What is the Matter with the Police in America? Part Three
6. Most police departments do a good job of policing themselves. The problem is, as I stated earlier, the media does not allow them to do this. The officers are not given the same due process that a suspect would be given in a similar situation. If a police department does not conduct a thorough, fair, and impartial investigation, then it is time to call in a state or federal agency to look into the incident. Give a police department a chance, though, and they will usually take care of it.
If an officer used too much force, violated the law, or did not follow the department’s policy manual, they will normally take the appropriate action. I saw it first-hand during my career. If an officer screwed up, they were disciplined. Depending on how serious the incident was determined how serious the discipline they received.
What tends to happen today, however, is that an officer is convicted by public opinion based on emotion and minimal facts. If the officer is exonerated by the investigation, there is automatically an assumption that the department is covering for the officer. The Ferguson, Mo, case is a great example. As we said, the officer was already considered guilty before the investigation had even gotten started.
The actual investigation involved interviewing over 100 witnesses, processing and examining the physical evidence, autopsy reports, medical reports, video evidence, and DNA evidence. All of this evidence ended up exonerating the officer, not once, but twice. The problem at this point, though, was that it did not matter what the facts showed. The public’s mind was made up and nothing was going to change it.
There are other times in which an investigation will show that an officer violated departmental policy, a suspect’s civil rights, or even broke the law. There is at least one officer that I worked with that is serving a life sentence in prison. Others that I know served shorter jail sentences for breaking the law while serving as a police officer. I have seen many disciplined in other ways, including being fired because they violated their oath of office.
7. What about body cameras? Do they help police the police? I wrote about that here. Check out that article for my thoughts on body cameras. They do not solve all the problems but they are a great tool. Since more and more police departments are using them, they seem to be exonerating more officers than they are convicting.
The assumption seemed to be that when more police officers started wearing body cameras, it would show how out of control the police really are. In actuality, just the opposite has occurred. People are seeing more clearly how professional most of our nation’s officers are and how difficult their job really is.
The body cam video from the Dylan Noble shooting has just been released. The investigation is still on-going but the police chief wanted the public to understand the situation a little better. After watching this video, I understand much more clearly why the officers shot the man.
The police were first drawn to Noble by his aggressive driving. When they tried to stop him, he accelerated and it looked like there was going to be a car chase. After a few seconds, however, Noble pulled into a parking lot. The police officers gave him multiple, clear commands about staying in his vehicle, letting them see his hands and not putting his hands behind his back or under his hoodie. He refused to obey any of those commands, exited his vehicle, and made multiple moves under his hoodie with his hand like he was drawing a weapon.
At one point, Noble advanced towards the police while reaching under his hoodie. Officer ordered him to pull his hands out and threatening to shoot him if he did not obey. Noble told the police, “I hate my life,” and advanced on them again, continuing to make a motion like he was drawing a weapon. Noble was shot twice and fell to the ground.
While he was on the ground, Noble reached under his hoodie again and was shot again. When he started to reach again, the officers continued to tell him not to do that and warning him he would be shot again. Noble reached under the hoodie once more and was shot for the final time.
As I said, this case is still under investigation and the body cam videos are just one piece of the evidence. Whether the officers are cleared or found in violation of a law or departmental policy is yet to be seen. What is completely clear to me, though, is that Dylan Noble controlled the situation. He could have complied with the verbal commands he was given and deescalated the situation. He would have probably received a traffic citation or possibly even been arrested for his aggressive driving.
Instead, it appeared that he wanted to commit suicide by the police and he got his wish. The investigation will determine if the police’s use of deadly force was justified. After watching the video, I am not about to second guess the officers. It was a tough situation and they gave Noble many, many opportunities to stay in his vehicle, show them his hands, and get down on the ground. Noble ignored every verbal command the police gave him.
As I said at the beginning of Part One of this article, these are complex issues. I am just sharing a few thoughts based on my own experience in law enforcement. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I have written. Something I hope that we can agree on, however, is that we need to support our police officers. They are the Thin Blue Line that protects our society from lawlessness and from the predators in our society.
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