September 11, 2014

Steve Pomper

Police Officers: No Right to Personal Opinion

author-photo-150x150Regarding the as yet unresolved police shooting of a young, male robbery suspect in Ferguson, Missouri, and its continuing fallout, I recently read a column by Ansel Herz in Seattle’s leftist publication, the Stranger. It appears that to some people police officers have no right to express a personal opinion that differs from theirs or runs afoul of what they believe is politically correct. What is it about police opinion that it gets such little respect? Apparently, supporting a fellow officer after the left has already condemned and slated him for execution should be forbidden.

In fact, in such situations where there are witness discrepancies, support for either side will naturally form based on varying assessments of news reports. Either side could be shown to be wrong after an investigation and some people may then alter their opinions. However, in this case, some people condemn those like SPD Sergeant Chris Hall simply for assessing the known circumstances differently based on a different perspective.

Herz reports some supposedly inappropriate comments made while off-duty by Chris Hall, on his Facebook page, in support of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson regarding the shooting of Michael Brown. (Oh, and if anyone doesn’t know it by now, Brown, the 6’4″, 294# robbery suspect, was unarmed at the time of the shooting.)

That Brown was unarmed, incidentally, was a fact known only by Brown, and then in retrospect, by everyone after the incident, but certainly, not by Officer Wilson during the incident. How could he possibly have known that Brown was not armed during the incident? This is especially true if the investigation eventually shows that Brown was the instigator of an attack on Officer Wilson.

Early in my career I had a knife-wielding, domestic violence suspect at gunpoint. I’d already nearly emptied my can of pepper spray into his face, and with knife raised he was still shouting that he wanted to kill me. Fortunately, he did not force me to shoot him by not advancing and finally dropping the knife. Nevertheless, apparently, now “unarmed,” the large man continued to physically resist arrest. I and two other officers struggled to bring him under control. During the struggle, I noticed another knife strapped to the man’s forearm. By the time we finally brought him fully under control and finished searching him, we’d found three more knives for a total of five. Police officers can never assume a suspect is unarmed or no longer armed after disposing of a weapon.

How many civilians, if they had watched this incident on video, would have assumed that the suspect was unarmed after he dropped the knife? What if he hadn’t been carrying the one knife in his hand, but was still secretly armed with the other four knives? What if, assuming he was now unarmed, we had approached to apprehend him with less caution than we’d use with an obviously armed suspect? These are all what-ifs  officers face every day. These are among the what-ifs Officer Darren Wilson may have faced during his encounter with Michael Brown.

I’ve heard an awful lot of folks, even those who should know better, jumping to the conclusion that the officer abused his authority, used excessive force, and violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights. All these conclusions absent any investigation are irresponsible. Some people even contend that the officer “executed” Brown in broad daylight, in the middle of the street simply because he was black. Cops are in a unique position to be able to put themselves in Officer Wilson’s place when dissecting the various descriptions of the incident. It’s not an academic exercise for cops; it’s visceral.

For example, Michael Brown’s felon friend, Dorian Johnson, described the officer as still seated within his patrol car and reaching out and grabbing the 6’4″, 294# Michael Brown and pulling him into the car through the driver’s window. This scenario just doesn’t ring true in my experience, and, frankly,  just doesn’t make much sense. Who would do that?

It seems that to some people it is just fine to support Michael Brown, based upon their assessment of events, but Chris Hall, and other police officers, may not support Darren Wilson based upon their alternate assessment. This hypocrisy staggers the intellectually honest mind. We saw what happened in Ferguson when a few brave (some say dumb) people attempted to show their support for Officer Wilson. Some Brown supporters threatened any Wilson supporter with violence, and the police had to protect and whisk them away for their safety. And this, from people who were, supposedly, demonstrating in support of Michael Brown’s civil rights. However, their version of civil rights seems to be the only version allowed, and, according to some of these folks, police opinions have no place in a discussion, which affects them directly.



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