My Job

riot_policeI’ve seen a surge in views and comments over the last several days, most positive, but some of them negative. Most of the new responses have been directed at the post, “I’m Sick Of.” That post was largely just a collection of random heartfelt musings I had one night. It was not intended to have received quite the attention that it has in the last week, particularly when compared to other posts like “Dissonance” and “Bloody Sunday” which I feel are not only stronger posts but also much more important.

https://dissonantwinstonsmith.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/dissonance/

https://dissonantwinstonsmith.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/bloody-sunday/

My intention with that post, as it has been with a number of other posts, has been simple. All police have been demonized in the last several weeks by the community, the media, and others largely using statistics they don’t understand to support arguments that aren’t related. Regardless of your opinion on racial profiling or officer related shootings, the fact remains that we’re human beings just like everyone else. For those with immense hatred of the police, that concept can be difficult to admit and god knows there are those with legitimate reasons to hate the police. It’s a lot easier to hate a monster than another flawed person like yourself.

I’m also completely perplexed by the notion that in a country with around 120,000 officers, that I’m supposed to be directly responsible for what every officer does in every corner of every small town or municipality. I am only responsible for one person and that person is me. What’s more, to people who have actually read my blog posts, they can confirm that I have been the first to condemn officer actions which I find to be personally reprehensible, though I also bear no direct or indirect responsibility to do so. Case in point:
https://dissonantwinstonsmith.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/irresponsible-speech/

Furthermore, I received a request to discuss the officers fired within the last week or so due to various bad decisions on their part. As continued proof of my objectivity, the officer from St. Ann caught on video ranting and raving about “fucking” killing people deserved to be fired, particularly when given his disciplinary record which involved pointing his gun at people in the past unjustly and in violation of policy.  Video in question below:

However, just because he’s absolutely wrong and deserved to be fired, doesn’t mean I still can’t find fault with a media who feels the need to distort the truth by leaving out background facts to the case like that he apparently had a bottle of urine thrown at him. Those facts don’t excuse what he did, but his actions don’t excuse the media trying to make the story more juicy.  It also can’t be argued that they were trying to fact check the urine bottle story since the media as a whole has been so quick to release every… single… solitary… rumor… put out on social media without any semblance of fact checking.  In the case of the St. Ann Officer, both parties need to be found respectively culpable for their individual actions.

I think that’s a big portion of not only the problem with Ferguson but also larger problems within the country and around the world. These days, everyone seems to think that any wrong perpetrated against them, whether legitimate or not, presents a moral god-given justification to respond in any way they see fit. It’s a modern day version of Hammurabi’s code, except that the tit-for-tat notion of an “eye for an eye” has been much more greatly generalized to include whatever we internally rationalize as being a proportional response.

I’m going to discuss some examples of this concept in a format of:

  • Side A:
  • Side B:
  • Result:

It should be noted that for the sake of this argument I’m going to assume that Side A and Side B are both valid and truthful.

Example 1

  • Side A: A US Drone strike kills a Pakistani child.
  • Side B: A Pakistani terrorist shoots a child activist in the face while on her school bus.
  • Result: Both sides feel that they’re justified, but neither is right. For the record, both sides can be wrong. The above was an actual argument I heard for justifying the shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

Example 2

  • Side A: An officer arrests a press member without legal justification.
  • Side B: The media reports on a different officer while conducting a lawful arrest but leaves out facts and states that he was doing so without justification or reason.
  • Result: Both groups are wrong regardless, even though the media feels that the events in Side A justify their response in Side B.

Example 3

  • Side A: Let’s assume for a minute that Darren Wilson is guilty of murdering Mike Brown.
  • Side B: The community committed acts of violence and looting that has been perpetrated over the last several weeks injuring dozens and killing several.
  • Result: If the evidence shows that Darren Wilson is guilty, the violence and rioting that followed Mike Brown’s death is still not okay. Both parties can still be wrong. Both parties can still be guilty.

I know that this is a long winded version of the childish cliché, “two wrongs don’t make a right” but it seems like a concept we’ve forgotten. Partisan politics is a real problem in this country, but it seems that anymore partisanship has extended far beyond the realm of politics into everyday life so much so that violence, perpetrated against even people outside of the controversial issue, is now justified if you’re angry enough.

 

My Job Description

A number of individuals in the comments found fault with my post “I’m Sick Of” apparently because they feel that everything that I’m sick of is a part of my job. In the interest of clarifying what my job actually is, I’m going to take a moment to explain it.

What it is:

I’m a patrolman which usually means I drive around looking for things that seem out of the ordinary as evidence of law violations. Out of the ordinary can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Sometimes it can mean a door on a house sitting open without the lights on inside. Sometimes it can mean a prowler roaming through a backyard. Sometimes it can be someone sitting in a driveway that doesn’t belong to them. I don’t racially profile people because I think it’s morally wrong and what’s more it’s logically and statistically a waste of my time.

I also respond to calls for service. Sometimes these are dangerous but more often than not, they’re pretty mundane. A lot of calls involve people in disputes just wanting to be heard and I don’t mind standing around listening. I try to help where I can and follow a simple principle when dealing with various conflicts that, if I can’t make things generally better at least I won’t make them generally worse. However, sometimes matters escalate and sometimes arrest is warranted due to the severity of some act.

The bottom line is that I go out every night trying to help people. There are officers who are crooked. There are officers who are racist. There are officers who are stupid. There are officers who should not have badges, but you know what, I’m not responsible for them. I didn’t hire them. I’m not responsible for the HR decisions that keep them around in their jurisdictions. I’m only responsible for me. I go out every night and try to do the best that I can, given what I know to be my legal authority under the law and my moral obligation to do what I think is right. My philosophy is not shared by all officers, but once again, I’m not responsible for anyone other than myself.

That is my job. Everything I listed in “I’m Sick Of” is not. Everything I detailed in Dissonance and Bloody Sunday is beyond the call of duty. What’s more, witnessing the following list of crimes committed or attempted during the last several weeks, while being told that I cannot enforce the law and arrest people for these offenses because the crowd has legitimate grievances is also not a function of law enforcement.

Mike Brown died on 8/9/2014. Since 8/10/2014 the following crimes have been committed in the Ferguson area:

  • First Degree Murder (RSMO 565.020)
  • Assault 1st (RSMO 565.050)
  • Assault 2nd (RSMO 565.060)
  • Assault 3rd (RSMO 565.070)
  • Assault against a law enforcement officer 1st (RSMO 565.081)
  • Assault against a law enforcement officer 2nd (RSMO 565.082)
  • Assault against a law enforcement officer 3rd (RSMO 565.083)
  • Armed Criminal Action (RSMO 571.015)
  • Unlawful Use of Weapons (RSMO 571.030)
  • Arson 1st and 2nd (RSMO 569.040, 050)
  • Knowingly Burning or Destroying (RSMO 569.055)
  • Burglary 1st (RSMO 569.160)
  • Burglary 2nd (RSMO 569.170)
  • Robbery 1st (RSMO 569.020)
  • Robbery 2nd (RSMO 569.030)
  • Felony Stealing (RSMO 570.030)
  • Property Damage 1st (RSMO 569.100)
  • Property Damage 2nd (RSMO 569.120)
  • Trespass 1st (RSMO 569.140)
  • Trespass 2nd (RSMO 569.150)

If he was innocent and you have partaken in any of the above or attempted to justify any of the above, then you are a part of the problem and have absolutely destroyed his memory. This is what people will remember. This will be his legacy regardless of guilt or innocence on the part of Mike Brown or Darren Wilson.

A side note to the media: Many of the police departments you’ve been referring to as Ferguson Police aren’t Ferguson Police. In fact, the following police departments aren’t actually members of the Ferguson Police Department:

  • St. Louis County
  • Missouri State Highway Patrol
  • St. Louis City
  • St. Charles City
  • St. Charles County
  • Pine Lawn
  • St. Ann
  • Bellefontaine Neighbors
  • Velda City
  • Greendale
  • Country Club Hills
  • Woodson Terrace
  • Florissant
  • Kinloch
  • Moline Acres
  • Normandy
  • Ballwin
  • Berkeley
  • Beverly Hills
  • Breckenridge Hills
  • Bridgeton
  • Chesterfield
  • Clayton
  • Creve Coeur
  • Des Peres
  • Eureka
  • Flordell Hills
  • Frontenac
  • Kirkwood
  • Pagedale
  • Wellston
  • Ladue
  • Manchester
  • Maryland Heights
  • Northwoods
  • St. John
  • Shrewsbury
  • Town and Country
  • Vinita Park
  • Webster Groves
  • University City
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5 thoughts on “My Job

  1. I have been reading your posts and agree that you got way too much misplaced anger on the “I’m sick of” post and some of your other posts had some really great points that I guess not as many people cared to read. I really appreciated the statistics you gave and your impartial point of view. Some people just have their minds made up, but thanks for fighting the good fight and keeping us informed from your perspective as a police officer in the area – it’s very enlightening and a voice that the media doesn’t care to share. Also, I have been wondering about what is really happening in light of all the crimes being committed – I can’t seem to find any lists of the actual number of crimes that were committed and people being injured during the riots. Did the police just let a lot of it go? It seems that police had to change their tactics because of all the criticisms? Anyways, thanks for the info, and I have a new post about this as well if you want to check it out 🙂 Keep up the good work!
    http://writingtheleftunsaid.blogspot.com/2014/08/my-rant-about-ferguson-and-michael-brown.html

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  2. After reading more and more about the corrupt municipal practices common in St. Louis County, and how the entire system has been constructed over the years to prey on the poor with fines and possible incarceration, I feel sad for someone like yourself, Winston, who seems on the surface to be a good cop just trying to do his job, but ultimately is someone helping to perpetuate a clearly unjust and frequently corrupt system of government.

    “After being stopped in Ferguson, blacks are almost twice as likely as whites to be searched (12.1% vs. 6.9%) and twice as likely to be arrested (10.4% vs. 5.2%).36 However, this data seems at odds with the fact that searches of black individuals result in discovery of contraband only 21.7% of the time, while similar searches of whites produce contraband 34.0% of the time.”

    “In Bel- Ridge, in 2013, 75.7% of all traffic stops involved a black motorist.33 This number is staggering in itself, but what may be more shocking is that 100% of all searches and arrests originating from traffic stops in Bel-Ridge in 2013 were of black individuals.34 To put it another way, of the 775 black drivers pulled over, 11 were searched and 32 were arrested. Of the 249 non-black drivers pulled over, none were searched and none were arrested.”

    From:

    http://03a5010.netsolhost.com/WordPress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ArchCity-Defenders-Municipal-Courts-Whitepaper.pdf

    Perhaps a movement to reform how municipal police departments are funded will be something positive that comes out of all of this.

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    • I reference a lot of these statistical issues in the post “Lies, Damn Lies, and…” The problem I have with your statistical implications is that they’re failing to account for a lot of extraneous but important factors. I suppose the factors I’m concerned with are only extraneous because they’re largely ignored in popular media.

      In reference to your specific examples, arrest data and search data aren’t comparable because that would assume that all arrests are possession/contraband based. Other possible arrests that might not result in the search of a vehicle for contraband include warrant arrests, flight from another crime, or DWI. Your Bel-Ridge stats actually demonstrate what I’m saying. If 32 people are arrested and only 11 were searched that means that only 34.4% of people arrested had their vehicle or person searched beyond a simple on person incident-to-arrest weapons check. That means that less than 34.4% were arrests which resulted from a search or from found contraband. In other words, no inferences can be drawn from the percentage of arrests compared to the percentage of searches.

      As far as Bel-Ridge is concerned, Bel-Ridge has around 2500 residents in a relatively small geographical space with the state highway, Natural Bridge, and Interstate I-170 running through it providing for lots of through-traffic. While it is definitely problematic that there were 0 arrests of non-white drivers during that time, I am curious about their total arrests stats as well as I am curious about the time of day in which these arrests took place. Racial profiling data only refers to traffic stops and pedestrian checks, not calls for service.

      What’s largely absent from the conversation on racial profiling is the notion that North St. County and North St. Louis City, whether warranted or not, is viewed to be dangerous by the white community. This view is largely responsible for what’s known as “White Flight” from the area regardless of whether or not that view is justified. As such, if you’re a scared white person who moves from an area because you perceive it as dangerous, what are the chances that you’re going to casually cruise through that same area at night after you already left due to supposed danger? Even people remaining in these areas for the most part don’t really go out after dark. Like anything else, it’s not an absolute phenomenon by any stretch but my point is that the percentage of actual white drivers out on the road in North County is going to influence the racial profiling stats much more than actual racists conducting racial profiling or white/black residency in those areas. As such if another factor such as white fear is causing there to be predominantly and disproportionately more blacks out on the road, black drivers with warrants or committing some other type of offense are going to be more likely to be caught. Unfortunately, this can also result in confirmation bias on the part of legitimately racist officers.

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  3. Hi Winston,
    Thank you for your reply. I have been heartened by not only your attempt to give a complete picture of what happened on the ground, but also with your interactions with others on your blog in a very professional manner.
    Yes, I read your “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” post before posting my comment above. I agree that statistics can be manipulated, and that one has to be careful about not knowing the full circumstances of how the data was compiled. I understood your point that # of residents may not be mappable to # of traffic stops due to high-volume roads that may cross the municipality and carry out-of-towners who are the ones being issued the tickets. I grew up in Indiana, and one quickly learned where “speed trap” towns were located on some of the major state highways.
    However, what I was trying to convey with my comment was that even taking those kinds of caveats in account, the ArchCity Defenders report described municipalities that seemed to be extreme outliers that point towards a corrupt system. Even you find 0 arrests of white individuals to be “problematic”, and, in a perfect world, worthy of some data analysis by someone to make sure citations were being issued fairly. I assume that rarely occurs, but perhaps you have more information via your work within a police force to tell me that I am incorrect.
    In the events surrounding Michael Brown/Darren Wilson, I assert that the muncipality would not have exploded with protests and violence had there not have been this underlying culture of police nitpicking and “constant police interactions” (perhaps some would say “constant police harassment”).
    One of the commenters on another of your articles, Pamela Fillingim, mentioned that she has been pulled over 16 times in 2 years. Again, I don’t know the circumstances of her exact situation, but to me, that is an astounding number if she is generally a good driver. Astounding. Unbelieveable. Almost monthly! I think the average American would find that to be an astounding number as well. But it seems that for some muncipalities in the St. Louis area, it’s not surprising. Talk about dissonance!
    In a reply to a comment, you yourself mention that places like Kinloch and Vinita Park are very small municipalities that rely on traffic fines for a large portion of their city revenues, and were led by corrupt individuals. What I believe, and what I think the ArchCity Defenders article asserts as well, is that when you have a large number of municipalities set up in this manner, constantly writing tickets and issuing warrants, it creates a negative effect within the entire community. It is that powder keg of community dissatisfaction that erupted on August 10.
    Frankly, I think one could even go further and make a good argument that the real issue may not be race. It’s poverty. Poor individuals have limited choices. They may have to choose between eating or paying rent vs. paying a traffic fine. They may not be able to get off of work without being fired. They may have children which their municipal court may forebid from entering the courtroom. So they miss their court date or cannot pay, and further fines and warrants and incarceration due to traffic violations ensue, and this creates a cyclical effect that causes job loss and financial difficulties which worsens over time.
    Your posts have been very good at describing some of the reality on the ground during the worst moments. I agree with you that more individuals should have been arrested in the early days. I agree with you that anyone who throws a Molotov cocktail at anyone is endangering their life, period. I agree that in a perfect world, whomever commited arson against the QuikTrip should be brought to justice.
    But I also believe that for many municipalities in the St. Louis area, the current bureaucracy is set up to be fundamentally unethical towards the community. The latter half of the ArchCity Defenders articles describes many examples of how this actually plays out in these unethically organized communities.
    You haven’t stated which community on which you serve, other than it is not Ferguson. But I find myself hoping that you will examine your own municipality’s practices, and if you determine they are unethical, instead of rationalizing that you can only look out for yourself (“I am only responsible for one person and that person is me.”) and conduct yourself ethically, and you can’t reform from within, that you consider serving somewhere else where law enforcement has a more ethical foundation. Or, even better, become a anonymous whistleblower. Thus, when I read “I’m Sick Of”, my reaction isn’t quite “well, then quit”.. it is more “here is a good cop in the last stages of attempting to convince himself that the system in which he serves is morally and ethically superior, when in reality, it is not.”
    Your posts clearly convey that “The bottom line is that I go out every night trying to help people.”
    So, here is the question Winston: If you think back to the past year or so of your service, how many days did you feel that the organization on which you serve had high moral and ethical practices that inspired you, and how many days did you feel that the organization was ethically lacking, or was not assessing itself strongly to not only find unfair practices, but to strive towards becoming a better organization?
    If there was many more of the latter, why be a part of that? Why contribute to that?

    You only get one life. Why devote a major portion of it to something so much less than it could, and should, be?

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    • Before I respond, thanks for the comments. I’m glad for your reference to my professionalism because that and civility has been the tone I’ve been striving for while spreading my message. I don’t mind disagreement or argument at all. I welcome factual debate.

      Anyway, You are right that independent review of racial profiling statistics are rare beyond the state level which is more a compilation of data than an actual review. However, because the measure is so inaccurate, data gathering is largely viewed as just one more tedious thing officers have to do instead of something that is combating a real problem. What’s more, since we’re dealing with statistics that are heavily reliant on probability, it is entirely plausible that you could accidentally have a jurisdiction meet a standard of data that is a perfect storm of political incorrectness, IE majority black stops, in a majority white area, with a majority of arrests and searches coming from black individuals. What I mean by accidentally is not to say that a racist department mistakenly engaged in racism, but that one must consider the luck of the draw as far as the cars on the road and the driver’s within, because randomization could conceivably result in random data not necessarily tied to any perspective, reason, or philosophy. I might be unlikely to win at the casino but probability dictates that it’s not impossible to win either.

      I didn’t mean to use the phrase “problematic” in my last comment dismissively. As far as Bel-Ridge is concerned, one must also consider the size of the sample, since 11 searches and 32 arrests is hardly representative of any population. The smaller the sample size, the less accurate the measure. Racial profiling from a larger jurisdiction like the city of St. Louis is going to be far more representative of departmental trends. The problem is that racial profiling statistics, even when they are representative are not necessarily evidence of racial profiling as discussed before. However, a lot of smaller municipalities don’t have the number of stops to be representative of any trend, even if that trend does or doesn’t demonstrate racism.

      Another thing to consider is the nature of self reporting. Most departments fill out some type of card or electronic record to be turned in later, depending on the nature of the stop. If I know that racial profiling data is important for compiling data on minorities being stopped (and more importantly that my bosses are demanding it), I’m likely to make sure my stats are filled out when stopping a minority, but I might forget to do so on a stop involving another white person. Smaller departments without as much experience or oversight, are also more likely to turn in incomplete paperwork or maybe not at all, if it is in reference to something that is typically not a big deal as traffic stops usually are not.

      Once again, I’m not saying that racial profiling doesn’t happen. I’m not saying that there are not racist officers out there. However, these stats are not an accurate measure of racist officers. What’s more, racist officers are likely cognizant of the fact that what their doing will be viewed negatively by society and may fudge the numbers of their stops to make themselves seem more proportionate. Like I said before, traffic stop data is so routine it would be difficult (though not impossible) to make sure that every officer was turning in complete racial profiling paperwork on something mundane. On the small scale one or two missed entries is probably not a big deal but if someone is actively gaming the system, they can be missed entirely. Compare this with someone who diligently and honestly fills out their traffic stop paperwork but randomization results in them stopping a disproportionate number of minorities. Who does the stats show as being the racist?

      In general, I think we’re actually arguing not even different sides of the same coin, but different synonyms for the same side of that coin as far as the municipal governments are concerned. There are lots of problems with the municipal structure of St. Louis County. Poverty is indeed the paramount problem linked to many of the issues we’ve been discussing. However, I think at current, poverty is being overshadowed by a bigger problem in the current narrative that justifies lawlessness. Along these same lines, I find there to be a big difference between not being able to pay and someone failing to appear because they don’t feel they should have to. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine which is which. Perhaps fines should be capped at the state level, but even then there’s still going to be people who fail to appear and argue that they shouldn’t have to deal with a fine because of excuse x, y, or z.

      While I’m not so callous as to think there is no valid reason why someone couldn’t pay a fine, we’re currently in a cycle that blames victims who call the police (and revictimizes them) and who justifies the laundry list of crimes I’ve discussed in my posts simply because the police are “evil” and the system is “racist.” If these type of crimes can be justified, than really anything can. I’m not saying that the system shouldn’t be changed, but I don’t think it should be changed in ways that simply help people to get away with terrible actions. I don’t think violent demonstrations should be forgiven simply because they feel their cause is just. I’m not saying you believe this but a lot of other people do and it’s part of the problem with trying to talk about changing fine structures or warrant issuance.

      As far as when the last time I felt I was doing something justified or worthwhile, both of the Sunday nights I’ve discussed before while responding to Ferguson, I felt that I was doing something worthwhile even if they amount to two of the scariest nights of my life. On the first Sunday, I heard officers from other municipalities out in West County who have nothing to do with the Ferguson area being surrounded as they tried to protect Walgreens. Backing them up, helping them hold the line, and making sure they weren’t hurt while also trying to protect a business and it’s employees (whom I’m admittedly not sure if they were still inside or had already fled at the time we arrived) was in fact a worthy cause. The following Sunday when the Command Post was attacked was another worthy cause. The employees from McDonald’s thanked us afterward after we pushed back the crowd that was terrorizing them, ransacking their store, and told us how scared they had been hiding in the manager’s office or whichever room they inevitable barricaded. These were worthwhile goals because at the end of the day, even if Darren Wilson went out with the sole racist purpose of killing a black teenager for invented reasons, even if the entire Ferguson Police Department is composed of klan members, none of the crimes I have responded to would still truly be justified by Mike Brown’s death. None of it.

      As far as my individualistic comments go, I hope that one day I am in a position where I can prevent legitimate racial profiling and exclude racists from police work. Nothing I’ve argued has been meant to excuse these practices. However, I fear that the continuing events in Ferguson are actually having the unintended consequence of helping to form a whole new generation of racists and energizing those who might have been of a traditionally softer, albeit wrong, disposition. Violence is exacerbating this and it will likely be a much harder job finding unprejudiced applicants in a Post-Ferguson St. Louis. One thing is for sure, this series of events is not bringing us closer together as a city, as a metropolitan area.

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