Archive for March, 2010

Chaos in Cambridge

March 11, 2010

Everybody has an opinion about how cops do their jobs and facts sometimes seem irrelevant to their decision making process. The reason lies in the fact that we have an open press with an urgent agenda to get people on the record, sometimes about something they admittedly know nothing about. President Obama fell victim to the process in the Cambridge controversy and spoke when he should have listened.

The President’s supporters on the topic point to the fact that he’s a black man in America and qualified to speak to what it’s like interacting with the police while standing in a black man’s skin. Fair enough. My 27-years of experience as a police officer qualifies me to speak out too.

I didn’t see what happened in Cambridge, didn’t hear the words spoken and didn’t taste the bitter almond taste of chagrin that roils up into the mouth and eats away at the enamel of the teeth like a corrosive acid that I’m betting Sgt. Crowley tasted on that night not so long ago. I know the taste because I’ve been accused of racism for simply doing my job as a police officer. In spite of all the emphasis on community policing these days, most of what a police officers does in the streets is still driven by citizens who pick up the phone and ask for police assistance. After dispatch relayed the calling citizen’s information to responding units, the size, shape, and color of the possible burglar the cops were rushing off to contact was irrelevant to their motivations.

I know the previous part much better than I know what I’m about say. But I’m following the solid precedent set by the President of the United States. I believe I know something about what led to the arrest of Professor Gates and, sadly, it’s probably deeply rooted in racial animus. Professor Gates was sorely offended by the notion that a neighbor believed him to be a burglar and thought his Blackness contributed to her belief. The cops who responded to the call got in the way of his seething anger. Cops sometimes respond to the irrational ire directed toward them by applying a set of handcuffs to keep the situation from turning violent. Once the handcuffs are applied, it’s almost imperative to make an official arrest and to support your actions with an arrest report. To do any less would subject the cuffing officer and their department to civil liability.

Rushing headlong to contact an angry man who relished the sanctity of his own home, the potential for violence and the potential for civil liability were the ingredients that created the crucible that forced the arrest.

Police work will always be the subject of controversy in this country. It’s the nature of the beast. The lesson to be learned from Cambridge is that opinion needs to be informed by fact, not prejudice.