Published on September 27th, 20140
Ferguson from a police perspective
How might the situation in Ferguson have taken a different, less confrontational course? The key might be the kind of police professionalism that most of us regularly experience in our communities.
A neighbor who is a police veteran wrote this assessment and it’s too good not to share. Bert Monsen served 30 years with the Elmhurst Police Dept, retiring as Chief of Police. While there he served in patrol, served as an evidence technician, commanded a tactical unit, detective, detective commander, deputy chief and chief. After retiring he joined the Illinois State Police and served for 14 years as an intelligence analyst specialist. This is his take on events in Ferguson:
As a former law enforcement officer with some executive as well as street experience involving shootings and civil unrest, I have been appalled by how this case has evolved. I have seen errors made before, but this is wrong from just about every direction possible.
From experience I can pretty well assume how this thing started, but that would be unfair for me to interject my hunches without factual backup. From what has been reported by the media and verified by local authorities is that a male, black teenager who was unarmed, was shot and killed after a white, male police officer confronted him.
Photos and video show the victim lying in his wandering blood trail until finally covered not by the police, but by a neighbor. The police made no attempt to check for the victim’s condition. Medical aid did not arrive for 45 minutes. Investigating detectives did not arrived for an hour and a half.
The crime scene was hopefully processed correctly, but no one has reported anything about that part of the investigation. The police chief reported that two boys had been stopped by the officer and they were in the officer’s car when some sort of struggle ensued and the officers weapon was discharged as the victim tried to get at it. Other witnesses report the boys were never inside the police car. Those same witnesses say the officer drove up by the boys, reportedly told them to, “get the fuck out of the street,” and for some reason initiated some more aggressive action…as one involved witness claimed, “the officer tried opening his car door, but there was not enough room for him to do so and the door bounced back and struck him.” He than grabbed the victim’s arm through the window and his weapon discharged. The victim was able to free his arm and both boys began to run off. The officer exited his car and began chase, discharging his weapon several times at the victim until the victim fell to the pavement. No charges have been filed or considered until the investigation is complete.
No report has been made by the involved officer. It is unknown if investigators have even interviewed him. He is on administrative leave.
The officer’s name was withheld until the police chief inadvertently let it be known while giving a nationally televised press conference, but then tried to retract it at that time. Later, a video from a local business was released by the police department claiming it showed the victim involved in a strong armed robbery just 15 minutes prior to his being stopped and killed, just prior to officially releasing the involved officer’s name. The police chief then followed that up by admitting the involved officer had no idea of the robbery and the boy’s potential involvement. Just what was the chief’s intent here?
The victim’s body lying out on the street for 4 or more hours helped raise the ire of neighbors and viewers and civil unrest began to build. Additionally, the lack of information about the incident by authorities added fuel to the fire. In almost all cases I am aware of the local State’s Attorney is usually very quick to get before the cameras to inform the public about facts known and planned procedures for the subsequent investigation. The was not the case here. The S.A. never was seen or officially heard from for many days. Again, this added to mistrust.
Local and county authorities decided to activate their “specialized units” and equipment in efforts to quell any demonstrations felt to be disorderly. Officers in heavy defensive and offensive uniforms, weapons, equipment and vehicles were quickly dispatched to confront demonstrators. This too, had an adverse affect on the citizenry. A day or so later the Governor initiated a curfew upon the community. Then, they decided that no demonstrator was to remain in a standing position; they must keep moving at all times. Media personnel were arrested. Numerous incidents of confrontations between the police and the public were reported. Everything they came up with was in negativity for the community and the situation.
Normally, you place your special units in a reserve posture, out of sight but near enough to activate if the need arises. You use your regular officers for crowd control. You place covert officers within the crowd to rapidly pluck out serious troublemakers before they can agitate the crowd into wrongdoing. You immediately interact with the demonstration leaders to coordinate a “game plan,” for the activities. You place medical personnel in key positions in case of the necessity to treat anyone in need. You place officers in key positions such as city hall, the police department, public works facilities, local businesses such as liquor stores and 7-11-type stores…places that could become targets for wrongdoers.
You make sure your officers are sufficiently trained for such events. You do not allow officers from other agencies who have not been trained to be assigned to assist your agency in these situations. All personnel in uniform must have their identification readily accessible and provide their name and badge number when asked.
It finally was realized that the local authorities had lost control of the situation and the State Police were ordered to take over by the Governor. A very impressive black captain was put in charge and made great strides in gaining control and trust of the citizenry. He did this pretty effectively even though being interfered with by local and county authorities.
After a week or so the Mayor of Ferguson finally appeared before the media and claimed there were no racial problems within his city. The population of this community is 67% black with 55 police officers of which 3 are black.
I regretfully read some blogs by retired police executives (including the retired St. Louis chief), who criticized the State Police Captain’s efforts in which he gained the trust and confidence of citizens and demonstrators and claimed without factual knowledge that the police officer had been in fear of his life by this big teenager rushing towards him requiring him to defend himself by shooting him dead!
I have been critical for some time as to what I saw evolving in police agencies what is now termed, “the militarization of police.” I had earlier initiated some essays to police executives about what I saw as a potential problem. In earlier years we developed a special unit consisting of trained “sniper,” officers and negotiators to assist with hostage situations. These were usually small 4-5 man units. The only special equipment were a specially equipped rifle and portable telephones for communications between the negotiator and the hostage taker. Later on it was suggested that such personnel from the various agencies train together so everyone was on the same page when and if they were used in support roles for each others communities. At this point I retired, but watched as these units grew to become what they are now. I referred to it as the, “tail wagging the dog.” Somehow (my opinion), many police executives allowed these units to act out of their span of control.
The 9/11 terrorist incident led the federal government to establish a program in which money and equipment were made available to state, county and municipal police agencies to use to fight terrorism. Little, if any controls were placed on what was doled out. There was an attitude by many police, “I’m gonna get my share!” Specialized equipment that would probably never ever be used by agencies were requested and fulfilled. Where special semi-automatic weapons would normally be purchased and assigned in limited number was now one for everybody. Armored vehicles of which there are various styles, you would think be made available to a metropolitan-sized city or county authority to be shared or dispatched as needed to smaller communities, but instead are supplied upon request to any and all. And, may I had, there is a tremendous cost involved to maintain such equipment. As an example, Tear Gas has a time limit; it leaks and loses it potency, having a shelf life of 2 years and, even the military has banned its use. Some of the specialty suits are a one-time-only and very expensive. Tactical helmets run from $300-500 dollars. Gas masks must have their canisters replaced regularly, costing $60-300 each. Vehicles are big, heavy and fuel guzzlers. They must be equipped with the agencies lights, sirens, radios, etc. and maintained by public works. How often are they going to be used?
Then there is the impact upon the public. We have gone from a police officer in regular uniform probably with a protective vest, carrying some mace, maybe a Tazer gun, a baton, handcuffs and pistol to somebody from a 3rd world country. Combat uniform, boots, balaclava masks, combat knives, ballistic helmets & armored vests, gloves, goggles, night vision glasses, machine guns, shotguns, etc. We’ve moved on from “good evening officer, did I do something wrong?”…to “Oh, God, please don’t shoot me!”
These special units, previously known and sometimes still called “SWAT units/teams,” were originally developed by California authorities to assist in hostage and high risk situations. The concept grew, mostly in metro areas and some smaller communities as they experienced these types of incidents. Within some of these units though, participants developed the idea that they were “cool,” and all knowing and began campaigns to obtain equipment they (the agency), really did not need. Instead of street officers who would respond when needed to act as a member of a special unit they began to sell the concept that they should operate full-time, thus depleting the street of a patrolling officer. To justify their existence they began branching out to serving warrants, claiming it was good practice for the unit. Thus, you now see a special, black van or armored vehicle roll up to a house and numerous ninja-like figures disperse and forcibly enter the premises to extract some not to dangerous poor soul wanted for non-appear or some misdemeanor charge. Maybe even a felony which will probably be reduced when he appears before the judge.
How police executives as well as city councils overlook the shortcomings of this now too popular practice is beyond me. In this day and age where I thought we had made great strides towards mostly professional leaders I begin to question their capabilities, judgement, and attitude. Maybe courses on the Constitution and the rights of individuals need be refreshed for police personnel. I know conversations about cultural differences are definitely in order.
About the Author: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He is the founder of Building a Better GOP and has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years.