June 28, 2010

Steve Pomper

Seattle: “Teen” punched for felony assault on police officer, not jaywalking.

author photo ihis

As a police officer it’s maddening when people, from the most casual observer to the sharpest political pundit, gets it completely wrong. Now, I know we all get things wrong at times, but when we get those things wrong, and worse, in a very confident or even arrogant manner, but our error is based in ignorance, the issue demands edification.

I’m referring to when a law enforcement officer becomes embroiled in some political hailstorm based upon his or her actions, often including the use of force, but which originates from some “minor” violation.

Such ignorance has been loud and clear, recently, regarding the infamous Seattle “Jaywalking” Incident, with statements similar to: “The officer who punched a teenaged girl in the face for jaywalking obviously used excessive force,” and, “While the girl was wrong; the officer was wrong too.” What’s wrong, are those types of statements.

Some suggested the officer lose his job, and others even wanted the City to charge him criminally. We even have some of our own leaders, some who’ve never been cops and couldn’t make a split-second decision at Starbuck’s and others who haven’t pounded a beat in years, calling perfectly acceptable actions, in which officers are specifically, and currently, trained, into question. This is not fair to all officers who can’t help but second-guess their actions in future similar situations.

So, it doesn’t look good when a man punches a woman, especially a “teenager,” in the face for whatever reason…Duh! Of course it looks bad; uses of force rarely look good, but that’s not the point; the point is, a surrounded, lone officer, whose mind is racing a million miles an hour, needs to act as trained and within seconds. Having been through 18 years of police training sessions, I can tell you the officer used tactics as he was specifically trained. We don’t train for the specific person we’re dealing with, we train for the circumstances as a whole; isn’t that the point?

That the use of force didn’t look good, no kidding; that the use of force is called into question, absolutely not, and shame on those who should know better.

This criticism is seriously ignorant, but not entirely the civilian critic’s fault; the police are horrible at educating the public in police procedures. How the critics can speak so forcefully on something about which they understand so little is beyond me. Even people who purport to normally support the police sound like dunces to cops when they criticize, in a knee-jerk way, police practices they don’t understand, but think they do.

There is one preeminent issue, which deserves dissection. Listen carefully: The girl was not punched for jaywalking; the girl—the suspect—was punched after assaulting a police officer, while interfering with his attempt to make an arrest, and then charging back at the officer.

This is not a matter of semantics; this is a critical distinction. There is a transition that occurs during incidents such as this where, by the violator’s actions, the suspect elevates the encounter from, in the case of jaywalking, an infraction—the most minor level of law violations, to, in the case of assaulting a police officer, a felony—the most serious level of law violations.

We see this especially when folks in categories outside those whom society feels may be, punched in the face, tased, or baton-whacked, without much public consternation. The categories include, women, children, the elderly, and the physically and mentally challenged. So, in this case we have a two-fer: a teenaged female.

Regarding the female aspect, the young woman may have been seventeen, and though irrelevant, the officer obviously couldn’t know this, and again irrelevant, she appeared at least the same age as the other female, nineteen, and actually relevant, she was about the same physical size as the officer she’d assaulted.

Now, regarding those folks who believe this was some arrogant, badge-heavy officer out looking to “harass” kids, proactively hiding and waiting to pounce on jaywalkers, think again. According to neighborhood comments, people described the officer as kind and fair, and more likely to give a warning than a ticket for such offenses.

Also add to this that it was the school administration that specifically requested increased pedestrian “jaywalking” violation enforcement at the intersection. (Incidentally, there is also an alternate pedestrian overpass at this location, so pedestrians don’t have to cross the busy intersection). This is why the officer took the action he did—he was doing his job. All the “teenager” had to do was apologize for her infraction, and then accept the consequences of her actions in either a verbal warning or an infraction, like 99% of the world does.

It should also be noted that, with the assistance of local minority groups, the “teenager” apologized to the officer—in person, and the officer accepted that apology. Neither the group, nor the “teenager” solicited an apology from the officer, which is appropriate, since he did nothing wrong.

Please keep the bottom line in mind: The officer didn’t use force against the “teenager” for jaywalking; the officer used force against the “teenager” for assaulting a police officer and interfering with him conducting his legal duties.


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