Commentary: Police Provide Context to Encounter with Eli Davis

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On May 3, Davis resident Eli Davis recounted his April 19, 2013, encounter with a Davis police officer who demanded identification as he mowed his lawn in front of his west Davis home where the 68-year-old has lived at for nearly 30 years.

Davis police spokesperson, Lt. Glenn Glasgow, explained to the Vanguard this week that a community member flagged down a Davis police officer, explaining that they had possibly interrupted a residential burglary that was occurring.

That individual, he explained, called the Davis Police Department to relay this information.

“While our officers were in route, we were provided with a description of an African-American, adult male, with a clothing description as well,” Lt. Glasgow said.  “During the course of the investigation we actually wound up contacting several African-American males who were in the area of the reported residential burglary.”

Mr. Davis was one of those people.

“During the course of the investigation, we determined that the report that there being a residential burglary was unfounded,” he said.  “At which point Mr. Davis called our communications center and there was a miscommunication between our department to Mr. Davis regarding his contact with our police department.”

One of the individuals that was reported to the police was detained by a resident until police arrived.

“Through the course of the investigation it was determined that a burglary had not occurred,” Lt. Glasgow explained.

Lt. Glasgow had no details on the clothing that Mr. Davis was wearing at the time.  The Vanguard has been unable to reach Mr. Davis for comment and the police have not been able to talk with him either.

“We have attempted to contact him,” Lt. Glasgow responded to a Vanguard question.  “I’m not heading up the investigation, but the last I heard, we had not been able to actually touch bases with him.”

One individual who knows Mr. Davis described him as a bespectacled man with graying hair who is of medium build.

Despite the fact that Mr. Davis has not filed a formal complaint, the Davis Police Department is investigating the police encounter.

“We are currently reviewing the incident itself as well as the conduct of the officers,” Lt. Glasgow said.  “We take these allegations very seriously.  It is our goal to provide the best service to the community and we want to determine what it is that our officers are doing while out there investigating these reported crimes.”

While the Vanguard previously reported that the wave of burglaries had subsided, in recent weeks there has been a renewed surge of burglaries that officials are trying to get on top of.

There are several different components to this police encounter.

The first question regards the initial contact between Mr. Davis and the officer.  The police have made it a point to point out that they had an active citizen complaint regarding a suspicious figure and a concern about a residential burglary.

However, Mr. Davis, if he had been mowing his lawn and appeared as described by those who know him, may not have been a likely suspect other than the color of his skin – a fact that has many in the community uneasy.

Neighbors wrote into the Davis Enterprise this week and described him as “a quiet, private person who, as the original owner, has lived in his home and raised his children for 30 years.”

“We exchange friendly greetings at our shared mailboxes or as we see him pedaling daily on his bicycle to and from work,” the neighbors continue.

They add, “We are very aware of the rash of brazen burglaries recently in the greater West Davis area. Eli’s letter tells us that the officer demanded identification because he ‘fit the description’ and refused further explanation. Nor did Eli’s call to the police department result in an explanation of this indignity.”

Experts on police practices that the Vanguard has spoken with all suggest that there is a good deal of ambiguity about the original exchange between the officer and Mr. Davis.  The optics of the situation are problematic, given Mr. Davis’ age and activity.

However, at the same time, the bigger problem might have been avoided with a more sensitive police encounter.

Police speak of consensual contacts – those where ostensibly the citizen is free to leave at any point – but many experts do not believe in reality there is a such thing.  Any police encounter is an encounter with the arm of the government that has the ability to deprive people of liberties under the right conditions.  Moreover, there is a power asymmetry that drives the perception of such encounters as intrusive.

Had the officer taken the time to explain the situation more fully with Mr. Davis, much of this problem might have been avoided.  Had dispatch delivered correct information about the in-progress burglary complaint, trouble might have been avoided as well.

We are concerned as about the complaints of burglaries that were determined to be unfounded.  Did police react properly to the environment by detaining an individual or was this itself problematic?

The Vanguard has been told of a number of cases where citizens saw people of color in their neighborhood and called the police, despite the fact that the people in question were participating in legitimate activities.

Finally, one of the big questions we have is how often does this type of scenario occur and we simply never hear about it.  We can imagine for every case that we hear of, there are hundreds, perhaps more, that we do not.

Over the years, it is rare to run into an individual of color who spent time living in Davis – currently or the past – who does not have multiple stories about police encounters, that, at least in their minds, amounted to racial profiling.

The Vanguard would like to see the city adopt recommendations from Jann Murray-Garcia to collect data on police encounters as a way in which these interactions can be monitored and analyzed.

At the December 1, 2012 Breaking the Silence of Racism Event, Captain Darren Pytel committed to Dr. Murray-Garcia to look into doing exactly that.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Police Provide Context to Encounter with Eli Davis”

  1. JustSaying

    “Finally, one of the big questions we have is how often does this type of scenario occur and we simply never hear about it. We can imagine for every case that hear of, there are hundreds perhaps more that we do not.”

    Perhaps thousands or more. One can imagine.

  2. AdRemmer

    The Commentary Reported by DG is as follows:

    [quote]Police speak of consensual contacts – those where ostensibly the citizen is free to leave at any point – but many experts do not believe in reality there is a such thing.[/quote]

    [quote][b]but many experts do not believe in reality there is a such thing[/b][/quote]

    In re: [b][i][u]”many”[/u][/i][/b]

    Exactly how might the story teller quantify “many?”

    Isn’t it true that the inverse would be just as valid? i.e.,

    [b]”Many”[/b]

    [b]”Experts”[/b] would disagree…

    Yet, there is no such mention…

    typical

  3. Frankly

    Question: can the police effectively protect all law-abiding citizens from damage and harm while following protocol that eliminates encounters like this?

    I think the answer is no.

    Just like US soldiers cannot effectively protect Afghanis from damage and harm without suspecting and interrogating Muslims that are not terrorists, it would make the job of policing impossible if those responsible for our safety could not interrogate people belonging to certain groups because of those people’s indignation of inconvenience for having to endure it. I look at this differently… it is our shared sacrifice to sometimes endure inconvenience and some indignation for the greater good.

    When I was a 20-something male getting off of swing shift and graveyard shift at the bank I worked for, and driving through Davis, I got pulled over several times. As a young 20-something I would seethe at the inconvenience and indignation of it. Upon reflection it was clear that a 20-something with long hair driving around town in the early morning hours was justification for suspicion. Did every cop that pulled me over treat me with my expected level of dignity and respect? The answer is no. Most did, but cops are just people and some are they will have bad days and good days. Some will have personalities less warm and friendly than others.

    I understand that being a black male is more problematic in this respect, because it doesn’t change. I eventually lost my hair and my youth. Today I no longer fit the profile of a drug-dealer driving around town. But, certainly it is still probable that I might fit the profile of some suspect at times.

    One more thing to consider here. We just had a brazen home invasion and murder of a husband and wife. We have had a rash of home invasions and burglaries. The Davis police are rightfully on edge as are many citizens. As citizens, this is not the time to make the cops’ job more difficult.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “can the police effectively protect all law-abiding citizens from damage and harm while following protocol that eliminates encounters like this?”

    Sure they can, it calls for them to be more sensitive about how people perceive their encounters and effective management after the encounter. Would Mr. Davis have complained if the officer had made sure to explain his actions and not leave until Mr. Davis and he had reached an understanding? Instead, Mr. Davis was apparently given very vague explanations and it was compounded with inaccurate information from dispatch.

  5. Don Shor

    [i]One of the individuals that was reported to the police was detained by a resident until police arrived.

    “Through the course of the investigation it was determined that a burglary had not occurred,” Lt. Glasgow explained.[/i]

    So some citizen ‘detained’ an African-American male on suspicion of burglary until police arrived, for no valid reason?

  6. Frankly

    Dispatch is not in the business of giving out information to the general public that might provide criminals advantages, or that might hamper police work. And I already made my point about cops being people and some are less warm than others and some have bad days like the rest of us. The expectation for friendly and responsive customer service is over the top. Mr. Davis was not harmed, he was simply inconvenienced and embarrassed and he is angry about it. I would be too in his case, but I would not have written a letter to the editor, and I would get over it recognizing the bigger picture.

    I don’t know what it is with some people that internalize and amplify instances when someone gets their feelings hurt. In my book, this kind of thing has its roots in destructive emotional response. It is time to take a step back, take a deep breath, realize that no harm was done, that the problem with blacks being over-represented in crime is a social problem we must work hard to solve, and that we can’t expect cops to walk on eggshells around hyper-sensitivity and still be effective at their job.

    I don’t know MR. Davis. I’m sure he is a nice man that deserves the utmost respect. If I were him I would be pissed at black leadership for continuing to enflame a victim mentality in blacks that foments hopelessness and leads them to a life of crime. I would be pissed at the education establishment, unions and Democrats for blocking education reforms that would otherwise help black kids escape a life of poverty and their continued low probability of economic self-sufficiency… that in-turn leads them to greater likelihood of crime. If I were him, I would demand that black leadership start admonishing the practice of producing 70% of black children out of wedlock to single-mother families… families with boys lacking fathers to teach them how to be a real man… not one that gets it from gangs of thugs.

    The root cause of the problem that led to his being inconvenienced and having to suffer the indignation of suspicion is not a problem with law enforcement. The root cause is simply the higher probability that he fits the description of criminal suspect because of his looks, and yes, because he is black. That fact sucks. It really does. But it is a statistical reality based on statistical probability that he would be more likely to fit the description of a criminal suspect.

    The solution is to reduce that statistical probability. How do we do that? Complaining about a cop’s lack of perfect expected demeanor will not solve a thing. It is just a lazy avenue to vent frustration.

  7. hpierce

    Frankly’s comment made me grin… years ago my son and a friend were pulled over and questioned about a credit union attempted robbery [in Davis]… the employees described the suspect as black. Son and friend are so “white” that Wonder Bread would come to mind. But they were young, male, out after dark. Obviously, ‘reasonable cause’.

  8. JustSaying

    This incident seems to boil down to a short talk between a policeman and a citizen that would have amounted to nothing if one party had been a little more sensitive and/or the other had been a little less sensitive.

    An investigator shouldn’t be short with a citizen even in the midst of tracking a reported burglar. A citizen shouldn’t be offended by a short, otherwise courteous encounter with an officer on such a mission.

    Covering this as a “racial profiling” event stretches the true situation and minimizes the offensiveness of the practice where it occurs.

    What is this, the fourth [i]Vanguard[/i] story? And, at least one more to come (once the police “touch bases” with Mr. Davis)? A little more patience and investigation before the first story would have revealed the situation as a lot less sensational and outrageous than first suspected and reported.

    It’s difficult to fathom why police should be criticized for stopping a bald white guy if “bald white guy” was the victim’s description or a “black guy” if so described (or an “Asian woman” or a “kid with a German shepherd”). In spite of hpierce’s weird white bread anecdote, there’s hardly any other route to take. By definition, the number of times a minority might face such a situation in a lifetime would seem to be higher than folks like hpierce’s family members.

    It’s good to keep the community informed of (and sensitive to) issues like this. The response by residents suggests something positive about our town.

  9. SouthofDavis

    JustSaying wrote:

    > This incident seems to boil down to a short talk
    > between a policeman and a citizen that would have
    > amounted to nothing if one party had been a little
    > more sensitive and/or the other had been a little
    > less sensitive.

    Keep in mind that as far as the cop knows the burglar (who just might be a guy with a bloody glove that matches the DNA of two South Davis seniors) is still on the loose (so he does not have the time for a half hour talk telling the guy that the Davis PD really is sensitive to people of color and super PC)…

    > Covering this as a “racial profiling” event stretches
    > the true situation and minimizes the offensiveness of
    > the practice where it occurs. What is this, the fourth
    > Vanguard story? And, at least one more to come (once
    > the police “touch bases” with Mr. Davis)?

    It seems like the theme for the past 20 years is to cry “racism” as loud and as often as you can and never hold back (anytime a black guy loses an election it is due to “racism” and even when they win the election they will spend hours pointing out proof of “racism’ because the guy didn’t win every precinct in every area)…

  10. medwoman

    “The root cause of the problem that led to his being inconvenienced and having to suffer the indignation of suspicion is not a problem with law enforcement. The root cause is simply the higher probability that he fits the description of criminal suspect because of his looks, and yes, because he is black. That fact sucks. It really does. But it is a statistical reality based on statistical probability that he would be more likely to fit the description of a criminal suspect”

    I think location, context, and age are critical factors that you have overlooked in your statement. It it reasonable to suspect that a burglary suspect is going to halt his get away to mow a lawn ? Is a higher percentage of crime in Davis committed by blacks ? Is it reasonable to suspect, in the context of his age and activity that a gentleman in his 60s is your suspect ? Even if one does not believe that there was racism involved in this episode, I would say there is strong reason to question the judgement of the officer involved.

  11. David M. Greenwald

    Just Saying: “An investigator shouldn’t be short with a citizen even in the midst of tracking a reported burglar. A citizen shouldn’t be offended by a short, otherwise courteous encounter with an officer on such a mission.”

    While I think your point is well intentioned, I think you are missing critical context here. One of the things I think that should be remembered is that whites and blacks experiences with police are quite different, and aside from the fact that blacks get contacted far more, there is also a tendency to both be treated with more suspicion and subsequently read in more suspicion to the encounter. In the end, I think you are responding from your own perspective, but your perspective differs from Mr. Davis’.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    And that leaves aside the question as to whether it was reasonable for the police officer to have contacted him in the first place to ask for identification. The jury is still out on that.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    ” years ago my son and a friend were pulled over and questioned about a credit union attempted robbery [in Davis]… the employees described the suspect as black.”

    Hpierce: Here’s an interesting point for you to consider – people often misidentify race – so what if the employee was wrong in their description?

  14. JustSaying

    [quote]“And that leaves aside the question as to whether it was reasonable for the police officer to have contacted him in the first place to ask for identification. The jury is still out on that.”[/quote]All I know is what I read in the [i]Vanguard[/i]. But what have I missed that shows that the Jury is out on whether the officer was “reasonable” in deciding to talk to Mr. Davis because he matched the description provided to him?

    I tried to provide context for how I got to my thoughts about the seriousness this “racial profiling” incident.

    I acknowledged the likelihood of minorities in Davis getting stopped when it’s reported that one of them committed a crime–it’s easy to spot an African-American if you’re supposed to be searching for one in the neighborhood. And, since there are fewer by definition, it’s understandable that this could happen repeatedly during a lifetime.

    I certainly can understand (without experiencing them myself) how these phenomena would lead to sensitivity on the part of minorities who do experience them.

    After consideration, I’ve just concluded that this incident doesn’t rate high on the “racial profiling” scale. Given how neighbors describe him, I’d guess Mr. Davis would have been more magnanimous if the officer hadn’t been so abrupt and his call to the station had resulted in accurate information about the officer’s mission that day.

  15. jimt

    I agree with JustSaying’s viewpoint; think he nails it with the ‘a little more sensitive’ and ‘a little less sensitive’ balance.
    In my late teens and twenties I had long hair and a somewhat grungy look, and like Frankly often got pulled over by police for very minor infractions in my somewhat clunky older cars. I’m blue-eyed and blond. I didn’t like it; but I understood it and grudgingly accepted the police were doing their job (I was very polite and cooperative in all interactions with police; sometimes the police were a bit abrupt with me; but were always professional and usually courteous).

    Remember the police are just trying to help keep your neighborhood safe; and that they may not be quite as perfect a human being as you!

  16. David M. Greenwald

    Just Saying: I understand your point, just understand that the reaction of a lot of African Americans I know is a lot of anger. So while you may not rate this issue highly, a number of others do.

  17. David M. Greenwald

    “Remember the police are just trying to help keep your neighborhood safe; and that they may not be quite as perfect a human being as you! “

    No one is a perfect human, but there are better and worse ways to handle things.

  18. JustSaying

    Not to belabor the point, but my objective is to acknowledge the serious nature of the social issue while suggesting that this particular incident should be only a minor contribution to the problem. Should I still be waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding whether the officer was reasonable in acting at all?

  19. medwoman

    jimt

    “In my late teens and twenties I had long hair and a somewhat grungy look, and like Frankly often got pulled over by police for very minor infractions in my somewhat clunky older cars. I’m blue-eyed and blond. I didn’t like it; but I understood it and grudgingly accepted the police were doing their job (I was very polite and cooperative in all interactions with police; sometimes the police were a bit abrupt with me; but were always professional and usually courteous). “

    A critical difference is that you had the ability to change your appearance to one potentially more acceptable to the police by cutting your hair and perhaps up grading your clothes a bit. Those of darker skin do not have this option.

  20. Frankly

    [i]A critical difference is that you had the ability to change your appearance to one potentially more acceptable to the police by cutting your hair and perhaps up grading your clothes a bit. Those of darker skin do not have this option.[/i]

    Certainly true to some degree. I could change my age when I was 20-somthing.

    You bring up an interesting point that made me wonder if Asians as a group have a similar level of complaints.

    I was also thinking that a group’s over or under-representation in crime would cause an exponential difference in attention from law enforcement as cops would naturally want to be useful and successful in their job to identify and nab real criminals. It isn’t racial profiling, or racism, if it is statistical and logical.

    Said another way, it would be unnatural and illogical to measure any group’s representation in police attention by only their raw population if their representation in criminal activity did not match their raw population.

  21. SouthofDavis

    jimt wrote:

    > In my late teens and twenties I had long hair
    > and a somewhat grungy look…

    Then medwoman wrote:

    > A critical difference is that you had the ability
    > to change your appearance…

    I have friends in law enforcement and the main reason that more blacks get stopped by the police is that many more blacks than whites “dress” and “drive cars” just like the criminals they are looking for. If a SUV with big rims and tinted windows driven by a black guy with a big white shirt, sagging pants and a sideways baseball cap is involved in a drive by shooting the cops won’t stop all black people they will stop the people driving SUVs with big rims and tinted windows and guys with a big white shirts, sagging pants and sideways baseball caps…

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