HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
I begin 2016 by offering an apology for a slight delay in my "promised" first article. I am going to write a series of articles that deal with our city's catch phrase of 2015, police transparency and accountability. You see there are a few folks in Greensboro that have latched on to this phrase, insisting on demanding transparency and accountability without actually detailing what they think that looks like. They live in a world of black helicopters and conspiracy theories yet offer no answers or even answer questions when confronted with their own issues in these areas. My promise was to begin with addressing an individual that many have seen comment on my articles for the past couple of months. He will no doubt comment on this one and especially the next one as I use him as an example to illustrate the forces that are affecting our current city council as well as their use of this issue as a smokescreen. Of course, it has been used nationwide as a smokescreen to some extent but especially here in Greensboro. This is not a partisan issue but one used by extremists that have been a burden to Greensboro for more than 30 years. I will reveal the puppet master behind these issues, how he has used them for his own gain and how the city council in return are using these issues to cover their "non-actions" on items that have had a devastating affect on our city, preferring instead to augment their own desires and political ambitions. On its' best day Greensboro spins its' wheels; there is no progress, there is no improvement and most importantly there are no plans to fix anything.
I worked as a street level police officer/detective for 29 years. When I began Asheboro Street (now Martin Luther King) ran through the middle of my assigned zone. There were several known police hot spots in my area; the Hill, the Hamps, the Dust Bowl, the Grove. These areas included many "traditional locations"; H&H Grill, Uptown-Downtown Club, Bama's game room, Shamburger's. In other words, I worked in a very active area of Greensboro that was and is predominately African-American. My perception of this part of town was no different than any other; everyone has their 5%. That 5% usually caused most of the problems and a lot of the problems were caused by folks that did not live in the area but only visited to ply their wares. In some ways this gave the neighborhoods an undeserved reputation for the residents. However, the majority of criminal activities are committed in these neighborhoods with residents more often being the victims rather than the suspects. These residents deserve police protection too and deserve dedicated services to alleviate higher crime rates, yet the supposed "leaders" in this community complain about proactive policing tactics. This is a political philosophy that these "leaders" share and participate in that will be discussed in more detail later. I knew many of the long time residents there and counted among my friends and acquaintances; Nettie Coad, Dorothy Brown and Mrs. Princess to name a few. I knew my community and virtually all of these law abiding residents welcomed our enhanced and active presence.
Did I get along with most of the folks in the community I served? Yes. All of them? No. Did I ever say something that I later regretted? Yes, usually in the form of a curse word or as a result of resorting to a stronger command presence than I may have needed at the time. Did I ever use force? Yes, 6 times. One is no longer considered a use of force; pointing a gun after a high speed chase when the driver reached under his seat as he exited the vehicle. One was a small cut across the bridge of a drunk driver's nose when he fell off a fence he was attempting to climb to allude arrest. I used pepper spray 4 times. Never tased anyone, shot anyone or hit anyone with an asp or baton. Formal citizens complaints? Less than 10 in 29 years; most of my discipline was initiated by police supervisors. At least where my career is concerned the predominate majority of my discipline came in the form of "police accountability" and the department's desire to maintain a higher standard; I had broken no laws. I was punished for violating departmental standards!!
When dealing with the public a police officer has to remove emotion from his job as much as he can. However, an officer is also human. When someone is standing in our face threatening to "kick your ass" and you have on a uniform, badge and gun you had better take him (or her) seriously. If you don't you may not make it home. Fear is an emotion and we are trained to turn our fear into anger to survive a situation where we are physically attacked. Police officers will tell you that the first priority in a successful work shift is that you go home in one piece. Your second is that your squad mates go home in one piece. We don't have a list of people that we want to "mess with" every day. In fact the only lists we have is of those that are wanted or have already committed crimes that we are looking for or people that have committed crimes so heinous and hideous in nature the law requires we keep up with their whereabouts at all times.
When I arrived at work I did not have your name, time you were going to drive by me and violation I was going to write you for already in my mind. I did not have a time and date set to arrest you nor did I have an expectation of your resistance. My job was as police work on the street is today; spontaneous and unpredictable.
You say we should be held to a higher standard? Well, we are; but there are some that refuse to accept and recognize that. Though there is NO law that says we should be held to any higher standard of conduct than any other profession but our department rules, standard operating procedures and directives do precisely that. Like any other civil or administrative rule, the burden of proof to determine a violation is 51%; in other words, more likely to have occurred than not. With a file on your performance that is kept throughout your career that 51% can become subjective and not entirely be based on that one incident as criminal law violations are judged.
"Police shouldn't be policing their own" is a common phrase. Okay, then who? A civilian review board? We don't fear them especially as they have proven to be largely ineffective. They aren't trained in police work, have no personal experiences from which to draw understanding and often times don't know what they are reviewing at all. It has even been documented that they are often less harsh on discipline than Internal Affairs. Give them "subpoena power"? For what? And just how will you justify that against the Constitution? How about state personnel laws? We will deal with this in more detail soon.
Police officers fear Monday morning quarterbacking from supervisors and Internal Affairs much more than any civilians or politicians. While our local politicians have made life "more difficult" in a lot of ways the officers ears hurt more from the political rhetoric than any feeling of angst from citizen review. Do you actually believe as individual officers we are worried about public perception over the perception of our peers, supervisors and other law enforcement officials who have the authority to terminate our employment and revoke our certification? A vast majority of our citizens understand and comprehend explanations when they take the time to listen. Those with agendas refuse to listen and have no interest in understanding law enforcement. They want to create anarchy and lawlessness. They don't like authority unless it suits their purpose.
Their screams for accountability are deceiving. They mean accountability except for them. Recently I have had conversation with someone who claims he was targeted. When I ask how his complaint was handled with the department and/or internal affairs there was silence and deflection. When someone that continuously bashes officers claims to have had a negative encounter that's one thing. To claim he was targeted, advertise it at every opportunity then decides not to report it; I have to question their credibility. How can you advocate for transparency and accountability from law enforcement if YOU are not reporting violations of this nature and giving them the chance to be accountable? This happens more than most know; wild claims just to be part of the conversation.
Are we to assume the media is accurately reporting? That would be a huge assumption. Officers are not allowed in most every case to speak their account and the public only gets to judge the incident on the accounts of the ones complaining. Add to that our city council's ridiculous position of not publicly supporting personnel laws instead politically siding with our local extremists and you have a recipe for a toxic relationship.
If we are to have transparency and accountability in Greensboro it must be everyone; for police, for city council and yes, for extremists who complain and accuse. If you expect the police to admit when they get one wrong then elected officials and those screaming for accountability must also be willing to admit and SHOULD be held accountable by media with the same fervor. At the moment, that is simply not happening.
Finally, I have recently been accused of being like "most police" and being "too sensitive when someone complains"; no. I have no problem with a legitimate, documented and lawful position of dissent. However, I will never accept vague, extremist positions against the profession of law enforcement that have no details or facts and are based on generalities with no specific examples. And I will accept no positions that also do not include admittance to mistakes from jumping to conclusions, then refusing to accept responsibility for those mistakes. I will defend the profession of law enforcement against stereotyping based on generalizations. If you insist on accountability, start by looking in the mirror. Like it or not, it is a two way street.
Next: The extremist effect on Greensboro City Council