ALL LIFE MATTERS
Our country is facing a myriad of crises both at home and abroad. These include but not limited to an effective foreign policy in which President Obama has diminished over a century of the U.S. role as a major force in maintain some semblance of order among rogue nations in the Mideast, Russia and China. As a result, the America we once knew is no longer considered the number one world power and, consequently, has lost its influence world-wide. The chaos which has been allowed and to some degree encouraged on our southwest border has created overwhelming problems for states and local governments which are left to provide all of the services and opportunities as legal U.S. citizens. Obama Care has been a disaster according professional medical officials and premiums and copays are expected to increase in 2016 perhaps requiring hiring taxes on the middle class workers. Those citizens and illegal aliens who receive Federal Government entitlements due to unemployment and failure of many to seek employment has reached the highest level in our nation’s history with no substantial increase in federal dollars to pay for these underfunded benefits.
However, one of our most unsettling crises which this country faces is that of the divisiveness between some of America’s black citizens and police officers. The movement which is growing and gaining support from notable officials and institutions has fanned flames of hatred and violence against all police officers in our nation. While statistics indicate that larger municipal police departments are targeted at a higher rate than mid-size and smaller departments, the threat is there for all who strap on their web belt, holster their weapon and put on their uniform before going out to protect and serve their community and the lives of all citizens. This phenomenon of blaming police for excessive use of force is not new and more frequent decades ago a small fraction of circumstances it sometimes is valid. However, the large majority of police officers do not target specific ethnic or racial groups. Increasingly, basic law enforcement academies’ curricula and training now includes special emphasis on diversity, the use of deadly force (shot, don’t shoot) and the introduction to non-deadly force tools (stun guns, tazers, chemical disabling sprays, etc.) when circumstances permit. Few everyday citizens can comprehend the precarious split second decision officers are sometimes forced to make which involve the life of a suspect and/or the police officer who has to make that decision. In the earlier days of my own police training and experience there was a common saying among officers: “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by 6”. Unfortunately that has become increasingly true. While street officers, investigators and traffic enforcement officers understand the risks involved in their chosen career, they are never to err on the side of losing their lives due to some political or radical movement’s threats and endeavors to ruin an officer’s reputation, career and/or freedom from felonious charges in their line of duty.
On Tuesday, October 20 a young, highly decorated, uniformed, black police officer was shot in the head by a black gang member in New York City. This was the fourth police murder within the past 11 months. Two officers, both minorities, were assassinated while sitting in their police cruiser in downtown New York City. This particular incident was determined to be influenced by disorderly marches of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the murder. Following both of these incidents there was very little outrage by the likes of Al Sharpton and other so-called civil rights leaders. The one distinction among these murders of police officers was that the offenders were black. This sends a clear message to the many young black male violent offenders (statistics below) that it is open season on killing or doing harm to police officers without regard to their ethnicity.
At closer examination a few unique aspects of this issue are worth presenting. Nationwide blacks make up 13% of the population. And while Hispanics (legal and illegal) now account for 20% of the total population, in recent years the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report has included this 20% of Hispanics with whites when counting both criminal offenders and those arrested for violent crimes. In the 2014 Crime in Alabama Report which collects crime data from all jurisdictions in Alabama, the total number of arrests parallels that of the FBI Uniform Crime Report. When all crimes against persons and property crimes are totaled, 70% are committed by whites. However, remember this percentage includes all crimes committed by the 20% of Hispanics. Also, when extricating crimes against persons which include homicide, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault the picture looks quite different. For example, in the 2014 Crime in Alabama Report of all adults arrested for murder, 50.9% were black and 46.7% were white. A frightening statistic is black juveniles comprise 52.4% of all juveniles arrested for violent crimes. White juveniles accounted for 59.6% of all juveniles arrested for property crimes.
Using these reliable statistics as a backdrop of examining the phenomenon of Black Lives Matter it is clear that police encounter a disproportionate number of black suspects especially within high crime communities. Usually, police in mid-to-larger departments don’t patrol their communities looking for criminals but are dispatched by a 911 operator to respond to a neighborhood where violence of some type has been reported. Police officers approach every specific call for service based on the level of danger and are trained to take the precautions in approaching a particular type of call for service. Whites who live in low income housing and mobile home parks are often considered higher risk than in higher priced home neighborhoods. Yet, police officers should approach all calls with due diligence and caution. And, of course, there are and always have been rogue officers whose personalities and demeanors tend to be overly aggressive by nature. Usually, these are screened out during the screening process by the use of psychological tests designed for that purpose. If not, police leaders should use arrests data to monitor every officer’s record of arrests and all reports of excessive force. Often it is the same officer who has most of the complaints.
As mentioned to above, one factor which is exacerbating hate and violence against police are public elected officials to include our nation’s highest leader President Barack Obama. Very recently he gave credence to the Black Lives Matter movement by recognizing their legitimacy and endorsing their goals and principles which is to reduce the number of unarmed black individuals shot and/or killed by police officers. Also, this week the Democratic National Committee’s Chair recognized Black Lives Matter with an invitation and a part at the Democratic National Convention. This is disconcerting to police officers of all jurisdictions and of all races. Police are usually killed or assaulted not because of their race but because of their uniform, badge and authority. Resisting arrest is one of the most often highlighted news stories as police officer are not in some competitive wrestling match but their duty and responsibility is to subdue with necessary force. They are sworn and trained to win…not lose.
It is incumbent on all local government officials and law enforcement leaders to devote their attention and support in continuous advanced training with regard to the appropriate use of force without putting themselves at undue risks. Training in approaching all violators, whether in a vehicle stop of citizen on the street, with respect. Far too many officers approach non-violent citizens with a stone faced, ill-tempered demeanor. Changing this can go a long way in gaining the respect and reducing conflict with violators, suspects and all citizens. In some instances police officers create an adversarial exchange when an initial more even-tempered approach may well de-escalate tensions. And finally, all communities, schools, civic organizations, officials and neighborhood associations within those communities should frequently recognize and award officers for special good will and service beyond that which is required of them.
David Nichols, Ed. D. is a retired education administrator and police chief. He has also served as a police agency consultant, an expert witness in criminal cases and published widely on law enforcement issues. He is a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.