I have no clue as to why there has been a such a dramatic increase in the number of police shootings, misconduct and brutality lately, but I think I have some answers and recommendations.
During my years as a Federal agent with the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and the Drug Enforcement Administration, I participated in hundreds of arrests. While a supervisor of an enforcement group (25 agents), I oversaw the arrest of hundreds of people from the organized crime world to “mules” carrying narcotics and dangerous drugs into our nation’s airports.
Was everything perfect? Almost. Let me speak about three specific incidents that helped shape my career.
The first incident was when I observed one of the agents under my supervision hit a handcuffed prisoner.
My first inclination was to take the handcuffs off and let the defendant exact some revenge on the agent. I apologized to the defendant and told him that type of behavior would not be tolerated. I immediately called my supervisor and ultimately “Inspection,” the arm at the Department of Justice that investigates agent behavior.
The agent was severely reprimanded and was lucky to keep his job. He should have been fired.
The second incident was when I observed a young agent (only two weeks out of the Federal academy) take some change off the defendant’s bedroom dresser during the execution of a search warrant. The amount ended up being $3.38.
My initial thought was how could this agent be so stupid? But then I started to think maybe he wasn’t stupid, and it was who was being tested in a ruse to see if I would turn him in. After all, it was a a small amount monetarily, but a huge indicator of what the agent might do in the future.
I confronted the young agent who was incredulous that I would call him on the “theft.” The agent was ultimately fired.
The third incident involved a female defendant who accused members of my group of roughing her up during an arrest.
A civil trial was actually held, and her case completely fell apart. The jury was out less than a hour. Ironically, her supposed “witnesses” never came forward, and her testimony was full of errors and inconsistencies. One of the agents she accused was not even working that day. There were no video cameras in the early 1970’s.
Later in my career, I was selected to teach Federal and local law enforcement personnel in over 50 foreign countries and throughout the United States. We taught a wide variety of topics including arrest techniques and procedures. There have been books written, policy papers produced, and hundreds of videos on the subject of arrest – and it is not my intention to simplify the difficulties and dangers inherent in the process.
What seems to be lacking in today’s law enforcement classrooms is something I have preached all my life as a Federal agent and the last three decades as a private investigator: Keep in mind that every action you take and every word you speak might be in front of a judge or jury someday.
That’s the gold standard. If applied by officers consistently and uniformly, we would not be hearing about these latest very disturbing cases where defendants are taken to the morgue and not a police station.
This practice should then be combined by an overwhelming welcome in the law enforcement community to the use of video cameras on the officer’s uniform and their vehicle dashboards. Also, it is very important that these cameras are not able to be turned off by the officers for self-serving purposes.
If we had video cameras back when the female defendant claimed she was roughed up, there never would have been a trial.
Mistakes will be made and the justice system hopefully will take the human nature part of the job into account. No system can have tolerance for stupidity, hatred or racism. When an officer (Michael Slagger) is shown on videotape shooting a fleeing suspect (Walter Scott) in the back multiple times or a suspect (Freddie Gray) dies while being transported in a police vehicle, the law enforcement community and management must acknowledge that public communication and training needs to be totally revamped and/or reviewed. Conversely, when witnesses claim a defendant had his hands in the air while being shot and later this is proven totally incorrect, then ALL cases should be given some time-test investigation, calm and patience.
Finally, there seems to be a sense that lives are not valuable. The recent reaction to these incidents gives rise in some circles to being commonplace. There should be a lot more outrage amongst the 99.9% of good and decent police officers throughout this country.