The picture above is the start of the blockade I referenced in “Bloody Sunday.” That same night a CNN reporter claimed it didn’t exist. Here it is, near Canfield, albeit much smaller than when I saw it in person.
The following letter is directed primarily to the command staff of the St. Louis County Police as well as to the Ferguson Police Department. The focus of the letter is largely in reference to the riot response and continued protests. This letter is not in reference to the Mike Brown / Darren Wilson Investigation.
An Open Letter to Police Command
The last month has been an extremely difficult time for the St. Louis region, both in terms of the community as well as those of us within the law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting it. Unfortunately, while the situation on the ground has improved in some ways, in others it is as volatile as ever. The largest problem is that after so many weeks of conflict, the protesters now know your SOP. They know how far you’re willing to go and what your response will be. They know what they can get away with after over a month of being allowed to test the waters largely without consequence.
The result is as follows:
Vehicle is swarmed around 2:00. Police attempt to arrest man who attacked the car around 8:00.
The crowd protecting the man who attacked the vehicle are demonstratively guilty of three specific crimes:
- Interfering with an Arrest (RSMO 575.150)
- Hindering Prosecution (RSMO 575.030)
- Refusal to Disperse (if they were so ordered, though it is admittedly not clear from the video) (RSMO 574.060)
Many in the law enforcement community have become weary of engaging in any action that could be construed as provocation. Unfortunately, it is clear that at this point, any action taken by law enforcement against the protesters will be criticized, mischaracterized, and demonized by the media and the mob. The accepted narrative has become that we, as officers, are evil, corrupt, racist, and violent no matter what the evidence shows or what the reality on the ground actually is. From this standpoint, mob and media appeasement needs to be ignored. Police action should be based upon three things and only three things:
- Enforcement of local, state, and federal law.
- Protection of life and property
- Utilization of sound tactics
1.) Enforcement of local, state, and federal law:
Even if we are portrayed as villains, we still have a duty to enforce the law. Even if it is no longer politically correct to arrest protesters when they violate the law and exceed the scope of their first amendment constitutional protections, crimes cannot go unpunished. Even if governmental bodies insist that a softer touch be used implying that many crimes should be overlooked or ignored, the badge we wear obligates us to look beyond short sighted and correspondingly short lived placation and pacification.
The mob has learned that the media has given them the justification to do whatever they can in opposition to the great evil that we represent in their narrative. Now is not the time to grant allowances and modern day indulgences. The result is lawlessness and mob rule, pure and simple. Even if the community believes we are evil, they still must obey the law and us in our enforcement of said law as representatives of the United States Government. If we no longer have a duty to uphold the law, we should take our badges off. I contend that duty is alive and well, as is your officers’ will to uphold that duty.
2.) Protection of life and property
The softer touch disguised under the notion of “de-escalation” or “demilitarization” has resulted in tactics which actively put our lives and the lives of others in danger. The above featured video of a car being swarmed is not lawful or peaceful, nor is it safe for the occupant of the car. The following picture is of a group of protesters too close to officers. We are taught in the academy to keep a reactionary gap between us and the public during all encounters, even peaceful exchanges, because failing to do so is to not allow enough space and time for us to react should someone mean us harm. This has been compromised as evidenced below.
What’s more, even citizen safety is being sacrificed in the interest of giving the mob, who is supposedly acting on behalf of the Ferguson community, the benefit of the doubt. In the interest of governmental bodies and violence stemming from angry citizens, the St. Louis area should be well versed in the dangers associated with such attitudes. The Kirkwood community is more tragically acquainted with such security concerns than anyone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirkwood_City_Council_shooting).
The bottom line is that the following situation of angry citizens moving in on cars, other citizens, police officers, or politicians is unacceptable and should not require some type of injury before elevating to a level warranting response. The need for response is already present and the danger is clear.
3.) Utilization of Sound Tactics
There are a number of tactics that can be used which I haven’t seen being personally used since this began. Obviously, arresting law breakers and the inciters of violence are fundamental to curtailing these events. What’s more, we need to make sure that strong cases are built against these people so that real consequences follow. Arrest means nothing if the judicial process does not result. A few hours in county intake followed by zero legal consequence has no deterrent effect. Beccaria’s deterrence theory requires that a punishment be:
When no punishment results, when no action is taken, nothing is deterred. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that can be taken in order to build better cases.
1.) Record the crowd. The crowd is in a public place with no reasonable expectation of privacy and most individuals are taking footage of their own. Record them right back and use that footage to identify the real problems, get convictions, and help spread the true story of the Ferguson Riots. While I contend police action shouldn’t be dictated by positive or negative media coverage, there are those of us that will post your images and your footage even if the big networks refuse to do so. My agenda is the truth, not a preconceived, premeditated, preordained conclusion. More importantly, when footage can be used as evidence to facilitate convictions of criminals, all the better. To be fair, in the footage of the protest in front of Ferguson PD, I was pleased to see a County Officer with a camera. This needs to be widespread.
2.) Make sure to rotate your staff more efficiently. Machismo aside, even if your officers say they are fine, the constant threats and harassment would wear on anyone. Take advantage of the other municipalities in the area to help share the load. We’ve all responded during the code 1000 and 2000 calls and will whenever available and needed. While actions like those of the St. Ann Officer who threatened the reporters shouldn’t be ignored or forgiven, perhaps there will less incidents in the future like that if more attention is paid to limiting the individual stress of officers on the line day in and day out.
3.) Deal with the media intelligently and only when absolutely necessary. While I’m sure sleep is in short supply and stress beyond what any would have thought possible, those speaking with the media need to choose their words carefully. Along these same lines, make sure you proofread your external and internal documents. The CEU document that showed up in the media in reference to the “dealing with the media” class was so badly written it has been used as evidence of the stereotypes and media narratives we have been trying so hard to combat.
4.) Impress upon your officers the need to not say stupid things on social media. Every officer in the St. Louis area is under constant scrutiny, from every post to every photograph, to every shared link, and we need to act like it. While officer action shouldn’t be dictated by the media and their biases, we are in a constant PR battle of which we have virtually lost. If the media is going to continue pushing the story they decided on before they ever even showed up in Ferguson, let’s make sure that their side continues to only push lies and not give them legitimate grievances with which to support and prop up their other blatant falsehoods.
5.) If protesters or any other individuals are not arrested, information pertaining to their detention should be released immediately seeing as there is no pending case against them and that information is no longer evidence. Releasing arrest information and reports will help to combat the false notion that people are being arrested arbitrarily and without probable cause. Furthermore, widespread videotaping of the crowd, as suggested above, will help to make this tactic much easier to accomplish.
6.) Do not be afraid to utilize less-lethal tactics, but be prepared to explain the reasons for their use. Once again, widespread recording of the crowds will help with justification. Reducing the validity of excessive force claims by providing further evidence of their justification will make for more political good will within the judiciary to go forward with cases.
7.) If a curfew is instituted, enforce it, otherwise don’t bother. Meaningless gestures disguised as law enforcement actions will be tested by the mob if for no other reason than to assert another victory over the big bad evil police for policy that otherwise would have been inconsequential. When members of the mob sense weakness, they seek to exploit that weakness and the community suffers as a result. Thus, the need for the previous tactical considerations is heightened.
8.) Make sure everyone is on the same page. Brief everyone responding to these events even if it is just with a short printout. There has been little to no communication with the surrounding municipalities when responding to a code 1000+ as far as:
- What is going on?
- What needs to be done?
- What is County/Troop’s desired SOP?
- Who do we report to once we’ve left the CP?
We are all in this together. The weeks that follow look to be even more difficult than what came before. It is time to stop playing the game according to the rules we think we SHOULD be playing by and start playing by the rules we ARE playing by. The media is engaged in supporting a narrative and we should not fuel that narrative at the expense of the principles that hold up our profession and our duty to the rest of the community who just want to live their lives in peace. The mob might call for “No peace” but we are “Peace Officers” of the state of Missouri and our duty dictates that we oppose this concept on a fundamental, ideological level. “No peace” means war and that is unacceptable in our country, our state, our city, and our community.