letters for serious, non-fatal use of force incidents. [DoJ Report pdf]  The current accountability public perceptions may rest on how much progress has been made since the 2012 recommendations, and on the application of the review processes in the context of Nevada statutes on police use of force.

The public is beginning to perceive that investigations of police officers are quite different from those a private citizen can expect.  For example, in Las Vegas the officer will receive a 48 hour notice before an interview, and even if that notice requirement is waived it must be approved by the association.  Additionally, the officer will be provided with ALL evidence during an interrogation to facilitate correcting “inconsistencies.”  There are also contractual provisions allowing an officer terminated as a result of an investigation 30 days to appeal and to enter into binding arbitration. Written reprimands will be removed from the officer’s personnel file after 18 months; minor suspensions after 3 years, and major suspensions after 5 years.  There is to be no retention of investigation records in which the officer is exonerated, or the allegations are held to be unfounded, or un-sustained.   The contract in Las Vegas is about “average” in its provisions for police protection, with the major exception that the city is not exclusively liable for civil actions related to the incident.

There are some jurisdictions in which an officer cannot be interrogated for more than 6 hours in a given session, and may not be threatened with vile language or threats of demotion, transfer, or termination of employment. (Fort Worth)  Louisville, KY allows no threats, coercion, or promises made during an interrogation, and St. Petersburg, FL allows only one interrogation session.  [CTP interactive]

“Public Employee and Public Ideology” issues are also entangled in these topics.  There are some conservative voices only too pleased to blame teachers’ unions, for example, for allowing the retention of “bad apples.” However, these voices are strangely silent when the subject of police unions comes to the fore.  It is in no one’s best interest when any public employee is subjected to discriminatory, capricious, or arbitrary treatment regarding his or her demotion, dismissal, or refusal of re-employment.  However, when other public employees are alleged to have been responsible for the death or physical injury of another the notice and the interrogation limitations are not available to them, nor are the requirements that they have access to all the evidence collected prior to the interrogation.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

That there is no single model and no single unifying concepts for police accountability means that each jurisdiction is left to its own devices to cope with community and police relations.  Some, like the Dallas PD, have done a better job than others, such as Baton Rouge and Ferguson, MO.

Perhaps we’d be well served to think outside the dotted lines at some tangential issues which exacerbate the situations in which both law enforcement and community members find themselves.  Let’s start with what is likely to be one of the most obvious.

Racism.  Could we at least recognize that it exists? Could we at least acknowledge that it informs some actions that are not necessarily overt? Remember the African American college student who was arrested in NYC for buying a belt the clerk and officers said he couldn’t possibly afford, and concluded that he’d thereby committed fraud? [HuffPo]  Or, the African American actor who was arrested for buying his mother a $1,350 watch, as a present for her college graduation? [DNAinfo]  These are simply more high profile illustrations of the problem as related by one of the participants in the Reno meeting:

“Don Dike-Anukam said he was glad he attended Sunday’s event and hopes others will consider what life is like when “the shoe is on the other foot.”

“It’s hard to explain to people who never had to literally prepare for a police stop or have been followed in a supermarket when you’ve done nothing wrong or know what it’s like to have that feeling of suspicion and done nothing wrong,” Dike-Anukam said. “It makes you a little angry and annoyed inside and sad at the same time.” [RGJ]

Combining racism and fear is a truly toxic mix. What of the police officer  knowing that he is dealing with a white person in a traffic stop who may be armed, and feels less insecure? Or, more insecure if the person in Black? Is the white citizen more innocent until proven guilty, or the Black citizen guilty until proven innocent?

Police as collection agents. One of the things that precipitated the mess in Ferguson, MO was the use of the police department as a collection agency in an effort to bolster the town budget.  In 2010 the Ferguson police department generated $1.4 million for the county treasury, almost 25% of the city’s $13 million budget. [RS]  To put the issue more bluntly:

“…when budgetary whims replace peacekeeping as the central motivation of law enforcement, who is more likely to write up more tickets, the good cop or the crummy one? When the mission of the entire department shifts from “protect and serve” to “punish and profit,” then just what constitutes good police?” [MJ]

Most of the incidents that initiated the current turmoil began as traffic stops and other very minor items in the grand scheme of things.  We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask how many of these stops were associated with increasing revenues for local governments? With fulfilling quotas of some kind? With “keeping the numbers up?”  None of this having much to do with good police work.

Police Training. Now, if we combine racism and revenue generation, then why are we surprised when minor incidents become major news?  One element which seems to need further discussion is the addition of de-escalation policies and training for police officers.

In March 2016, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted to implement a use of force policy emphasizing de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the general public. [LAcbs]

“One of the recommendations suggests the LAPD’s use-of-force policy be revised “to emphasize that deadly force shall only be exercised when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or appear impracticable.

The revision in policy will also establish the expectation that officers redeploy to a position of tactical advantage when faced with a threat, whenever such redeployment can be reasonably accomplished in a manner consistent with officer and public safety.” [LAcbs]

Unfortunately, the police union doesn’t seem to be on board:

“Clearly this is not a collaborative process by the Police Commission,” he said. “We are very concerned that the recommendations as written may jeopardize officer and community safety. We’re afraid that this policy does not take into account the split-second, life-and-death decisions police officers must make in the field.”

An internal LAPD report was released earlier this month that found LAPD officers used force nearly 2,000 times last year, including 21 cases in which people were fatally shot. More than one-third of the 38 people who were shot by police were mentally ill. [LAcbs]

However, making those decisions is a function of training and experience, and if the training includes how to de-escalate a volatile situation then both the safety of the officer and the safety of the citizen could be improved.  It hardly seems fair to criticize an officer when the predominance of his or her training is consumed in fire arms training, and then complain when the person shoots first and faces the questions later.

Guns. Eventually it all comes back to guns.   Now, there’s research reported on the subject:

“The results were shocking: line-of-duty homicide rates among police officers were more than three times higher in states with high gun ownership compared with the low gun ownership states. Between 1996 and 2010, in other words, there were 0.31 officer fatalities for every 10,000 employed officers in low gun ownership states. But there were 0.95 fatalities per 10,000 officers in the high gun ownership states.” [WaPo]

Law enforcement officers “working in states with higher levels of gun ownership faced a greater likelihood of being shot and killed on the job compared with their peers in states with lower gun ownership,” the study concludes. The relationship was strong enough that every 10 percent increase in gun ownership correlated with 10 more officer deaths over the study period. [WaPo]

If we’re truly interested in the safety of our law enforcement personnel then we have to address what’s killing them. Guns.

This partial list of “Things To Think About” is a heaping portion of problems on our collective plate.  None of these discussion will be easy, or simple, or without rancor.  However, I don’t think that we can afford to ignore any of the elements.   Those who refuse to consider the possibility that there are problems in our contemporary system will not be convinced there is a necessity to address these topics; those who do should take heart that communities around the country, like Reno, are at least beginning the discussion.

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Filed under civil liberties, Gun Issues, Las Vegas, Nevada, Nevada politics, Politics, public safety, violence

Some Context Is Needed

Crime Scene Tape

The Background: It’s nothing less than absolutely tragic that two NYPD officers, Liu and Ramos, were killed while on duty in Brooklyn, NY. [NBC]  The assassination brings back an equally unpleasant memory from last June, when two law officers were eating lunch at a pizza place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  However, playing the “blame game” in the aftermath of this most recent assault on law enforcement officers is counter-productive, and highly questionable.  PBA President Lynch should know better than to blame the protests against the use of lethal or excessive force by some law enforcement officers as the ‘reason’ for the assault.  There is a profound difference between calling for the improvement of police tactics and policies, and advocating violence against officers of the law.

Public officials and protest leaders have condemned the killings in the strongest possible language, the President saying: “

“I unconditionally condemn today’s murder of two police officers in New York City,” the president said in a statement released just after midnight on Sunday morning. “Two brave men won’t be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification.” [Politico]

The Mayor added:

“These officers were shot execution-style, (a) particularly despicable act, which goes to the very heart of our society and democracy,” de Blasio said. “When a police officer is murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society. It is an attack on all of us. It’s an attack on everything we hold dear.

“We depend on our police to protect us against forces of criminality and evil,” the mayor said. “They are a foundation of our society, and when they are attacked, it is an attack on the very concept of decency. Therefore, every New Yorker should feel they, too, were attacked. Our entire city was attacked by this heinous individual.” [NYDN]

The Issue: So, why the continuing problems between the police unions and the city government?  In this instance we need to hark back to the tensions between Mayor David Dinkins and the police in 1992.  Dinkins at the time was supporting the creation of a civilian review board, and the response by the police unions was remarkably similar to the police reaction to body cameras today: “He never supports us on anything,” said Officer Tara Fanning of the Midtown South Precinct, echoing the view of many in the crowd.A cop shoots someone with a gun who’s a drug dealer, and he goes and visits the family.” [NYT 1992]   Indeed, it’s not hard to conclude after the issues about both the establishment of a civilian review board and the issues revolving around the adoption of body cameras and re-training, that the police unions will vehemently oppose any and all suggestions that they improve the implementation of their public services. [C&L]

The media: The national media hasn’t served the public well in this instance.  The issues are fundamentally about how the police can best enforce the law without risk to their own safety and the safety of members of the public.  The easy, and rather lazy journalistic approach is to pursue the politics of a dispute between the police unions and the mayor’s office.  “He said, and then He said,” journalism which makes for simple headlines, but obfuscates the larger issues involved.   The union commentary, which equates any criticism of police activities with an “attack on officers,” doesn’t address protracted problems related to Community Policing, nor does it contribute to any positive dialogue and cooperation between the police and the communities they protect.  While ‘conflict’ reportage may sell media, and thus advertising space, cooperation is what will improve the relationship between the community and the police department. There are other coverage issues which merit more attention than they are receiving in the current media environment.

It’s not the protesters in the wake of the Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice killings who are calling for the attacks on police officers.  Protesters have called for prosecutions, investigations, changes in training, screening, and recruitment – but they have not called for any violence.  The right wing reaction has been to declare that any demands for police reform may engender ill-will and hence attacks on officers – See, There, It Happened! even if the assassin in the Brooklyn case was evidently a violent, emotionally and psychologically unstable, man. There are, however, some voices which do advocate violence against officers, and who have made threats they carried out. A few examples:

January 29, 1998: An off-duty police officer is killed, and a nurse seriously injured when one of right wing activist Eric Robert Rudolf’s bombs explodes at a Birmingham, AL women’s health clinic.

December 8, 2003: Abbeville, SC Police Sgt. Danny Wilson and Constable Donnie Ouzts are shot to death by anti-government “patriot” Steven Bixby.

April 4, 2009: Three Pittsburgh, PA police officers (Sciullo, Mayhle, Kelly) are killed and a fourth wounded by Richard Andrew Poplawski, a white supremacist when they answered a call about a domestic disturbance. Poplawski explains he fired extra bullets into the bodies of the officers “just to make sure they were dead.”

April 25, 2009: Two Okaloosa County, FL sheriff’s deputies. Bert Lopez and Warren York, are killed by Joshua Cartwright, an anti-government extremist upset by the election of President Obama, who had previously expressed interest in joining a militia group.

May 20, 2010: West Memphis, AR police officers Paudert and Evans are attacked and killed by ‘sovereign citizens’.  [TDB]

August 16, 2012: Louisiana sheriff’s deputies Nielsen and Triche are ambushed by seven people with ties to the “sovereign citizens” movement.

September 4, 2012: California HP officer Youngstrom is shot and killed by Christopher Lacy, an anti-government individual with a large amount of ‘sovereign citizen’ literature on several computers in his home.

June 8, 2014: Jerad and Amanda Miller assassinate two Las Vegas, NV police officers Soldo and Beck,  who are having lunch.  The killers leave a Gadsden flag on Officer Beck’s body.  Weeks earlier the assassins had been present at the Bundy Ranch.

June 10, 2014: A Forsyth County deputy Daniel Rush was wounded by white supremacist, ‘sovereign citizen’ Dennis Marx who was attempting to ‘lay seige’ to the court house.  [AJC]

September 12, 2014: Eric Frein, military re-enactor ambushes state police barracks in Blooming Grove, PA, kills Officer Byron Dickson, and seriously injures Trooper Alex Douglass. [LeVNews]

November 22, 2014:  Leon County, FL sheriff’s deputy Scott Angulo was ambushed and killed by “anti-government/anti-establishment”  Curtis Wade Holley, who set fire to his home and vowed to kill as many first responders as he could.  [USAT]

The ADL has been keeping track of violent incidents between extremists and police:

“In the past five years alone, from 2009 through 2013, ADL has tracked 43 sep­a­rate vio­lent inci­dents between domes­tic extrem­ists (of all types) and law enforce­ment in the United States. These inci­dents include sit­u­a­tions in which shots are exchanged between police and extrem­ists (shootouts), sit­u­a­tions in which extrem­ists have fired at police but police sub­dued the extrem­ists with­out hav­ing to return fire, and sit­u­a­tions in which offi­cers had to use their firearms to pro­tect them­selves against extremists.

Of these 43 inci­dents, fully 39 of them involved extrem­ists sport­ing some sort of extreme right-wing ide­ol­ogy. White suprema­cists took part in 21 inci­dents, while anti-government extrem­ists were involved in 17 more. An anti-Muslim extrem­ist was involved in one inci­dent (the other four inci­dents included one with a left-wing extrem­ist and three with domes­tic Islamic extrem­ists). In these shoot­ing inci­dents, the extrem­ists shot 30 offi­cers, 14 fatally. Many other offi­cers sus­tained non-gunfire injuries dur­ing some of these encounters.” [ADL] (emphasis added)

Let’s assume that we can all walk and chew gum at the same time.  It is not impossible that reforms can be made in even the most recalcitrant police forces that improve the relations between the department and the communities; and, it’s not impossible that we can – and should – pay greater attention to those who actually DO advocate violence against law enforcement officials.  It was not until April 2010 that the FBI issued guidance to local law enforcement about the sovereign citizen threat.  We simply need to have a adult discussion, enhanced by better informational context, and to stop shouting and start talking.

*SPLC “Terror from the Right”  The Daily Beast, “Sovereign Citizens are America’s Top Cop Killers.” Media Matters, “How Fox News Covers Right Wing Cop Killers.” ADL, “Officers Down: Right Wing Extremists Attacking Police at a Growing Rate.”  Crooks and Liars, “Rudy Guiliani Knows Exactly How to Spark a Police Riot – he’s done it before.”

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