Virginia Capitol

The Virginia State Capitol in Richmond

As Virginia’s General Assembly discusses police reform, I pray impulse and situational ethics surrender to principled rationale. Without proper foresight, it is possible to do well-intentioned harm.

The most obvious reform I hope to see is a mandate for all uniformed officers to have body cameras, in addition to dashboard cameras for all law enforcement vehicles. I believe this will serve a variety of parties. First, it will help serve the citizens, as the knowledge that their engagement with law enforcement is being recorded should help provide peace of mind. Second, it will help protect our law enforcement officers from fraudulent claims of civil disobedience and conduct unbecoming of an officer. Finally, these recorded interactions can, and should, be used for training purposes. Having academy students watch real interactions will help them see how to appropriately respond to challenging situations.

I also believe there is wisdom in removing qualified immunity for law enforcement officials. This is not because most officers abuse their authority, but because the principle of checks and balances in government have served us well. Officers who cannot be easily held accountable could abuse authority and create a sense of micro-tyranny for communities. Furthermore, before an experienced law enforcement officer is hired into another department or jurisdiction, I believe state law should require the professional file of that individual be sent from their old office to their new one, prior to hire. Officers who are commonly and formally rebuked should not be hired by another department.

Finally, I believe it would benefit officers to receive training on how traumatic experiences can affect an individual’s brain. When officers enter potentially dangerous situations, they often interact with traumatized individuals -- early and/or frequent exposure to violence, drug use, etc. The late Karyn Purvis has conducted remarkable research on the effects of trauma on the brain, how it governs an individual’s actions, and most importantly, how to appropriately address it. Admittedly, her research is geared for foster and adopted parents, which is not the responsibility of the police; however, the principle of knowing how a traumatized individual may behave, and how to counteract the potential for escalation, is noteworthy.

However, Richmond should not denigrate an officer’s ability for self-preservation. We trust law enforcement officers to be wise stewards of lethal weapons, so how would legislation be consistent if it took away options and tactics that may lead to the prevention of lethal force? Rather, Richmond should seek to give officers as many non-lethal options as possible to avoid chaos and protect innocent life. Furthermore, officers should retain the ability to serve no-knock warrants. For instance, knocking on the door of an alleged weapons trafficker places a tactical disadvantage on law enforcement, benefits the alleged criminal, and unnecessarily increases risk.

In this debate, police officers are not adversaries, nor are concerned citizens antagonists. May the passions of the day give way to temperance, and perhaps subsequent legislation will further protect the citizenry without sacrificing protections for law enforcement.

Thomas Black

Leesburg

(33) comments

marv

Mr. Black - Well done. Cameras are an absolute necessity. It is tragic that all police/Law Enforcement are tarred by the actions of a very very small minority of misfits, but the real tragedy is that they bring the condemnation on themselves by not weeding from their ranks the very very few bad apples. By adhering to the "blue code" and dont "rat" on your fellow officer the entire force is thus condemned by the stupid actions of the very few who never deserved the respect and honor that the police deserve.

amerigirl

Amen

Not4Long

Sorry, edit to my last post. Should have said I could not agree with you more on all of your points!

Not4Long

Mr. Black, very well written and I could not agree with you on all of your points. I find it interesting that this opinion piece has only received one comment so far aside from mine. I guess no one wants to be middle of the road and do what is truly in the best interest of everyone....sigh.

IanXDm

Maybe increase the police funding so they can do even more positive things. Back the Blue!

Thomas Black

I agree. I haven't heard any reasonable arguments for defunding the police, and I think officers and the citizenry (concerned and unconcerned, alike) would benefit from the proposals I mentioned that would cost money.

amerigirl

You may not think policies like having social workers covering some of the jobs that police are now doing is unreasonable but not everyone feels that way. There are areas that others could take the jobs and free up the police to do their job.

Thomas Black

Amerigirl - Thank you for your response. I recognize your handle from being a frequent reader of LTM articles and opinion pieces, so I kind of feel like I, "made it" now that you've responded to one of mine.

I don't think it's unreasonable to consider if other community organizations can take non-law enforcement responsibilities away from law enforcement officers, but every time I've heard this recommendation, it's been made in generalities. What specific functions do you think social workers, for instance, should be responsible for that are currently the responsibility of law enforcement officers?

When my wife and sister were social service employees (domestic violence and Dept. of Child & Family Services, respectively) they were frequently accompanied to the scene by law enforcement, as the officers were able to provide protection and help with maintaining peace. I'm not sure utilizing social workers would help reduce the work load on police officers, as I would want them to still serve in this capacity. I would also worry about how redistributing responsibilities might effect the organizations assuming the new/additional responsibilities. For instance, when my wife and I were foster parents, we experienced a Dept. of Family Services staff whose employees had workloads that were already beyond full capacity. My wife was in a similar situation when she was a domestic violence case worker, so my fear would be that redistributing roles and responsibilities would create further problems for organizations that are already giving 110%.

amerigirl

Thomas, there are things that really tie up time that could keep cops on the streets. One being mental crises, like the guy not long ago in Fairfax. Social workers are trained on how to handle the situations and deal with the patients. Instead you have a cop that almost had control of the situation when another cop stepped in and tased the man because he thought he was someone else. Same with suicide attempts, why should cops be somewhat trained to have to do everything when you can get someone who is highly trained to do it. I totally agree that there are going to be situations where a social worker needs to be with a cop for safety, but if that social worker can calm the situation enough to have the person removed to a safer location that would free the rest of the time for the cop.

The money could go into the departments that are currently underfunded, as you say they are past capacity. Most of the types of cases are gong to be coming to them in the end anyway. So, fund them now. I see no reason to redistribute roles, just the ones that the cops really shouldn’t be handling anyway. Look at how many people end up having to go to counseling for domestic problems as part or all of their sentencing. For simple cases, non-violent cases, why not skip the entire arrest, booking, jail time process and work to figure it out.

Then some of the money can be used to be proactive, supporting safety and communities with programs that could keep them off the streets and some could even benefit their futures, like Jr. police or Jr. firefighters. They have been successful in other areas by teaming up with companies that supply equipment and training for jobs. Desperation causes a lot of crime, needing money for food and housing, have agents work within the areas that have high risk individuals and offer them hope, help them find housing by showing and helping them to get in touch with the right agencies. There is a lot of need out there and people who don’t know where to find it. We spend way to much money on policing problems instead of fixing the problems.

I could go on and on so I better stop now.

Thomas Black

Amerigirl -

If the money spent equates to a zero sum game then I see no problems with what you're proposing in your second paragraph. However, in our experience, I believe situations where a social worker or mental health professional would be effective, law enforcement involvement for the protection of the social worker would still be prudent. Admittedly, this evidence is anecdotal and you don't create policy from anecdotes. However, in the absence of statistics, studies, and hard data, anecdotes and experience are all I have to help me form a conclusion. If you happen to have quick and easy access to data/statistics, I'd be eager to look at them.

Your last paragraph would touch on a few other variables for consideration, as some of the challenges and problems you expressed need nuanced answers. A full discourse on this is beyond the scope of the conversation about police reform, so I would summarize that the best way to make an immediate impact on communities that are struggling is to increase law enforcement's presence (if crime is high) and ensure your tax policies incentivize business ventures and investments. Businesses don't go where crime is high, and crime is often highest in areas that lack education and commerce. I believe the commerce aspect of this can be solved, for the most part, through tax reform and law enforcement. However, the longer solution, which would create more sustainable prosperity, would be to allow parents to send their children to any school their tax dollars support, and have the tax dollars being used for education follow the child to their school of choice. This would prioritize individual liberty and allow the child to not suffer from living in a poor school district, which would create greater opportunities for the child as they grow and begin considering college, professions, etc.

Thanks again for commenting. I enjoy the thoughtfulness of your perspectives.

amerigirl

Thomas Police overtime is a big chunk of police spending, that could be reallocate or redirect funding to other areas. I think that there will be problems with funding for every department because of covid. They are slashing budgets to try and recoup. I can’t give you general data/statistics because every jurisdiction is different. I can give examples. Los Angeles, cut funding to the L.A. Police Department by $150 million, a small but significant portion of the department’s total $1.8 billion budget. The $150 million will reportedly be redirected towards community-building projects, much coming from overtime pay. NYC is also cutting to fund social services. Salt Lake City, Utah cut funding for their police by $5.3 million. $2.5 million of the police budget will be redirected to a social worker program. Other cities doing the same thing are Hartford, Connecticut ($1 million) Baltimore, Maryland ($22.4 million) Portland, Oregon ($15 million). Some are cutting jobs to replace with programs other are cutting OT and some are doing both. Do you really believe that all mental health situations require police? Not a trick question, I was never in that profession. Usually how many come to that type of thing? Doesn’t it sometimes make the situation worse? There will be times it is necessary, but probably with 1 cop.

I disagree that the best way to make an impact is to increase police. Then the problem continues and the hate and distrust of police festers. Have police but also have programs, especially where crime is high. Business may not go there because the crime is high but if you give the area job training there would be less crime. Working with private businesses helps save money. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has recruited fifteen large American companies to help create the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative”, offering job training, internships, and apprenticeship programs to help prepare 16-24 year-old youth for “middle skill jobs” that don’t require a college degree in poorer areas. Currently, there are about 3.5 million of those jobs available in the U.S. There are programs like Yearup in Philly. I agree with your point on education, but what about after school, isn’t that where kids are getting themselves into trouble?

Thomas Black

Amerigirl -

I don't know that the cities you referenced have provided evidence that their approaches are sustainable or effective at establishing justice and promoting the general welfare. While I'm ignorant of Salt Lake City and Hartford, the situations in Portland, Baltimore, New York, and Los Angeles are not ones I would want to pattern in Loudoun County. Gov. Cuomo has even cast skepticism about the decision of Mayor de Blasio, which of course doesn't prove anything, just provides a moment of pause because the attempts to redirect funds have not proven theoretically or practically to be the best call. This is, however, why I love our federalist system. It allows localities to try new things, and if they're great, others can try to replicate. If they implode, the negative effect is limited and changes can be made quickly by local leaders or at the ballot - whichever comes first.

Again, I don't have data, but I can only say that my wife and sister were never called to a situation where I didn't think law enforcement presence was necessary. Many situations never become violent, but I believe that is in large part due to the presence of law enforcement. However, they were in domestic violence and family services, which are very intense situations to be involved in. I'm sure there are some instances where law enforcement presence isn't necessary. I would just say that there is a level of unpredictability that is inherent to the nature of mental health victims (until they receive and respond well to proper treatment), and I would rather error on the side of caution and protection. This is why I argue for law enforcement to be trained in the area of deescalation (which Sheriff Chapman has done, in my opinion, to his credit). They do not need to be experts in the field, but need to be good enough to help make situations better and maintain a level of calm - if/when possible.

Regarding after school, I think it's great to have programs such as athletic and academic teams/clubs, but children getting in trouble and being taught appropriate behavior has to ultimately fall on the parent(s). The government cannot encroach on the roles and responsibilities that are inherent to family instruction and discipline.

Thomas Black

Sorry - one more thing regarding the distrust for the police you mentioned. I believe if the rest of the reforms I cited in my paper were enacted then the distrust would be significantly lessened because the cameras would allow everyone to have the same set of evidence available, and if professional misconduct occurs there would be a clear avenue for citizens to pursue justice. Combine that with my recommendations of making it nearly impossible for poor performing law enforcement officers to be hired to a new precinct, I think, will create a law enforcement office that only criminals need to fear.

Thomas Black

I also think you could increase police funding for these proposals, without raising taxes, if fiscal priorities were clear and appropriate. In my opinion, the top fiscal priorities (at all levels of government) should be security, job creation, and education - everything else, while not unimportant, are secondary priorities.

amerigirl

Thomas, it is a new concept, how can you have evidence until it is tested? There won’t be data until it is tried. We should look at fixing the cause with optimism because treating is not curing. Things have not changed using the system we have, maybe we should change how the problem is dealt with. I fully understand that there are conditions in which protections are needed, but look at the case of La Monta Gladney in Fairfax. I disagree with you about situations becoming less violent because the police are there, especially in the black community. There is an innate distrust of police and people could fear that if the police get them they will never come home. Cameras can help, if they are turned on and if the cop doesn’t turn it off while dealing with people, they have been caught doing this and only because the camera continues to run for a limited time after being disabled. I also believe that the defunding process should be progressive, letting the change take time and grow. Nobody who distrusts the police are going to wake up tomorrow and think that they can trust cops because they said they are going to get help in the community. Money should be put into programs community and as trust is growing and those areas are becoming more sustainable the police presence can be cut. But until people stop see the cops treating people of color just like everyone else there will be distrust. I have been told so many times about all the traffic stops people of color are getting. Why if you are 60-year-old Asian woman pulled over for a malfunctioning tail light (for the 3rd time now) do they need to have drawn guns on her and screaming to keep you hands on the wheel? Why was it necessary to have 3 cruisers for that? Those lights have been checked out by automotive specialist and they say there is nothing wrong with them, but she can tell you of quite a few others that have been pulled over for the same reason and have had no problems with their lights. Yes parents teach their children, but many of these parents are working 2 jobs and then going home to make meals and help with homework. They need help. Maybe even classes on how to parent productively. If they never learned from their parents the chances of them passing on a positive message is hopeful dreaming. The government is not encroaching on the roles of parents if they have permission slips to attend functions. Those functions can’t exist with out signups. My kids were never allowed to do activities without signing up and agreeing to their rules and regs, and waivers.

amerigirl

And stop more drivers on the fake premise of having malfunctioning tail lights

Thomas Black

This is why I think dashboard cameras are a good idea. I believe a dash cam would provide substantial evidence and either help establish the honor and professionalism of the officers, or provide the basis for a possible 4th amendment violation against the gentleman who was pulled over.

Stepup

Most of the sensationalized episodes of alleged police brutality involve criminal behavior, resisting arrest or outright violence against a police officer. They often involve a suspect on drugs as well.

How about training criminals from committing crimes and getting into dangers situations that involve police?

How about training criminals to avoid resisting arrest and violence against police?

How about training criminals about the stress and traumatic experiences that police are exposed to daily?

With rare exceptions, police are not the problem. A culture of criminality is some segments of society is.

You can’t solve a problem unless you correctly define it.

Thomas Black

Thank you, Stepup, for taking the time to read my article and for leaving a reply. It's difficult to provide sufficient explanation to policy outlines when trying to keep the article to 500 words or less, and replies like yours help further the dialogue, so thank you again for your reply.

I think we agree that many police encounters that receive media attention often involve citizens who are breaking the law. Additionally, I could not agree with you more that, "with rare exceptions, police are not the problem..." This is why I argue that you don't put restraints on law enforcement that would give them a tactical disadvantage, nor do you remove options to avoid the use of lethal force.

However, I do not think it's wise to immediately dismiss the complaints of Americans who believe they're being deprived of their inherent liberty and inalienable rights. I believe the policies I've outlined don't detract from my trust in the honor of police officers, nor do they cast disbelief on those who claim to be common victims of injustice. For instance, I believe every good cop would want cameras, as it would protect them from the potential of adverse rulings resulting from felony or civil charges. For instance, I believe Officer Darren Wilson (Ferguson) would have greatly appreciated a body camera, as it would have revealed his attempts to avoid using lethal force until absolutely necessary for self-preservation. Likewise, as I argued in my article, cameras would help protect the citizenry from bad police officers, such Officer Michael Slager (North Charleston, SC) who shot an unarmed African-American and then tried to plant evidence to justify his actions. Citizens should not have to hope bystanders have cameras to protect them from the injustice of government officials - even if 99.99% of those officials are honorable.

While qualified immunity may seem as if I'm skeptical of police officers, that's simply not the case. Rather, I believe in the principle of checks and balances in government, and suspending qualified immunity would be a better way to apply that principle than to keep it intact. Finally, I would note Sheriff Chapman has already utilized crisis management training for Loudoun County. His training, to my knowledge, deals primarily with mental illness. I'm simply arguing that expanding the scope of that principle will give our law enforcement officers more tools for deescalation, and give a greater likelihood that order can be maintained and justice preserved without the use of a firearm.

goodsamaritan

@Stepup, none of the above situations you described above merit getting shot by the cop. The only situation where it should be allowed is when the cop is fired upon and has to be proven by body cam or dashboard footage.

Even someone having a knife in his hand and advancing towards the cop is not enough justification to shoot because the officer can retreat, get into the car, call for reinforcements, use a taser or rubber bullet but not lethal force. Let us stop placing these cops on a pedestal, i do not understand the mentality of people who do so and are willing to and willing to surrender their human rights to people who are paid to protect them.

Let us not forget that giving too much power and leeway to even a good individual brings out the bad in him/her and that is the problem with our cops who hide behind that badge and feel powerful enough to kill, lie and get away. No civilized society can let this happen.

If someone wants to join the police force they should know that it comes with risks and if they cannot handle it they can choose a different profession.

Loudoun1965

Spoken by someone who has clearly never been in a life-threatening situation. Read about the 21 foot rule. If you advance on a police officer with a knife, you would have no reservations in using it on an unarmed citizen, and you deserve everything you get.

goodsamaritan

@Loudoun1965 a professional cop is supposed to handle the situation without killing the knife wielder the same way a professional fire fighter is supposed to control the burning blaze and not make it worse. if you do not understand this simple concept then it is brain washed people like you who worship the police and are responsible for police brutality we are witnessing today. Pray tell me why can't the cop retreat at that moment and keep a safe distance or use a non-lethal weapon?

Loudoun1965

goodsam, your premise is predicated on every situation being the same; they are not. Read Tueller's 21 foot rule.

goodsamaritan

@Loudoun1965, I agree every situation is different but that is no excuse NOT to exercise restrain and cool head instead impulsively pull the trigger for 'fear' of cop's life. Even if there is little chance for the cop to back off he/she should be obligated to do so per law. How about civilians being given the authority to shoot a cop because he/she fears for his/her life?

amerigirl

If you have a knife you are armed. That is not an unarmed person.

amerigirl

Read Tueller's 21 foot rule? That refers to an armed person not an unarmed person.

Voltaire

Good Samaritan—if, as you state, that every situation is different, then how can you state what the law enforcement officer will or will not do? The answer is that you CANNOT. As you correctly point out, the variables are different on each emergency call/situation so there is no way to tell what the outcome will be, either via proper use of force or not. You cannot state, with certainty, that ALL cops do NOT back off, can you? No, this argument is nothing but conjecture predicated on no real evidence. The answer to your last statement, is no. Also, you are making a generalization that ALL police automatically draw their service weapon and shoot a suspect because he/she fears for his/her life. Do you have any proof to back up that claim? Again, the answer is NO.

Stepup

Good Samaritan

Why don’t you just explain your policies on your use of force to the wives, kids and parents of police officers.

You have no clue what police deal with and the restraint and professionalism they exhibit to keep you and your community safe.

goodsamaritan

@Stepup explain the police professionalism to loved ones of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Stephen Clark, Botham jean....and hundreds more murdered in cold blood by criminal coward cops.

Voltaire

Good Samaritan—I see. Your argument, as a whole, is flawed. First, you are making a blanket characterization that is not based on factual evidence. You are citing a few incidents where rogue law enforcement officers engaged in misconduct. However, it is improper to classify ALL law enforcement as “criminal coward cops”. How do you KNOW that ALL law enforcement is “criminal coward cops”? The answer is that you DO NOT and therefore your argument is pure conjecture as there is no evidence to support that premise. You asked “Stepup” to explain police professionalism to “…loved ones of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Stephen Clark, Botham Jean….” Now, why don’t you explain to the loved ones of those law enforcement officers who were ambushed while performing their duties? For example, there have been approximately seven police officers who were killed by being ambushed. McAllen, Texas police officers Edelmiro Garza, 45 and Ismael Chavez, 39, died on July 11, 2020 when they responded to a disturbance call at a house and were met with gunfire. There are many more stories like this one. According to ABC News, there was a 28% increase in felonious officer deaths over the same period in 2019, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Is that acceptable? No. As Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York stated: “….police have become “scapegoats” for broader anger….Going out on the street and directing violence to somebody who represents the government, because police are an arm of the government, is the easiest thing to do…There is a constant search for the scapegoat for whatever is happening in the society and scapegoat ends up being law enforcement regardless of what it is that people have grievances about.”

Voltaire

Good Samaritan—your premise is flawed. You state “…a professional cop is supposed to handle the situation without killing the knife wielder…” How do you know that ALL instances of this action result in the cop killing the suspect? The answer is that you DO NOT but you are making a blanket characterization predicated on nothing. It is also improper to compare law enforcement to fire fighting as there is nothing to correlate the two. The two occupations, law enforcement officer and fire fighter, are totally different and a comparison is apples to oranges as the two positions have different legal authorities governing them and different responsibilities/duties. There is zero correlation between understanding how police respond to an armed individual and police brutality. Further, you cannot prove, beyond any semblance of a doubt, that “brain washed people” are police worshippers or are responsible for police brutality. The logic there is not supportable at all. As to your question, how do you KNOW that the officer didn’t? Each scenario is different and there are multiple variables in play. It is quite simplistic to try to make a blanket scenario fit all as that is not possible.

Voltaire

Good Samaritan—no, that doesn’t cut the mustard. In an earlier posting you stated that each scenario is different. That is correct. So, given that each scenario is different and has different situational elements, then how can you provide a definitive statement that states that ALL resisting arrest or outright violence against a police officer does NOT warrant the proper use of force? The answer is that you cannot. If someone has a knife and wants to commit bodily harm, including death, do you think that hiding in the patrol car is going to deter that? No. Or, how do you think that calling in reinforcements is going to stop the individual with the knife? The individual is not going to stop and it may take a while for reinforcements to arrive so now what? Provided that the officer is properly trained in the use of non-lethal force, then yes, you could use TASER. Rubber bullets are NOT used on ordinary police situations, so that is a non-starter. Rubber bullets are used as a tool for suppression of civil unrest. I don’t believe that people are placing police on a pedestal. However, it is also very wrong to make them scapegoats. Nobody is surrendering their human rights to law enforcement. That is a pipe dream. Your last two paragraphs are pure speculation/conjecture.

JayZ

Hi all. Good Samaritan: Stereotyping is dangerous and classifying into “all” or “none” may make an issue simpler but ignores variations in situations and people. I agree with Voltaire. And thank Amerigirl and Black for their analyses. Live the intelligence of this thread.

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