The Police Chiefs of major police departments across the country decried the use of force that turned to deadly for used by a Minneapolis Police officer in the arrest of African American George Floyd who died after the white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for close to 9 minutes. Floyd cried out 14 times “I can’t breathe”. The killing and the video went viral and resulted in protests across the country.
Chicago Police Superintendent David O. Brown had this to say:
“What took place in Minneapolis … is absolutely reprehensible and tarnishes the badge nationwide, including here in Chicago. … Floyd’s death was caused by the unacceptable actions of a police officer.”
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said:
“What we saw in Minnesota was deeply disturbing. It was wrong. We must come together, condemn these actions and reinforce who we are as members of the NYPD. This is not acceptable ANYWHERE.”
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle M. Outlaw applauded the swift actions taken by the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and said:
“Throughout the nation, communities of color are tired of reliving atrocities such as this over and over again”.
Chattanooga, Tennesee, Police Chief David Roddy said:
“There is no need to see more video. There [is] no need to wait to see how ‘it plays out.’ There is no need to put a knee on someone’s neck for NINE minutes. … there is a need to do something. If you wear a badge and you don’t have an issue with this … turn it in.”
Dallas Chief of Police Renee Hall had this to say:
“I stand with the rest of my colleagues and major city chiefs and we all agree that this behavior should not be tolerated, and it does not represent who we are. … When you see the video there are so many emotions that run through me. … Our entire police department and command staff stand with Chief (Medaria) Arradondo and his decision to terminate.”
Fort Worth Chief of Police Ed Kraus joined the conversation on Twitter and said:
“The death of #GeorgeFloyd occurred in Minneapolis, but these tragic encounters between officers and residents have occurred in too many cities across the country, including Fort Worth. We must serve more compassionately, and intervene when we see our own acting inappropriately.”
Rockwall Chief Max Geron of Texas said the death of George Floyd was a stain on the profession and said:
“The death of George Floyd is a stain on our profession. There is no justification. We have to do and be better collectively and individually. It will make policing more difficult for those who work to maintain public trust.”
Denver Police Chief Paul M. Pazen said:
“The actions and type of force used by the Minneapolis police officers in the video are inexcusable and contrary to how we train our officers.”
Irving Texas Chief of Police Jeff Spivey said the video speaks for itself and added:
“This is flat wrong. There’s nothing you can say. There’s nothing you can show me. There’s nothing you can do that can ever justify what happened here. … Is it a failure of leadership? Is it a failure of who we’re hiring? Is it a failure of how we’re training our people? Or is it just the fact that we hire from the human race and sometimes we don’t always get it right and we hire bad people?”
Albuquerque Police Chief Michael Geier had this to say about the George Floyd killing:
“… Those officers’ actions are inconsistent with the training and protocols of our department. APD has worked tirelessly to build trust between law enforcement and the community we are sworn to protect. … We will not tolerate these [type of police] actions and denounce this type of police brutality. The senseless misconduct demonstrated in this unfortunate incident should not define other police departments across the nation. APD denounces the behavior of the Minneapolis officers and we will continue to build the trust we’ve established in the community we proudly serve.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It is very rare or downright not heard of that Police Chiefs openly criticize the actions of one of thier officers involved in a controversial on-duty killing. In years past involving similar controversies and the killing of a civilian during an arrest by police officers, a Chief of Police and their command staff would normally ask for the public’s patience during similar controversies, ask for time to investigate and resist releasing lapel camera footage of an arrest or release only portions of a video that did not reveal the entire story.
Extensive media attention and public outrage usually accompanies the most egregious incidents of police where a civilian ends up dead or the police misconduct is so disturbing and obvious as to result in criminal charges against police officers. The best example of this in Albuquerque was the March 14, 2014 killing by APD SWAT Officers of mentally ill, homeless camper James Boyd in the Sandia Foothills. The day after the Boyd shooting, then APD Chief Gordon Eden held a press conference and boldly proclaimed the shooting of James Boyd was “justified” with Eden even citing Supreme Court Case law, although using the wrong citation.
The entire assault by upwards of 27 police officers with guns drawn pointing at Boyd and using canine and flash bang shells with the killing of Boyd by two SWAT officers who shot him was captured on police lapel camera video. It was the lapel camera video that was the most critical evidence in the criminal trial of the two APD SWAT police officers charged with murder. The jury trial resulted in a “dead lock” jury who could not reach a verdict and the charges were dismissed by Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez. A civil law suit for wrongful death filed against the City by the Boyd family was settled for $5 million.
POLICE ATTITUDES THAT MUST CHANGE
A historical and prevailing philosophy by police is that in order to be able to do their job of “protect and serve”, they need total autonomy from civilian oversight and free from any and all interference by civilians. Police departments want to be an “island unto themselves” and act that way too many times.
It is often argued by many sworn police, and usually their unions, that only a “police officer” has the knowledge and experience and can determine the proprietary of another officer’s actions, especially when it comes to use of force and deadly force. The philosophy is only law enforcement can and should police themselves and it must be left to Police Internal Affairs without civilian involvement.
An argument that is always made is that law enforcement take their own lives into their hands and “risk their lives daily” to protect the public. Police also argue they need complete discretion to do their jobs in order to defend themselves, otherwise their hands are tied in combating crime. Truth is, no one forces any one to become a police officer and they knew what they were getting themselves into. If any officer feels the risk to life is too great, they probably need to find another line of work.
Another pervasive attitude expressed by sworn police is that it’s all “the politician’s fault”. It has been said that “police can no longer move without a politician telling them how to do their jobs”. Another line of attack made by police when any elected official calls for oversight and accountability is that it’s just another politician trying to score points as they run for office. Actions and even criticism by “politicians” and the media are often problematic and resented by police. What those law enforcement fail to understand is that is what is called civilian oversight. It is the elected officials, the politicians, who are ultimately held accountable for what cops do. The philosophy of management of police departments must be that “uniforms report to suits” similar to the United States Military where the President as a civilian is the Commander In Chief who also appoints a Secretary of Defense. It also the voters who must hold and demand accountability from both the police and the elected official in that it is the taxpayer that ultimately pays for police misconduct and excessive use of force and deadly force.
The biggest impediment to real police reform is what is referred to as the “blue code of silence.” One of the principles that is emerging from the Black Lives Matter is the “duty to intervene” rule mandating that “by standing or assisting” officers must step in if they observe a fellow officer using excessive force that they believe is not appropriate under the circumstance. It requires the police officer to formally report such incidents to supervisors. Many police officers view this as “breaking the blue code of silence”, second guessing, or not backing up the actions of a fellow police officer who is supposed to “have your back”. The derogatory term used by those opposed to such a policy is that it requires police officers to become “snitches” against a fellow officer and falls into the dangerous philosophy of “your either with me or against me” to avoid any and all accountability for police misconduct.
Although the City of Albuquerque has implemented the Community Policing Counsels as well as the Police Oversight Board, resistance to both occurs on a regular basis. APD has a history of stonewalling the Police Oversight Board. All to often it is reported that APD refuses to cooperate with investigations of police by the Police Oversight Commission or delays action as long as possible on requests and recommended disciplinary actions.
Our law enforcement community, including APD, the Sheriffs and State Police, must understand with complete clarity that police brutality, excessive use of force and deadly force based on racial profiling and the presumption of guilt because of a person’s color and not evidence will not and shall not be tolerated ever. Rank and file police officers who see racism by another officer need to object to it and report it. No Hispanic, no African American and no person of color should ever feel uncomfortable talking to any police officer or call the police to ask for help or to report a crime. There must never be an attitude and presumption of guilt based on a person’s ethnicity. Police must have the attitude and recognize that performing their motto to “serve and protect” is not based on or determined by a person’s skin color.
Times and methods of policing are changing fast when it comes to police work and those that have been in the profession for any length of time need to understand that and adapt to it, and if not willing or capable of the change, leave the profession. Basic policing methods are changing dramatically incorporating constitutional policing practices taught and mandated. Without those changes, this country will continue to endure and see more cases like the killing of Michael Brown and George Floyd by police.