The phrase “defund the police” can be misinterpreted, while most protesters are not promoting eliminating police departments, but calling for a portion of law enforcement budget be shifted to programs intended to de-escalate sometimes violent confrontations between police and citizens.
Reducing problems is a worthy goal; reducing police budgets should not be done without careful analysis.
It seems the ‘defund’ effort occurred due to some obviously criminal police tactics. The death of George Floyd, a Black man maliciously strangled under the knee of a White police officer for almost nine minutes, was the beginning of nationwide protests that have led to numerous deaths and tremendous property damages. Blacks probably comprised the majority of sometimes violent demonstrators, but other ethnic groups, including many Whites joined in. Some say the death and destruction over the death of one man was a gigantic overreaction. If George Floyd was the only victim of outrageous police actions against minorities, the massive demonstrations probably would not have occurred.
Regrettably, racism in police departments has occurred too frequently, and an “awakened” public responded angrily.
I have observed police brutality. As a rookie California Highway Patrol officer in San Jose in 1966 or ’67, I was “backing up” a veteran CHP officer while he arrested a slim, medium-height Hispanic male for drunk driving. The arrestee was handcuffed and not protesting or resisting when the officer suddenly kicked the man’s feet to the side, causing him to fall to the pavement on his knees. That had to be very painful, but the Hispanic man said nothing.
At the time, I thought I had possibly missed seeing an effort to resist and did not report the assault to a sergeant. Later, I belatedly realized my eyes had not deceived me, and did not remain silent when an officer unnecessarily gave an unresisting arrestee a few kidney punches. There were a few other occasions when I thought officers were a little “rough” when making an arrest, but never again (thankfully) did I observe brutality such as what the Hispanic man received.
Like probably all police officers, I used force occasionally when making an arrest when a subject physically resisted. The law allows using all the force reasonably necessary; that very rarely involves killing a person – but it happens. I know one police officer who was forced to kill a violent subject who was overpowering a male officer. She said she cried all night. No decent officer wants to kill; in fact, applicants giving an indication during a job interview they would like to kill should not be hired. We need “peace officers,” not those who too quickly resort to force, which should be a last resort.
The police agency not needing some reform probably does not exist, and some need major changes in training, policies and officer-selection standards. The Democratic Party did not approve of the Republican Party’s proposed reform for good reasons, primarily because it failed to make critical changes in police tactics. The following are what I consider to be reasonable and doable changes. Some departments already follow most of them.
Ban both choke and carotid holds. They are unnecessary, and choke holds are dangerous due to the possibility of crushing the windpipe, as occurred to George Floyd. Carotid holds can be far safer; in fact, when I went through the CHP Academy in 1966, the carotid hold was taught to cadets. The CHP abandoned the practice, possibly because, during a struggle, the carotid hold could become a dangerous choke hold.
Officers must be equipped with body cameras and record all public interactions. Officers behave better when they know their actions are being recorded, plus complaints filed against officers are usually dropped when a complainant is shown the footage. Cameras protect good officers.
Camera footage must be released immediately. Delay affords an opportunity to alter video.
Officer complaint records must be readily available. Unnecessary force must be punished and rogue officers fired.
A citizen review board, if established, must contain at least one objective police officer. Hopefully all members will be unbiased; unfortunately, some citizens believe all police use of force is unnecessary.
A few officers are racist and worse yet, cruel, including Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who suffocated George Floyd by keeping his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Sadly, some citizens and officers justify the murder. Chauvin has been fired and charged with murder, but his former police union representative claims Floyd’s criminal record justified the killing. Another, now retired officer, wanted to see video of the minutes leading up to Floyd’s death prior to deciding. Neither argument makes sense, morally or legally. A police officer’s duty involves bringing a suspect to justice, not dispensing it – a long-ago discredited action known to police as “roadside justice,” also known as, “vigilante justice” in the past. There are occasions when an officer must kill – not even remotely justified in this matter.
The overwhelming majority of police officers are praiseworthy; we need to fire the few scoundrels.
Ted Shannon is a Mokelumne Hill resident and a retired CHP officer. Contact him at email@example.com.