Monday Morning Thoughts: Police Issues in Davis and Beyond

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police-blueIt is hard to know exactly what to take from this. However, on one side of the MRAP debate have been those who argue that there is a clear need by the Davis Police to have an MRAP.

This certainly isn’t the definitive word on whether the police feel they need the MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), but former City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the Vanguard that the issue of the MRAP never even came up during his tenure as city manager.

There are clearly cost considerations involved in that, however, the police never even asked for an armored vehicle to be put on the list of potential needs down the line.

That gibes with the comment that Darren Pytel made back in November. When the MRAP became available, he was approached by those in his department and was skeptical that the idea would fly in Davis. However, he ultimately became convinced of the need for the vehicle.

The MRAP or armored vehicle then wasn’t some longtime identified need but rather a target of opportunity that the department had done without.

Poll Shows Whites Far More Likely Than Blacks to Approve Use of Force by Police

The Associated Press reported this weekend on the findings of the 2014 General Social Survey, a long-running measurement of trends in American opinions. They asked respondents, “Are there any situations you can imagine in which you would approve of a policeman striking an adult male citizen?”

The results, showing that whites are far more willing to approve of police officers hitting people than blacks and Hispanics, is hardly surprising. However, it is illustrative of general reactions to recent events.

Seven of 10 whites polled “said they can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a police officer striking an adult male citizen,” compared to only 42 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics.

These results demonstrate the gulf between whites and people of color on the use of force, and illustrate the overall lack of trust between law enforcement and minority communities in the wake of high-profile incidents such as the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the strangulation death of Eric Garner in Staten Island.

These are not surprising results to either casual observers or experts. Experts told the AP that “experiences and history with law enforcement shape opinions about the use of violence by officers.”

They continue, “‘Whites are significantly more likely to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, either because they have never had an altercation with a police officer or because they tend to see the police as allies in the fight against crime,’ said Ronald Weitzer, a George Washington University sociology professor who has studied race and policing in the U.S. and internationally.'”

Weitzer said, “However, blacks and Hispanics ‘are more cautious on this issue because of their personal experiences and/or the historical treatment their groups have experienced at the hands of the police, which is only recapitulated in recent disputed killings.”

The AP noted deep racial divides in other areas as well:

  • A larger number of blacks could approve police striking a murder suspect who is being questioned: 24 percent, compared to 18 percent of Hispanics and 12 percent of whites.
  • At more than half of whites, 69 percent, and half of Hispanics approve of police hitting suspects trying to escape from custody but only 42 percent of blacks approve.
  • Two-thirds, or 66 percent, of whites say they favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, while 44 percent of blacks and 48 percent of Hispanics agree.
  • Almost everyone seemed to approve of police officers hitting suspects back when attacked with fists, but whites again outpaced blacks and Hispanics with their approval. Nine in 10 whites approved of police hitting a person when attacked by fists, with 74 percent of blacks and Hispanics agreeing.

University of Kansas Professor Charles Epp said that the majority of whites have the belief they will get ” ‘reasonable and fair’ treatment from officers, and that encounters ending in violence are caused by the suspect.”

Epp said, “My strong sense is that African Americans and Hispanics have too often experienced or have heard of experiences of police officers acting unfairly, so they’re less willing to support the use of force by police officers. They’re not sure it will be used fairly.”

As Radley Balko noted in his book on the rise of the militarization of the police, a woman who worked with preteens at a city community center said in a newspaper interview that the children “have a negative sense of a police officer. They see the television version of a police officer, who is knocking down doors for the bad guys, then they see their friends, innocent people, getting stopped and searched. They see innocent people getting harmed by police for no reason. When I talk to 9- and 10- year- olds, they think all police are bad.”

Seven Officers in San Francisco Face Termination in Text Messaging Scandal

On Friday, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told reporters that seven officers have now been suspended and face termination for trading bigoted text messages with a convicted former police sergeant.

“Their conduct is incompatible with that of a police officer and I believe causes them to fall below the minimum qualifications required,” Chief Suhr told reporters on Friday.

The text messages, implicating as many as 14 officers, were recovered from ex-SFPD Sgt. Ian Furminger‘s cellphone during a federal criminal investigation. Mr. Furminger was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges in December.

Michael Robison resigned last month, or he would have faced termination as well.

“If you read the text messages, it’s not even close,” Chief Suhr said. “The racial sentiment expressed in the others is not as clear, although it appears to be present in the other two, and I think it’s something the commission needs to hear.”

The SFPD is also reviewing the officers’ personal history questionnaires “to see if there’s any common denominator among them all that should have been a red flag, that should have been caught, that should have prevented them from being hired,” Chief Suhr said.

Christine DeBerry, chief of staff in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, said a 10-year review of cases involving four officers so far identified turned up more than 3,000 arrests, about 1,600 of which resulted in prosecutors filing charges.

“The thing that we do not want is to conduct a look-back, go through 3,000 cases, and then in another year or two years find ourselves with another scandal on our desks and another situation we have to try and unravel,” she said. “There’s too little discipline and too little consequence for misconduct that happens here in San Francisco,” she said. “It’s a very rare situation where somebody is fired for the kinds of misconduct. There are very few cases that are reported to us for misconduct and the discipline that’s meted out is rare, relatively weak and uncertain.”

The key point that has been made over and over again is the lack of consequence for misconduct, and that undermines confidence in the police department.

—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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26 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Police Issues in Davis and Beyond”

  1. PhilColeman

    OK, OK, my chain has been once again jerked to prompt me to comment on these surveys and polls. In recent several columns here, there have been summary statements presented describing some police behavior as being “epidemic,” or similar phrasing. An event, or a cobbled selection of recent events are “symptomatic” of a larger problem. A problem which is not only today, but existent going many years back.

    One study demeaning police behavior that was cited twice recently dates back over 40 years. Another study identified by a story from an elected public official in San Francisco reached back to an early 70’s report that supported his point. It would seem with an epidemic or a long-standing festering problem dating back decades, that many studies would have been generated. Why the need to go back so far for this one substantiation, particularly when our society in every respect was different than it is today?

    Then, there are the numerous ACLU reports. The presence and dynamics of the ACLU is much needed in our society. They serve effectively in an advocacy role, but as with all advocacy groups, they are very biased. To even suggest that anything the ACLU “reports” are the result of an objective, balanced, fair, assessment of all the facts and circumstances is ludicrous.  In the name of fairness and balance, it needs to be pointed out that the ACLU has never been the bastion of support for the law enforcement profession. Quite the opposite.

    Advocacy is essential to our form of representative government and public discussion. Even if you don’t agree with the selective, biased, and slanted points raised it still allows one to rethink his/her own position. Just keep in mind that  advocates forsake total truth in favor of trying to convince YOU to believe THEM. In turn, I ask YOU to look at who and why, and when polls and surveys are created, administered, and published.

    Now this survey, the ethnic breakdown of responses to the question about “approving” police use of force.

    Stop right there, look at the question. Could a survey question have been constructed more ambiguously, and left to individual interpretation? No, and this question fails to meet the essential standard of all survey questions, prepare it so that everybody is answering the same question. I beg anybody reading this with a professional background in survey construction to refute me on this. It was what I was repeatedly taught years ago from experts statistics compilation in a classroom setting.

    Suppose the survey group constructed a more precise-worded poll question: “If a member of your family was being criminally assaulted and the responding police struck the adult male to bring him into submission, would you approve?”

    All this poll shows us is that with vaguely constructed poll questions, the responder interprets them using their own collective life experiences guiding them. I think most of crossed that level of understanding quite some time back. David’s most profound summary comment to this poll was, “These are not surprising results to either casual observers or experts.”

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Phil: I think you miss a critical point here – the current polls construction is more telling than you think. Even with the more neutral wording, white respondents seem to be assuming your hypothetical situation whereas blacks and Hispanics are not. I think that’s still a telling finding. Your question biases the sample by assuming a legitimate reason for the police response rather than allowing the respondent to imagine their own scenario.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      I concur with Mr. Coleman. In this “epidemic” that is “symptomatic”, why no mention of the dramatic decrease in crime across our nation? Why no mention that the issue we have now at SFPD relates to 1/2 of one percent of the police force?

      Perspective is important.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Actually the decrease in crime preceded the changes in tactics. Police turned to more force at a time when crime rates had been falling for some time.

        1. hpierce

          David… crime may go down, as incident #’s, but Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook are technically 3 incidents.  Do your statistics correct for severity, or just numbers?

          Waco was one incident.  Murrah Bldg was one incident.  the Texas university tower shooter was one incident.  The Boston Marathon bombing was one incident.  The attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon attack, and the hijacked plane that crashed in shanksville, were between one and four incidences.

          Were those crimes? I’d argue that the number of “incidences” were trivial. The effects were vast.  How do you or the authorities measure “crime rate”?  Incidences, or effects?

          I do not have the answer, but am thinking I’m asking a fair question.

        2. Frankly

          Blame the 1965 Watts riots and the criticism from the public that the police didn’t have the right stuff to keep the public safe.

          It is not accurate to say that police military like tactics and tools have come after crime began to fall.  SWAT tactics started growing in the 70s and hit their stride in the 90s about the time that crime started falling after it had been growing as the new primary social concern.  More cops, stronger prison terms and legalied abortion all worked to reduce crime rates.  But new techniques and tools also helped.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Interesting point. It was Watts that convinced Daryl Gates that he needed a tactical team and led to his rise in LAPD and also the rise in militarization of the police. Crime rates mainly peaked in the late 1970s. SWAT tactics grew in the 1980s with the war on drugs even at a time when drug use was falling from their peak. The tactics have continued to increase despite the continued falling crime rates and the deterioration of trust for police in communities where those tactics have been used.

  2. Davis Progressive

    “former City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the Vanguardthat the issue of the MRAP never even came up during his tenure as city manager.”

    doesn’t it seem strange that we’ve been told all along about the profound need for an mrap – and yet the police never even brought it from 2011-2014 with cm pinkerton.  why?  understand money is tight, but there are grants and all sorts of ways around tight money – they never even put it on the radar.

  3. Davis Progressive

    the poll is telling because whites think – oh yeah, there is probably justification for a cop hitting a person while a lot of blacks are thinking there is not.  that’s actually a very good wording that doesn’t presuppose conditions.

  4. Davis Progressive

    sfpd is doing the right thing here.  you could argue in isolation some of those transgressions do not warrant termination.  however, you end up creating a pr nightmare and additional safety risks for the police to not take strong action.

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    Considering the experience of African Americans and Hispanics to be as “true” as the experience of whites, it makes perfect sense that the survey results are as they are. Further considering the ridiculous number of people imprisoned for victim-less crimes, and how disproportionately they are black or Hispanic, it’s actually surprising the results are not even more imbalanced between whites and African Americans/Hispanics.

    There is nothing unreasonable about holding police officers to a higher standard of self-discipline and morality than the average person in the street. After all, they have the legal right to beat, maim, and kill – such should only occur within very carefully proscribed boundaries. Similarly, doctors must be held to higher standards of self-discipline and morality. They have the opportunity and need to become very intimate with their clients (I refuse to use the word “patient”), and it is obvious what abuses are possible.

    I think such surveys are useful as are the debates they engender. Unfortunately, without externally imposed standards, pigs will exploit sheep and some animals will be more equal than others. Oink!

    1. Frankly

      former City Manager Steve Pinkerton told the Vanguard that the issue of the MRAP never even came up during his tenure as city manager.

      Before the PD knew about the program to acquire one for free, and given the horrendous state of city finances, why would anyone waste time brining it up?

      The MRAP or armored vehicle then wasn’t some longtime identified need but rather a target of opportunity that the department had done without.

      This is all true except the last six words that are just your biased opinion.  The police had an opportunity to acquire a useful tool when before there was no way to afford one.

      You are really stretching here David.  The PD HAD/HAS… for years… a vehicle that provides the same function as would the MRAP only with MUCH LESS utility.  If this was only an opportunity to play war (what you are really trying to insinuate) then how do you explain away the fact that the police already had a similar tool?  You can’t.  But you seem to forget.

      Seven of 10 whites polled “said they can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a police officer striking an adult male citizen,” compared to only 42 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics.

      Another possible explanation other than the same ongoing screed from you that COPS ARE RACIST is that whites tend to behave better during police encounters than do blacks and Hispanics.   If blacks and Hispanics are less respectful to police then this can explain a stronger response from police.   Did the survey control for this?  Because if the survey did not control for differences in behavior, there is nothing worth accepting in the results related to cops treating people of different races differently.   It also would have been good to get the survey to differentiate opinions based on the race of the cop.  That would seem to help determine if the issue is cops, or racism from the survey respondents.  If blacks and Hispanics are assuming that the cop is white, might they deliver a different response if the race of the cop was different?

      And I wonder… inner city culture includes rap & hip-hop music and other pop media that glorifies crime and an anti-cop opinions.  How does that impact the demeanor and behavior of black and Latino people around the cops?   It isn’t the cop’s fault that this pro-crime, anti law-enforcement pop culture exists in these demographic groups.

      The bottom line is that the surveys are poorly done and don’t really help explain anything.

       

  6. Tia Will

    Frankly

    If blacks and Hispanics are less respectful to police then this can explain a stronger response from police”

    By whose standard of “politeness”? Perhaps if the targeted black or Hispanic does not “know his place” that would be deemed as being disrespectful by a white officer who did not feel the detainee was being sufficiently deferential when he might indeed have been being quite respectful within the constraints of his own culture. In medicine, we are expected to understand that it is the patient’s reality and culture that we need to respect. I doubt the police hold to quite the same standard of cultural sensitivity and I doubt that you believe that they should based on your defense of clearly racist comments as “just blowing off steam”.

    1. Don Shor

      “If blacks and Hispanics are less respectful to police then this can explain a stronger response from police”

      If police respond more strongly to blacks and Hispanics, that can explain a less respectful response from blacks and Hispanics. I think almost anybody can see how this problem could increase over time.

    2. TrueBlueDevil

      Police are targets in many urban areas and specifically public housing projects, a nexus for violence and gang activities in many areas, so experimenting based on social science theories isn’t the best idea.

      Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Over my lifetime I’ve had my encounters with police, and I show respect for their authority, deference, and follow their directions to the “T”. I’ve also seen cops cut many people a lot of slack, but typically when they evaluate that things are going in the wrong direction, or there is a potential threat, they are taught to minimize that threat. They don’t often have 5 minutes to bond over coffee.

      Do you know why police officers stand behind the door jam when they pull you over in your car and ask for your identification? Do you know why police ask members of a crowd to keep a certain distance away? They receive training which explains to them exactly how many milli-seconds it takes to pull a gun and fire, and even if they were the best draw on the planet, if they are reacting to someone who has already drawn, they probably lose. So the door jam gives them a little protection, it gives them a few more seconds, and it makes a shot from the driver’s seat more difficult.

      If you are a confident man (or woman), and street smart, saying “yes sir” and “yes officer” is an easy way to show respect, and to put the officer at ease. It’s common sense. They have a gun, a badge, they risk their life for us, so pass the “personality test” and get them on your side.

      1. Frankly

        I was taught by my father to show respect to law enforcement.  When pulled over find a place that is safe for the offier and keep my hands on the wheel in sight.  When I was younger it generally never helped.  I was treated like a young punk.  I played in a rock band, had long hair and probably looked like a stoner even though I did not touch the stuff… I looked like a young punk.  But by being respectful, the cops would at least be professional.

  7. Frankly

    First, it is clear that blacks and Hispanics are over-represented in high crime areas.  So it is not really that surprising that the survey results are what they are.  It is not an indication of racism… it is an indication that policing in high crime areas causes more complaints from the demographic groups that are more likely to populate those areas.

    Survey these demographics about the state of their schools and it will look similarly racist.  So then why are we not using surveys like this to make a case that teaching is racist?

    The reason is purely ideological.  The left and the left media are anti-cop and pro-teacher.  It does not matter what the facts are.

    But lets cut with all this BS and get to real problem solving.

    The problem is that there is greater crime and greater violence in these neighborhoods.  And it is certainly possible that police responding with greater force is escalating tensions.

    But blaming law enforcement for this isn’t helpful.  It is not their fault that these areas have more crime and more violence.  And it is a lie that they are materially targeting blacks and Hispanics for racial reasons.

    Stop complaining and start working to help the cops.  If we need a different type of policing, cite examples and evidence that different types of policing will help.  Demand other services to help law enforcement deal with the root causes of problems.  Work as a positive force for change, not just take the weak ass approach to punish the messenger because you don’t like reality.

    Black and Hispanic males more often adopt a violent and machismo behavior.   And it is BS to discount this as being inconsequential.  Cops are human.  When you put them in a situation where the suspects are showing their tail feathers, it escalates tensions.

    Asians don’t have similar problems.  Even poor Asian communities have lower crime rates and lower violence rates.

    Where does this behavior start?  It usually starts in the home, and continues in the schools.

    Why isn’t it dealt with in the schools?

    The crappy schools release these violent and poorly educated kids onto the streets for the cops to deal with, than then it is the cops’ fault there is escalation.  Right. If we are going to place blame, the schools are much more culpable for failing to fix the problems.   Pop culture too.   Work on fixing those things and then come talk about racist cops.  My guess is that you won’t have much to talk about.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Frankly, you make some good point except the last paragraph. It starts in the home, and many are a disaster and only getting worse. Many neighborhoods still have elderly role models, a married couple, grandfather and grandmother, who have helped to fill the gaps. Many of them have reared children who were born into crack or other messes. That generation is dying off.

      It starts with the family, and Big Government and the War on Poverty helped to destroy it.

      1. Frankly

        TBD – Yes, I agree with you.  But we are talking about viable institutional solutions.  I think the schools are key because the left likes them and the right likes them.  There is less probability that we will see social welfare reform, less opportunity that we will see economic growth to bring jobs to get the non-working working again.  Certainly there is no chance that we can fix the crappy culture of teeage mothers and missing fathers.  And absolutley no way we can stop the social decay of ghetto pop culture.

        It appears that the left has decided that law enforcement, and to a lesser degree the judicial, is their new deflective blame target for the destructive results of their failed policies.

        So I think we just need to borrow a page of that play book to blame the schools and education estblishment.

        Reform the schools to make up some of the deficit and then reform law enforcement to help make up some of the rest.  And then we might make some progress solving these problems.

  8. PhilColeman

    In the context of the discussion on when is it appropriate for law enforcement to strike a person, the factor of “respect” has entered into the discussion. Let us all agree that a citizen’s lack of respect towards an authority figure alone never justifies physical force. In a courtroom a judge may order you to go to jail, but the all-powerful judge can’t hit you.

    Naturally, disrespect by any person towards any other person increases the potential for hostility. But like the police, nobody else has the legitimate authority to smack somebody for being “disrespected.” Now, that should take the matter of respect away from this discussion, respectfully presented.

  9. Napoleon Pig IV

    I’d say the report in the NY Times today of the murder in South Carolina by a white officer of an unarmed black man running away from him after a traffic stop for a broken tail light (apparently guilty only of the crime of being late on a child support payment) is relevant to this discussion. The video not only confirms the murder (and yes, video produced by a mere citizen can, in fact, provide confirmation of “the truth,” it also confirms that the officers were lying when they claimed in their report to have administered first aid. And, the video shows the officer who committed the murder rearranging evidence at the crime scene to make it look like he was acting in self defense.

    Clearly there is a serious problem with the training and behavior of police (and a lot of other government employees) in this country. It’s as clear as the snout on the end of my head or as the mush waiting for me in the trough. And, I’m not even an African American or Hispanic dude. Oink!

    1. tribeUSA

      I haven’t read up on this story, but if the evidence against the policeman is as strong as you indicate that it is, sounds like this should be the incident for civil rights activists to rally around, instead of the Ferguson incident

      1. hpierce

        Perhaps, but the murder charge, plus probable “enhancements” will lead to, if convicted, the death penalty, or life in prison (cop, killing a black man for no reason… if he is placed in the general population, he’ll most likely be a dead man).  Don’t think the ‘civil rights violation’ charges would ‘govern’.  Might be wrong.

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