Opinion

The Public Has No Idea Why Police React the Way They Do and Communities are Paying the Price

I’ve been writing about a lack of public understanding about what police do, the reluctance to give cops the benefit of the doubt they deserve, and other solvable issues that lead to de-policing. De-policing is the phenomenon where officers shun proactive police work and do little other than answer 911 calls. This occurs when cops don’t believe their leaders will support them if they’re involved in a controversial incident, even if they acted in good faith and according to training. A truly tragic case that recently came out of Baltimore illustrates this point perfectly.

Last month, a jury awarded the family of a suburban Baltimore woman who was fatally shot by police $37 million in damages. Police shot the woman, who was armed with a shotgun, during a standoff at her apartment that lasted six hours. The jury awarded this extraordinary damage award despite the deceased “plaintiff” having pointed a shotgun at a police officer before she was shot.

Isolating the facts of the standoff highlight issues regarding police-community trust, but I don’t mean people’s mistrust of cops. I’m talking about the police not trusting their communities. It’s one thing when people don’t trust cops because they believe the anti-police lies and propaganda that are inundating academia and spewing liberally from the social justices and mainstream media.

But what about when cops don’t trust their communities?

It starts when people don’t educate themselves about what cops do or they don’t look at a cop’s job from a law enforcement officer’s perspective. In their minds, they think up some scenario where they would have handled it “better” than the cop. It’s much easier to make things turn out right in your imagination than it is in real life. Think about this jury award from a cop’s point of view: a multi-million-dollar award to the family of a person who had an outstanding warrant for her arrest, refused to surrender to police, and endangered her five-year-old son, all while pointing a shotgun at police officers. What are the cops to think of that? Under what circumstances do they believe a cop should ever use force?

This is where the police begin to distrust their communities.

Citizens Police Academy events are held all over the nation whereby members of the community are invited in for an expose of police work, its mission, how units function, and why certain tactics and strategies are employed. (Credit: Facebook/Kyle Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association)

Police need to be able to trust that their communities will make intelligent, informed decisions when making public comments on controversial police actions and when they sit on criminal and civil juries. When cops cannot trust their communities to educate themselves, so they can understand the dynamic nature of police work, or at least give officers the benefit of the doubt, this can lead to circumstances that produce de-policing, which damages society.

Lets’ go back a bit and see what that officer faced that day. As you read on, put yourself in a cop’s shoes, and see how much proactive police work you’d want to do following such an event. I’d also ask you to think about what available alternatives to lethal force the officer had? What would you do if a person pointed a gun at you? No matter how much empathy or sympathy you had for this troubled woman, would you bet your life, or your partners’ lives, that the person wasn’t going to pull that trigger?

In August 2016, officers arrived at 23-year-old Korryn Gaines’ apartment to serve a warrant on her and her fiancé, resulting from a prior incident which included disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Remember, officers went into the situation knowing she had a history of resisting police.

Soon after police arrived, Gaines’ fiancé left the apartment with a one-year-old child whereupon police arrested him on his warrant. Then they entered the apartment to arrest Gaines who remained inside with her 5-year-old son. Gaines was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. Reportedly, toward the end of the negotiations, Gaines pointed the shotgun at an officer and said, “If you don’t leave, I’m going to kill you.”

Please keep track of the facts as they were known during that incident. There are primarily three things you need to know: Gaines had a history of resisting arrest, was armed with a shotgun, and pointed it at a police officer. She may have also suffered from mental issues. (During an obscenity-laden tirade several months before the six-hour apartment standoff, police stopped Gaines for driving a car without license plates. In their place, she’d affixed cardboard placards with a hand-written notice declaring she did not have to follow motor vehicle laws.)

“Korryn Gaines: Her Video Proves the Hardship of Police Officers.” (Credit: Facebook/Cranup)

According to court testimony, the officer fired a shot when Gaines raised the gun. Officers do not have to wait until someone shoots at them before firing. In fact, that would be pretty bad judgement. Gaines then did, in fact, fire two shots at the officer. The officer returned fire, killing Gaines. One of the officer’s rounds also wounded Gaines’ son, who, as reports indicate, she’d placed between herself and the officer.

Whether she was hyper-radicalized or mentally compromised, I don’t know. However, it’s clear something not-quite-right was going on in that woman’s head. No one in their right mind would put their young child in such danger.

This was a tragedy and likely failure on several levels. But it was not a failure of the police who responded on that day. Responding officers can only deal with what confronts them as it confronts them. It doesn’t automatically become the cops’ fault when things don’t turn out as people would like them to. Some people simply refuse to accept reason and act accordingly.

Perhaps, critics need to look to the mental health system. Maybe give CPS a call and see if there was a history of child neglect and if her child should have been in her custody. This woman had obvious issues, which she displayed in a video she made of herself during the incident where (including graphic language) she said, “The devil’s at my door, and he’s refusing to leave.

After her fiancé voluntary went outside to meet police and before she exchanged gunfire with police, Gaines also said that the police “took her family,” referring to her fiancé who obviously surrendered because he’d been in the apartment with her. He could have stayed with her. Instead, he did the rational thing and left, taking a one-year-old with him.

Many public comments made by people ignorant of police tactics make little sense. For example, some critics argued that the cops were impatient and not interested in “de-escalating” the situation. Sadly, one person even commented, “the police wanted to finish their shift, so they ‘got the job done.’” What a warped view of life to carry. The standoff lasted six hours. If they were impatient, not interested in de-escalation, and not concerned about Gaines and her child, they would have stormed the apartment when they arrived.

They did not storm the apartment. In fact, captions on the video show the cops’ efforts to de-escalate: “You’re a young lady. You got your whole life ahead of you. You have a beautiful baby which I would like to meet. And you and I are going to talk until we come to an agreement and we bring everybody out safe.”

Or until Gaines points her gun at a police officer. Remember, Gaines controlled the incident by remaining armed with a gun and by keeping her young son with her, endangering him. If at any time Gaines had dropped the gun and given up, the incident would have been over. She would still be alive, and her son would not have been wounded. Armed with the shotgun, she made the movement where the officer, based on his experience and training, felt forced to shoot.

In stipulating that Gaines had a gun, a pastor and Black Lives Matter member asked why the cops could not have used a Taser on Gaines. This is a question that might make sense to the average person, but not to the average cop. In his untrained mind, I’m sure this makes sense. But it points to the lack of public education on what cops do.

Though the pastor may have meant well, in a cop’s world, for well-trained cops, using a Taser in this instance would go against their training, for so many reasons I don’t have time to go into. Police are not required to use less-than-lethal options, such as Tasers, to confront a suspect armed with a gun. Under the right circumstances, an officer might use a Taser on someone armed with a knife, club, or other non-firearm weapon. But, simply put, you don’t bring a Taser to a gunfight.

Then, aside from the living-in-my-parents’-basement crowd, you have comments made by people who should know better. Consider this “measured” comment from an Ivy League academic. Kimberlé Crenshaw, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (that tells you all you need to know) said, “Although Black women are routinely killed, raped, and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality [emphasis mine].”

It’s fascinating, and not at all unexpected these days, that scholars would make such comments without backing up their assertions with any objective facts—that’s not the progressive way. However, she is a “a leading authority on how law and society are shaped by race and gender.” No, really…it says so on the Internet so it must be true.

How could anyone have an intelligent conversation with someone holding such an unreasonable viewpoint?  It would be like trying to debate someone who believes the sky is green. Now, it’s a sad fact that police brutality exists. And where it is found, it should be punished severely. But so many of these anti-cop folks are manufacturing crises out of the ether. The only statistics they use are generated by partisan supporters of their mythical premises. They refuse to believe FBI and DOJ stats even when those stats were gathered under their messiah, Barack Obama.

Remember, “hands up, don’t shoot” never happened. You know who told us? President Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder. Doesn’t matter. The anti-cop crowd will continue shaping the narrative until they can make the proverbial square peg fit into that round hole.

October 2017: National Night Out joins law enforcement personnel and citizens to explore police work and proactively ensure safe communities. (Credit: Facebook/Sanford Police Department)

Let’s work to educate the public about what we do. Let’s strive to get back that benefit of the doubt that the daunting hiring regime earns a police officer. We see all kinds of government-sponsored public service announcements (PSA) for all sorts of causes. How about some PSAs that demonstrate law enforcement from a cop’s perspective? Teach good people, people willing to listen and learn, how cops have to perceive things in order to stay alive.

Then, maybe, the knowledge and understanding of what cops face will translate into better community-police relations—and more sensible jury decisions. And not only will communities be more willing to trust their cops but also cops will be able to trust their communities.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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