Posts Tagged ‘Community policing’

More Police Procedural Writer’s Questions Answered

August 13, 2016

Here’s a second round of questions from a writer seeking advice about police policies and procedures for a book she’s writing. I’m including the Q&A in a blog so that other writers tackling police issues can benefit from the information. My answers are in bold.

Q.  I have a couple more questions. Can my rookie cop have the same partner after she completes her probation period?

A.  Here’s where things get a little complicated. This may depend upon the size, and or, policies of the department. First, it’s important to point out that there’s a difference between a rookie and a trainee. If she’s a trainee, it’s likely the department would like her to work alone or with a different partner than her training officer upon graduating from the training program. However, that’s not set in stone. If she’s a rookie who’s on probation, then it’s probable there wouldn’t be any problem with her continuing to work with the same partner when her probationary period ends.

Q.  And what is the chain of command? I have her having a Sergeant as well as the Captain. But I watched Southland and they referred to the Watch Commander as the boss, and the rookie had to be assigned a different partner after graduation.

A. This situation is also more complicated than it appears at first glance. The chain of command is likely to differ depending upon the size of the department. If it’s a large department, then the rank structure is likely to be officer, sergeant, lieutenant, then captain. Ranks above captain are likely to vary depending upon the individual policies of the department.

The watch commander position is actually outside of the normal chain of command. He or she is likely to be the ranking officer in charge of the patrol functions of a specific shift. They may also be responsible for approving bookings to verify that the arresting officer has met all of the standards of probable cause, department policy etc.

If you’re a writer with questions regarding police issues, feel free to send them along. I’ll respond and turn the exchange into a blog for the benefit of others.                                                     ~T.B.  Smith 



In the Rodney King Case, Police Have Taken a Beating,Too.

June 2, 2012

In cleaning out my files recently, I found a couple previously published articles on the Rodney King incident. What follows is an updated version of my opinion piece that appeared in the April, 1991 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune under the headline, “In the Rodney King Case, Police Have Taken a Beating, Too” with input from my writing partner, Linda A. Shubeck.

The physical damage the police inflicted on Rodney King most likely healed long ago. Healing the damage to relations between cops and the public they serve took a lot longer and is still on the mend.

Many things have changed since 1991, when a bystander serendipitously armed with a camera videotaped Rodney King’s drubbing. Most police cars now carry video cameras and some officers wear head cameras and microphones. Cell phone communications and their ever present cameras add to the levels of public scrutiny.

However, two things remain immutable; the physical and mental reactions of cops who chase scofflaws at speeds exceeding a hundred-miles-per-hour, and the fact that it’s the offenders, not the cops who start police pursuits.

Cops get angry when lives are needlessly jeopardized by the stupid actions of thoughtless people. This anger is magnified by the adrenaline rushing through their bodies as they careen through the streets and along the freeways of urban areas, wondering all the while if the risk is worth the potential cost.

The rush of adrenaline dilates their air passages and pushes elevated levels of oxygen into their lungs. Blood vessels constrict throughout their bodies, redirecting the blood toward their hearts, lungs, and major muscle groups. Their body’s systems react to the adrenaline and other hormones within seconds, giving the officers a nearly instant physical boost of strength as their respiration and awareness of immediate surroundings heighten and brain chemicals make them slightly dizzy.

That’s a partial description of the “fight or flight syndrome” that affects an officer’s physiological state during a pursuit and informs their actions during the arrest. Exercising their best judgment under those circumstances is certainly not easy.

We don’t know what happened between the time when King finally yielded to the police sirens and the videotape rolled. Today we probably would have the entire incident on video. However, we do know that King was shot with a Taser, an apparatus that propels two barbs attached to the ends of wires and delivers 50,000 volts of electrical current, immobilizing almost everyone it strikes. It didn’t immobilize Rodney King. Even with several officers present, the fact that King wasn’t subdued created fear. Add physiologically agitated bodies to fear and frustration and the sum is violence.

What frustration? There’s the frustration of the chase itself and there’s the frustration of policing our society. There’s too little room in our jails and prisons, limited facilities for housing violent or helpless mental health patients and more and more homeless people pepper the streets and sidewalks.  These problems get worse decade by decade.

Maintaining the balance of justice in a free society is an arduous process. We need to recognize that cops are victims of the chaos as well. They police the streets of a degenerating society on a daily basis while suffering under the diminished public support for decades since the Rodney King beating.

Oddly, 9/11 did a lot to heal the breach of trust when the country saw just who runs into a building that’s under attack when nearly everyone else runs in the opposite direction. And today, ubiquitous video cameras can continue to repair police/community relations. Recently, a Philadelphia police officer’s violent encounter with a street crook drew almost universal praise from media pundits in awe of the bravery and mental focus it took to retain his gun during the life-and-death encounter.

It does seem a little odd that today’s proliferation of video cameras can help grant the heart-felt request Rodney King made during the riots following the first trial of the officers involved in his post-chase arrest, “can we all get along?”

The Accountability Factor

September 2, 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.

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.