Archive for February, 2010

The Process of Writing Cop World II

February 25, 2010

Based on some of the comments I’ve received about the introduction to “Cop World II”, I feel it’s important to write a little about the process used to create it. I’m making no effort to conceal the fact that “Cop World” is my model and I’m focusing primarily on how policing in general, and in San Diego specifically, has changed since “Cop World” was published in 1984. Of course, that will inevitably lead to examining the aspects of policing that will most likely never change.

James McClure started “Cop World” with a brief history of San Diego since the days of Juan Cabrillo’s discovery as a segue to his examination of the SDPD during his long series of ride-alongs with central division officers in 1979. I’m not sure why it took five years for the book to appear in print, but I have a pretty good idea. Writing this type of book requires going on countless ride-alongs, conducting numerous interviews, taping and transcribing everything heard or spoken, composing the text and then re-writing and then re-writing it again. There’s no limit to the amount of re-writes until the writer finally thinks they’ve got it right. Writing clearly and, with any luck, in a way that both intellectually informs and emotionally moves readers as they come to understand what a cop’s life is like, is an arduous process.

I’ve begun “Cop World II” with an extremely brief history of San Diego’s policing since “Cop World” was researched and published. Composing that history required writing critically about people I know and respect. I deeply regret having to write anything that either is, or appears critical of any of them, but a writer’s difficult reality is that they have to tell the truth as best they know it. If a writer’s not willing to do that, he or she should find another way to spend their time because they’d certainly be wasting their reader’s time.

“Cop World II” is not just for current and former cops. It’s intended to inform a wider audience about what it’s like to police the streets of a major city right now. For those readers to get a clear picture, it’s important to have some historical perspective.

I’ve been deliberately critical of the history of community policing in San Diego, specifically because McClure praised it. For the most part, he was a journalist who simply exposed what he saw and heard to his readers without passing judgment on any of it. Community policing was a notable exception and my book couldn’t come into existence without taking a hard look at the topic.

The early stages of community policing in San Diego were as much a product of its time as it was the people who created and instituted it. A friend whose a retired police reporter has told me he recollects that the beginnings of community policing in San Diego had to do with efforts to get maximum productivity from too few officers by forming partnerships with the public. Anyone with knowledge about the history of San Diego policing certainly knows too few cops on the street has been a reality for decades.

Online Cop World Reunion

February 11, 2010

I’ve gotten such a great response to the blog that I’ve decided to host an online “Cop World” reunion. Unfortunately, “Cop World’s” author, James McClure died a few years ago, but his book certainly had a big impact on the SDPD. He gave pseudonyms to everyone the rank of lieutenant or below in the book and used real names for higher ranking officers. The name he gave me was Luke Jones. I remember reading the book extremely carefully when it first came out, trying to figure out which pseudonym went with which officer.

This is an open invitation for input about your own experience with “Cop World.” Were you in it? What was your pseudonym? Anything else you’d like to share? You can either add a comment on this page or, if you have a lengthy response, email it to me at tsmith9387@charter.net and I’ll include it as a guest post.

Introduction to Cop World II

February 10, 2010

Introduction: America’s Finest City

San Diego makes no bones about it. It’s been “America’s Finest City” since 1972, when Mayor Pete Wilson said so.

Like most enduring marketing phrases, “America’s Finest” doesn’t so much proclaim a truth as conjure a promise. The city of San Diego is framed by beaches, bays, and harbors to the west, mountains and deserts to the east, Disneyland and Hollywood’s sound stages an hour’s drive to the north, and Mexico’s Baja frontier to the south. Wrap the whole package inside a utopian climate and the fantastical promise seems nearly realized.

It’s inside the wrapping where reality lives and the promise is broken. In San Diego’s real world, people get murdered and raped or wake up next to violent spouses whose every breath carries the threat of verbal or physical attack. No fancy words can change the fact that America’s Finest City is just like any other American metropolis. Policing the streets of San Diego is serious business.

About the same time Wilson coined his “America’s Finest City” slogan, the San Diego Police Department started shifting away from traditional policing strategies, trying to forge positive relationships with angry and militant community groups. Chief Ray Hoobler ordered the patrol fleet painted white to soften the department’s public image. Almost simultaneously, the SDPD became perhaps the first major department in the country to implement an innovative Community Oriented Policing (COP) program, under the urging of Captain Norm Stamper.

Bill Kolender, who replaced Hoobler as chief in 1975, pushed the community policing accelerator. Kolender and Stamper formed a perfect pair to transform the SDPD. Kolender offered his rock star status—the fruit of years spent building strong relations within the community—and his legendary people skills that made him as popular with his employees as with the public. Norm Stamper, determined to either leave law enforcement or transform it, percolated with ideas for reform. He resigned as a sworn captain in 1976, but Kolender persuaded him to stay on as a civilian ombudsman and push his change agenda from the inside. Mesmerized observers saw the revolutionary shift as complete.

In 1980, British author James McClure rode along with officers of the SDPD’s Central Division and, in 1984, published what he observed in his book “Cop World.” He touted COP and commented on the SDPD’s simple accoutrements, including its white cars and tan, patch-free uniforms. Kolender told him the effect was deliberate. Making officers appear innocuous fit well with Stamper’s community oriented policing concept, which stressed greater police department accountability to the public and a department that functioned more like the public’s partner in crime-solving than as a paramilitary force devoted to writing tickets and making arrests.

In a 2009 personal email, I asked Mr. Stamper to define his vision of community policing. He wrote that it starts with “citizen participation and a fundamental belief that the local police department belongs to the people, not the other way around. [It] requires the agency to open itself up to a genuine partnership with the community. . . . COP requires a deep, sustained, institutionalized, and top-to-bottom commitment to authentic community-police partnerships. The organization needs to undergo fundamental structural and cultural change. Citizens need to be meaningfully and irrevocably involved in everything from policy making to oversight. Cops and community [need to] work together, in disciplined, methodical fashion to identify, analyze, and solve problems and evaluate progress.”

In the ‘70s, incorporating this kind of utopian philosophical change into the daily operations of an inherently conservative organization proved impossible. The absence of necessary system-wide operational changes killed reform the same way black rot withers leaves on a grapevine, desiccating the grapes into mummified fruit before the harvest.

In particular, no one trained street supervisors in how to evaluate officers under the new system. Instead, supervisors clung to the old way of doing business and evaluated officers on the numbers of work units they generated—tickets, field interviews, arrests, and investigations.

This put street cops in a bind. How could they adopt the official COP line when the quality of their evaluations plummeted along with the quantity of their recordable work units?

Like generals who watch battles from a hilltop, missing the fighting on the valley floor, the department’s upper echelons probably never fully appreciated the street-level resistance to community policing. Before the resistance could be eradicated, the SDPD’s Southeastern Division started shifting to Problem Oriented Policing, or POP, under Captain Jerry Sanders. It spread throughout the department from there.

In keeping with San Diego’s forward-thinking tradition, Sanders’ reforms made the SDPD one of the first major American police departments to implement POP strategies. While COP intended cops to become academic beat experts, POP added a stress on analyzing and solving ongoing beat problems. “Problems” included such things as apartment complexes populated by drug dealers, chronic drag-racing on neighborhood streets, and graffiti-blighted bridges over freeways.

Problem solving followed a process known as SARA, an acronym for scanning, analyzing, responding to, and assessing responses to ongoing community problems. As part of the response process, officers were taught to form partnerships with other “stakeholders,” gather appropriate resources, and work in concert with stakeholder partners to implement solutions on their beats.

But POP, like COP, required inordinate time commitment and personnel deployments while the police radio continued dictating the activities of officers on the beats. Calls of domestic violence, traffic accidents, felonies in progress, and other high-priority directives made it almost impossible to attend to anything else. This program, too, lived a short life.

Reforms come from people, and people have to maintain and nurture them. Yet realized individual ambitions can thwart progress. Promotions, retirements, transfers, and job changes sometimes leave innovative programs withering in their creators’ dusty trails.

Sanders parlayed the POP reform into the chief’s job in 1993, while overleaping Norm Stamper, who had long since rejoined the sworn ranks and occupied the position of executive assistant chief of police. Sanders’ victory prompted Stamper to move to Seattle as that city’s police chief a few months later. Sanders retired in 1999, taking the helm at San Diego’s United Way instead, and much of his POP reform dried up and withered away in his absence.

How worrisome is the demise of COP and its younger sibling? In fact, for the SDPD rank and file, it’s a disguised blessing. Although James McClure missed it during his time studying the SDPD, a maelstrom was forming in San Diego’s policing waters while he wrote his book. As the department rolled out its innovative strategies, its officers died at the highest per capita rate in the nation while suffering the second highest injury rate from violent assaults. America’s Finest City was a deadly place to wear a police uniform.

One man stood as a stunned and heartbroken witness to the changing policing world as the police department worked to improve community relations. Charlie Riggs’ compelling personal story epitomizes the violence that swirled around San Diego’s cops in the 1980s. His own twenty-year police career began a decade before the implementation of COP, and for most of his career Charlie believed police work represented not only an honorable but a safe profession. This belief inspired his enthusiastic support for my already burgeoning interest in police work.

Charlie attended my police academy graduation in the summer of 1978, but before he did, he saved me some money. He told me uniform dress jackets, a requirement for the graduation ceremony, were expensive and unnecessary; the only other occasion calling for a dress jacket was a fellow officers’ job-related funeral—an unlikely event. Charlie borrowed a dress jacket for me. I returned it after having it cleaned.

In 1980, Charlie’s son Tom joined me in the ranks of the police department. Tim Ruopp, the young man who’d married Charlie’s daughter Kathy, joined him in 1982. Charlie’s positive view of policing almost certainly catalyzed their career choices.

They joined a police department intent on building community partnerships in the name of COP. As part of that effort, the department aggressively and minutely investigated every citizen’s complaint about real, imagined, or maliciously made-up allegations of police misconduct and frequently meted out discipline unrelated to the original citizen allegations.

I had several conversations with officers at the time who believed fear of onerous disciplinary practices made them tentative during enforcement actions. They also believed similar fears probably contributed to deaths and injuries among their peers. Other reasons had to do with unrelated tactical errors that needed to be fixed through better training.

In the early morning darkness on September 14, 1984, while patrolling an obscure extension of San Diego’s Balboa Park, Tim Ruopp spied two young men drinking alcohol accompanied by two girls who looked under age. Tim contacted the foursome and called for a cover unit. Kimberly Tonahill, a twenty-four-year-old female officer with only nine months’ experience on the streets, drove to his aid.

Tonahill began writing a citation to one of the men, Joselito Cinco, as Tim walked the girls to his police car for their ride home. With Tim’s attention turned elsewhere, Cinco pushed Officer Tonahill, pulled a 9mm handgun from his jacket, and shot her repeatedly. One bullet found the seam between the panels of her bulletproof vest and killed her.

Before Tim could react, Cinco shot him in the head. As the officers lay on the ground Cinco towered above. He shot them over and over again before opening the back door to Tim’s police car and telling the girls to climb out and run away with him. They scurried away and cowered under a park bench instead.

As Officer Gary Mitrovich neared the entrance to the park, he heard the shots and saw two officers on the ground. He couldn’t see Cinco or his friend, Victor Casillas, until they popped their heads up from behind Ruopp’s police car. Cinco fired, wounding Mitrovich in the shoulder. Mitrovich shot off part of Cinco’s ear as the gunman ran toward a wooded area of the park.

SWAT officers found Cinco hiding in a patch of shrubbery. The man who’d told friends he’d never go back to jail gave up without a fight. He later hanged himself in prison.

Subsequent dissection of this and other police murders revealed the need for “contact and cover” tactics. Officers were allowing their attention to be diverted, with deadly consequences. One officer needed to conduct all enforcement actions while the other watched and protected.

On March 31, 1985, just six months after the murders of Tim Ruopp and Kimberly Tonahill, Chief Kolender knocked on Charlie Riggs’ door, obliged to rescind the promise he’d made the night Cinco murdered the sergeant’s son-in-law—that he’d never again ring Charlie’s doorbell with such devastating news.

That afternoon, Tom Riggs had responded to a radio call initiated by fellow police agent Donovan Jacobs. Jacobs intended to stop a truck occupied by several black males who matched the description of suspects who’d brandished a gun in an incident earlier that day.

After initiating the stop, Jacobs asked the driver, Sagon Penn, for his driver’s license. Penn thrust his wallet at Jacobs.

Following SDPD department policy, Jacobs asked Penn to take the license from the wallet and hand it to him. Jacobs grabbed Penn by the shoulder as he walked away in defiance. Penn started to fight, the two fell to the ground, and a volatile neighborhood crowd gathered.

When Tom Riggs arrived, he snatched his baton from his gun belt to fend off the festering crowd while a female ride-along by the name of Sarah Pena Ruiz sat in his car’s front passenger seat. Sagon Penn yanked Jacobs’ gun from his holster, shot Jacobs in the neck, and fired three times at Riggs while Jacobs lay on top of him. The third bullet ruptured Riggs’ abdominal aorta and killed him. Like his brother-in-law a few months before, Tom had no time to react to the deadly threat.

Penn walked to the front of Riggs’ police car and shot twice through the windshield, hitting Pena Ruiz both times. Out of bullets, Penn knew where to find another gun. He yanked Tom’s revolver from his holster before climbing into Donovan Jacobs’ police car, driving over Jacobs’ wounded body, and driving away.

Remarkably, during the course of two trials, Penn achieved acquittal on some charges and benefited from hung juries on those remaining. Penn’s attorney, Milton Silverman, successfully depicted his client as a victim of unnecessarily aggressive police tactics who’d shot Jacobs, Riggs, and Pena Ruiz in self-defense and had to drive over Jacobs to get away.

His court triumphs didn’t lead to a happy life. On July 4, 2002, Penn, like Cinco, committed suicide.

The on-duty murders of Tim Ruopp, Kimberly Tonahill, and Tom Riggs, together with the wounding of Gary Mitrovich, Donovan Jacobs, and Sarah Pena Ruiz, comprised only part of the spate of deadly police encounters in the 1980s. But Tom’s death forced the horrifying recognition that San Diego’s cops needed a better way to do their jobs if they wanted to go home at the end of their shifts. Kolender and Stamper made a commitment to do whatever was necessary to address officer safety, beginning with forming an officer safety task force in April 1985. The twenty-two-week task force required 60,000 personnel hours and made 119 recommendations in a 111-page report released in December of 1985.

Although initially rejected, the task force’s recommendations to toughen up the officers’ image by painting the patrol fleet black and white and dressing patrol officers in dark blue uniforms eventually took hold. The new cars hit the streets in 1988, and the officers driving them wore dark blue uniforms with elaborate patches beginning in 1995.

Although the report never recommended it directly, a major training shift that followed its release emphasized more aggressive responses to potentially deadly threats. Perhaps inevitably, the pendulum of change swung far in the opposite direction. San Diego’s officers started killing at a significantly elevated rate, which required yet another look at how the SDPD conducted business. In 1991, the department formed a citizen’s task force to figure out how to reduce police shootings. Since then, the rate of SDPD shootings has been more in line with the national average.

As Shakespeare writes in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.” Similarly, the history of San Diego’s policing in recent decades sets the scene for what cops encounter in the San Diego of 2009.

Since the days of Cop World, the SDPD’s Central Division has evolved from three amorphous communities in a city with a decidedly small-town feel into sixteen distinct neighborhoods integral to a thrumming metropolis. Balboa Park, Hillcrest, and the Heights have fractured into Balboa Park, Barrio Logan, East Village, the Gaslamp Quarter, Golden Hill, Grant Hill, Harborview, Horton Plaza, Little Italy, Logan Heights, Marina, Memorial, Park West, Sherman Heights, South Park, and Stockton, with a combined population of nearly 86,000 people packed into roughly 9.7 square miles.

The almost provincial downtown that in the early 1980s sported only haggard single-room-occupancy hotels for housing units is now laced with upscale townhouses and high-rise condominium complexes. The San Diego Padres baseball team has relocated from a multi-use stadium in San Diego’s flood plain to an expansive downtown location across the street from a huge convention center overlooking the thriving North Island Naval Air Station across the bay.

The landscape of buildings, though limited to 500 feet in height because of Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s busy international airport on the northern edge of downtown, now looks worthy of a major city. While Phoenix and Houston have surpassed San Diego’s 1.4 million population, shifting San Diego’s status from sixth largest to eighth largest city in the nation, the city feels bigger and vibrates with a twenty-first-century pulse that promises an exciting future.

San Diego’s once large commercial tuna fishing fleet is now a ghost industry. The former Naval Training Center, since converted to commercial Liberty Station, is a collection of housing tracts, upscale eateries, and wine bars. New biotech and pharmaceutical research industries thrive, and the resilient tourism industry shows no sign of slowing down.

For the SDPD, protecting tourists and the money they bring along is a high priority, but so is taking care of the city’s residents. Based on crime statistics, the department successfully lives up to the challenge, but the odds are stacking up against them.

Some aspects of POP remain, partly because it’s always been more operational then philosophical, giving it a tactical edge over the earlier community policing emphasis. POP’s remnants include SIP, a Serial Inebriate Program designed to help chronic drunks turn their lives around, and HOT, a Homeless Outreach Team with a similar strategy for the homeless. Other programs include PERT, the Psychological Emergency Response Team that partners mental health professionals with specially trained officers to assist the mentally ill, a Drug Court that incorporates rehabilitation with incarceration, and the Graffiti Strike Force that strives to eradicate graffiti vandalism.

The current police chief, William Lansdowne, runs a traditional-style department harkening back to the days before community policing. His practical approach is respected throughout all levels of the department.

The slogan on the sides of San Diego’s black-and-white police cars still reads “To Protect and Serve,” but “America’s Finest” is stenciled above it. Apparently, convincing San Diegans they live in the best city in the nation requires constant effort. Maybe it’s because San Diego’s cops and the citizens they serve have suffered through decades of political and fiscal mismanagement since the early ‘80s. Detailing San Diego’s recent scandals would require a book the size of the California Penal Code.

The most far-reaching and consequential scandal, the one that directly impacts San Diego’s police force, stems from a multiyear underfunding of the city employees’ pension fund. In 2000 and 2001, the fund’s already deficient value plummeted. In 2002, the pension board and city council voted to decrease funding requirements while simultaneously increasing benefits for city employees, including some pension board members and union leaders. In 2004, Diann Shipione, a retirement board trustee and an avid hater of then mayor Dick Murphy, publicized the reality that no money existed to pay for the benefits. Opponents excoriated her, but others knew her whistle-blowing would surely drive San Diego’s load-bearing camel of corruption to its knees.

In 2005, after Mayor Murphy chose to resign, Jerry Sanders came out of public retirement to run for mayor and won the general election. Almost simultaneously, in an effort to address the mismanagement issues, the city abandoned its strong city council/city manager government to establish a strong mayor model. On December 31, 2005, Mayor Sanders walked out of his office with mostly ceremonial powers. When he flipped the lights on at the beginning of 2006, he stood as the chief executive officer of the City of San Diego.

Yet the shifting power giving Sanders the tools he needed to govern the disheveled city rang the death knell for many of his existing relationships. As mayor, the once popular police chief now finds himself in pitched battle with the officers he used to lead. Many of Sanders’ proposed fiscal reforms erode the benefits gained by the Police Officers’ Association during decades of contract negotiations. The association won’t give them up without a fight, but senior officers, who fear losing promised benefits for the rest of their lives, are choosing to retire to preserve their legacies.

It’s a tough environment for the remaining street cops. Many feel unappreciated, both by the public who support Sanders’ efforts and by the boss they once admired. They also fear the consequences of policing San Diego’s streets without benefit of the wisdom that’s departing with their retiring colleagues.

Today’s cops also fear the prospect of organized, violent civil disobedience, crooks who carry deadlier guns than they do and can access their personal information via the internet, biological weapons that can be delivered through the mail, terrorist attacks in our schools and churches, and the pending early release of incarcerated felons due to the worsening economy.

The SDPD’s long tradition of policing its streets with too few officers is about to be sorely tested. The looming explosion of retirements will stretch the department to the snapping point. Currently budgeted for employing 2109 sworn officers, the SDPD is operating at 87 percent capacity. Nearly every conversation among police officers these days centers on who’s leaving and who’s staying. Current estimates teeter in the direction of 150 police officers of various ranks and responsibilities about to pull the plug on their careers. The rush is on to replace them.

As I write this, the city’s website says hiring tests are slated for three times per month. Personnel departments customarily space hiring tests in increments of months, not days. Hiring standards will surely suffer, and unseasoned employees can never fully replace the senior officers infused with the wisdom they’ve soaked up through decades of experience.

Why does a San Diego laboring under the weight of civic scandal, fiscal mismanagement, and deadly policing consequences still lay claim to the title of America’s Finest City? It’s easy to believe you’re in paradise when warm breezes riffle the palm fronds dangling overhead, but crooks still walk the streets beneath the trees, and that’s where San Diego’s cops ply their trade.

Let’s join them and see what it’s like to police the streets of America’s Finest City.

Rodney King Meltdown

February 8, 2010

The Rodney King incident stirred angry emotions around the country. I wrote two articles about it for “Police Magazine” and an op-ed piece for the “San Diego Union.” What follows is a slightly edited version of the “Police” article called “Meltdown,” from the June 1991, edition.

Have you noticed the word fallout creeping into news accounts about the videotaped beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers? The incident has become to American law enforcement what the Chernobyl meltdown was to the nuclear power industry. Chernobyl proved that fears about nuclear holocaust were real.

People across the country insist that incidents like the Rodney King beating happen everywhere; that cops should be feared. Not only is the use of force a point of contention, so is the credibility of police officers. In Los Angeles, a prospective juror recently got dismissed from jury duty when he told the prosecutor, “If the police say it. I don’t believe it.” If you don’t believe the cops, you can’t find anybody guilty.

Cops and police departments across the country suffer from the after effects of the King beating. In Washington D.C, a person Officer Roderick Torrence was questioning asked if he intended, “to beat me up like they did Rodney King?” At the opposite end of the country, in the posh community of La Jolla, Officer Bill Farrar was standing on a sidewalk. A spanking new Mercedes-Benz zipped by with the driver waving a parking citation and yelling, “Thanks a lot. Now, I suppose you’ll go beat somebody up.”

According to San Diego police chief Bob Burgeen, the incident will become to handling police arrests, what Miranda became to police interviews.

Farrar, who works for Chief Burgreen and has about 18-years of patrol experience, says, “It’s changing the perspective of people who used to be on the fence, or active police supporters.”  Farrar has a unique perspective.  He volunteers as an employee representative for the police union, standing up for the rights of officers subjected to Internal Affairs investigations.

He tells of a recent incident where officers initiated a citation for littering. The litterbug started fighting and an officer called for backup. Farrar responded to the call because of the potential for public backlash. He noticed several bystanders with cameras and video recorders capturing the action. The investigation of the inevitable complaint is underway.

Farrar says most officers have the attitude of, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I don’t need any representation.” He insists it’s dangerous for officers to assume they’ll be treated fairly during the scope of an investigation.

Ed Nowicki, executive director of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, shares Farrar’s concern. Nowicki says, “Our officers must be accountable, but shouldn’t function under a microscope. There shouldn’t be any backlash because of fear to use force. What police administrators need to look at is, ‘Was the officer’s conduct reasonable?'”

The director of a law enforcement consulting group who asked for anonymity says, “There’s no excuse for what we saw on that videotape, but even if we watched a perfect level of (police) violence on tape, we’d be uncomfortable watching it.”

Ben Hedlund, a patrol supervisor for the Blaine (Minn.) Police Department comments, “I told my guys to be super sensitive because the public is.”  His warnings don’t extend to being careful at the expense of officer safety. The message to officers  is clear:  Be aware the public is watching you and treat people with professional respect–but don’t let up on your safety habits.

Almost certainly, there will be a marked increase in excessive force complaints resulting from eroded public confidence in the police. It’s also probable that department administrations will investigate complaints with increased vigor. Attorney Everett Bobbitt, a former police lieutenant who represents police officer associations says he’s personally involved in three San Diego PD cases, one in Imperial County, and a California state prison case where the results differed from what they would have been before Rodney King. He says, in earlier times, they would have resulted in exoneration or lesser penalties.

San Diego police administrators deny Bobbitt’s assertions. But George Penn, a former assistant city manager for San Diego and presently the city manager for Atlantic City says, “Everett Bobbitt is correct–but he’ll never be able to prove it.”

Ironically, police officers around the country insist that what they saw on the King videotape was wrong. “There’s no excuse for it,” one officer told me. “The officers deserve what they get.” I’ve heard nearly identical words from cops around the country, but not everyone is so critical.

David Pettengill, a corporal with the Coquille City Police Department in Southwestern Oregon takes a contrarian view. “I’m a 20-year-veteran in a town where loggers, ranchers and mill workers work and play hard. It’s awful easy for someone (in city administration) to say, “This shouldn’t have happened. It’s pretty damn hard for someone on the outside to tell us what to do.”

Pettengill believes those outside law enforcement don’t understand the scope of a cop’s duties. “We’re not getting a lot of the training we need… You know, you can be under fire and won’t hear as much adrenalin in the voice as when you turn the overhead lights on in a pursuit.”

This raises two major issues: “What new trends will emerge in police training? And what happened on March 3, to foster the Rodney King Incident?

Consider the environment surrounding the King incident. Rodney King led officers on a pursuit and officers’ adrenaline started pumping. That’s very little information for psychologists to use explaining what happened.

Dr. Dennis Davis, a psychologist specializing in police issues says the phenomenon of “mob mentality” took over. Mob mentality requires four ingredients; a sense of belonging to a group, a sense of personal anonymity, an extremely small number of potential victims and the “element of frustration.”

The videotape clearly depicts the first three ingredients. The frustration came either from the events preceding the beginning of the videotape or from external stimuli. There’s no way to know what elevated the officers’ frustration level. Did their stimuli come from their work environment, their home environment, or a combination of the two.

The answers aren’t readily available, but Sgt. Hedlund points out, “The officers on the scene didn’t appear too afraid of repercussions, based on their radio traffic following the incident.” Cops who don’t fear repercussions under those circumstances almost certainly work in an inapprpriately permissive environment.

Don’t ignore the question of racism. Was Rodney King’s Blackness a contributing factor? A lot of cops deny it emphatically, but racism is absolutely the crux of the national outcry. Will there be renewed emphasis on screening police applicants who might fall prey to racism or the frustration evidenced on the tape?

Davis, himself and African-American, doesn’t think so. “All we can really do is screen out pathology. Psychological testing can’t tell you who will make a good police officer. All we can do is tell if an applicant is hearing voices.”

The anonymous police consultant quoted earlier says it takes a certain boldness to predict who’ll make a successful cop. His organization is working on building a profile. The profile varies from urban to rural areas, and according to regional, cultural, economical and educational differences.

He also points out that pathology can show up in a cop’s behavior that isn’t readily predictable through any existing screening methods. Still, national data bases with hundreds of thousands of respondents indicate that 68 percent of police applicants are screened out during the application process. He adds, we must, “invent the banner of professional policing and obliterate the wall between the police and the public. The King incident will impact training and use of force issues. Greater attention will be given to what officers face.”

Evidence indicates the prediction is already coming true. According to Maril O’Shaughnessy, director of the Ft. Worth Regional Training Academy, the Texas State Legislature is already passing laws requiring more training on minority issues. She confirms it’s getting more difficult to hire cops because so many get eliminated during the psychological screening phases.

Dr. Davis foresees new training emphases. “There will be greater emphasis on self-control and anger management,” he says. He adds that a new professional mentality needs to be taught that stresses the importance of the supervisor’s role, in addition to teaching officers tools to understand themselves.

Police supervisors must be more alert to changes in employee behavior. They’ll be taught to pay more attention to symptoms signalling potentially dangerous behavior and to be more aware of the personal lives of their subordinates. According to Davis, “If you know your employee is going through a divorce, is getting married, has lost a child, is going to school and working nights–anything inherently likely to increase stress in their lives–talk to them.”

If an officer is under too much stress, their peers can tell. Davis advises officers to notice major changes in another officer’s behavior. Is the officer beginning to show up late for work? Are there arguments with fellow officers? Is the officer too abrupt in dealing with citizens?

If so, get involved. Let them know you’ve noticed their behavior. Lend a willing ear, but be willing to speak. Your reputation and ability to do your job depend upon the professional behavior of all police officers, so go on record as being intolerant of improper police behavior. The officer you’re trying to reach will know it’s in his or her best interest to seek professional help. In most departments help is available through psychological services. If the service isn’t available, encourage the officer to see his or her supervisor about their options.”

Law enforcement consultant Frank Bucheit has his own ideas about training needs. He believes the “officer safety” emphasis contributes to an “us vs. them” mentality, promoting the idea that cops are somehow set apart from the rest of humanity. Bucheit says there should be renewed emphasis on communication skills that teach officers to have fewer encounters ending with force.

When force is necessary, Bucheit advocates teaching officers to know the proper level of force necessary, “accurately, 100 percent of the time.” That equates to significantly elevated skill levels and the ability to use proper judgment in stressful situations. “We have to teach that, through proper use of tactics, officers can avoid unnecessary confrontations. The best cop work seldom, if ever, involves the use of force. Cops need to be masters of their environment. They should use their senses to gain control of all circumstances.”

When Chernobyl happened, the Soviets finally started paying attention to the inherent dangers of nuclear power. The nuclear industry as a whole set efforts in motion to prevent future catastrophes and communicated those measures directly to the public.

Nowicki says that if American cop work is ever going to revert to a normal state, “Police officers will need to be proud, but address the problems.” That means accepting closer public scrutiny and aggressively developing training programs that include strict compliance procedures. Maybe the King incident was an abberration, but that doesn’t mean its legacy can be ignored.

Copworld Debut Post

February 4, 2010

This blog is an unabashed paean to James McClure, the now deceased author of  the non-fiction book  “Cop World: Inside an American Police Force.” Published in 1984, it closely examined the Central Division of the San Diego Police Department. I was a character in the book under the pseudonym of Luke Jones.

Luke Jones later reappeared in fictional form in my novel “America’s Finest” about a Shakespeare quoting rookie cop. I’m currently writing “Cop World II: Inside an American Police Force, Twenty-Five-Years later.” It’s designed to focus on the changes in policing since McClure’s successful and ground-breaking  book. During his many ride-alongs with me Mr. McClure confided his secret pride when citizens mistook him for a plain clothes cop and I confided my dream of becoming an author one day. Here’s hoping Mr. McClure would be proud of my efforts. I’ve enclosed a brief excerpt from “America’s Finest” in the form of the first chapter.

Please check back as I’ll be including additional excerpts from both books from time to time in addition to commenting on topics important to cops and the public they serve.

Chapter 1

Summer 1978

    Phillip McGrath was on his way to kill somebody.

He turned toward a home at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac where rusted children’s toys lay scattered in an oil puddle in the driveway. A dusty motor home rested near the stucco façade of the house and a basketball hoop drooped low over the crumbling asphalt.

The Toyota truck parked beneath a tangle of power lines.

Sweat dripped down McGrath’s neck, under his armpits and along the sides of his protruding belly as he hobbled toward the door. He slid the key from under the welcome mat and eased inside. A huge German shepherd stood in the entryway, his tail thumping against the door frame.

    McGrath patted the shepherd’s head and ran his fingers along its muscular back as it panted along beside him, its undulating tongue nearly licking the shag carpet. Dropping to his knees at the open door to the study, McGrath muttered words of affection to Max, his only friend, scratched the dog’s massive chest, and pulled gently on his ears.

Struggling to his feet a moment later, McGrath blocked Max with his knee and locked the door behind him to ensure privacy in case someone came home. He limped to the stereo, pulled a record from its jacket and set the needle into the groove. Walking behind a large oak desk, he opened a closet door, lifted an afghan and clutched the Winchester rifle beneath it. Sinking backward into a heavy chair, he pushed against the floor with his feet to scoot toward the middle of the room.

Nothing could stop him now.

He swiveled to face the door and listened to the strains of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. As he closed his eyes, he saw the pianist’s movements in his mind’s eye as Jarrett’s chin slumped toward his heaving chest and his nimble fingers played a run of incessant notes that peaked and waned in a series of mini-crescendos.

Witnessing the public love affair between Jarrett and his piano again obliterated all his self conceits. What had happened to the passion that used to drive his life?

As he re-lived Jarrett’s sweetly tormenting performance for the last time, a run of ecstatic moans escaped the pianist’s lips and floated upward to dangle in congress with the music.

    As Jarrett’s music filled the room, McGrath spread his legs, propped the rifle between them, swallowed the barrel and pulled the trigger. With no regard for who would clean up the mess.