My View II: Reflections on the Last Two Weeks and the Future of Policing

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Davis Police Car

In two weeks, I will have been doing this stuff for ten years – which is a long time to be doing something that, in many ways, is constantly evolving.  The last two weeks have been very interesting, watching the intersection between national tragedy and local policies and events.

Last week was about tragedy – the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were tragic, regardless of whether you believe officers were justified in their actions (and I continue to believe, whether justified or unjustified, different tactics would have meant those two men would still be alive and the police officers involved safe and without the burden of having taken someone’s life).  Last week ended with the tragic shooting of many Dallas police officers, five of whom lost their lives.

In the aftermath of that, there are two interesting incidents locally and a lot of interesting conversation.

On Tuesday, I spoke with Sandy Holman at length.  Quickly I realized that the incident itself was not the problem.  As I understand it, it was a young female officer who pulled Ms. Holman and her husband Mark over for a minor equipment problem with her car.  The officer did not give her a ticket but warned her of the need to fix the car.

With body and in-car cameras it is reportedly easy to see that the officer was operating by the book.  The problem here is context.  First, we have the national backdrop and part of why I wanted to do this story is that, as a white male, I do not get to walk in people’s shoes who have different experiences than mine unless I can use the power of this Vanguard to communicate how Ms. Holman feels when a police officer pulls her over.

I have seen the traffic stop data in Davis.  In fact, three years ago on the Human Relations Commission (HRC), we went over it with then-Assistant Chief Darren Pytel.  Every race gets pulled over in Davis and, I dare say, every socio-economic group.  That’s not the contention here.

The problem is that black people feel singled out by these traffic stops.  In fact, a decade ago, the California Highway Patrol acknowledged racial profiling just as police in New Jersey had.

I spoke to both deputy chiefs and Chief Pytel on Tuesday night – it is a challenge for them to figure out the line between safety and doing more harm than good with traffic stops.

I had long conversations on this topic.  While these conversations were not on the record – I come away with the following.  First, the leadership in Davis understands that policing needs to change.  One of the points President Obama made this week was we ask our police officers to do too much.

One of the points that several in the leadership in Davis agreed with is that we have to find good police officers who have the right mannerisms and demeanor to operate in Davis as opposed to Oakland.

But, overall, the profession itself has to change.  Change is hard on a lot of levels.  Davis has a challenge finding quality police officers who can operate in a low crime, high scrutiny and highly-educated environment.  I personally believe that, more and more, we need police officers who are college educated, exposed to a diversity of viewpoints and able to understand things like psychology, de-escalation techniques and other complex concepts.

I am heartened to read the report from PERF (Police Executive Research Forum), which is challenging conventional thinking on police use of force and pushing the profession to acknowledge the need for reforms.

As Chuck Wexler wrote in his forward, “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life—the lives of police officers and the lives of the people they serve and protect. The preservation of life has always been at the heart of American policing. Refocusing on that core ideal has never been more important than it is right now.”

He adds, “American policing is at a critical juncture. Across the country, community members have been distressed by images of police officers using deadly force in questionable circumstances. These incidents are an infinitesimal fraction of the millions of interactions that take place between the police and the public every week. Most police officers never fire their guns (except during training) throughout their entire careers, yet they face enormous challenges and risks to their own safety on a regular basis and they perform their jobs admirably. But police chiefs tell us that even one bad encounter can damage trust with the community that took years to build.”

While I am heartened by the seeming widespread support among leadership in police departments, who understand that policing tactics need to change in this world of constant scrutiny – what some call the “You Tube effect” – and heightened sensitivity in communities of color about use of force and officer-involved shootings, I am concerned by what I see as the gap between the leadership and the rank and file on this matter.

My conversations with more street-oriented police officers, both in Davis and elsewhere, suggests that we have a long way to go.  And it will be up to the leadership to lead here and change the mentality of those officers who still operate under old-school notions and, if they can’t, they must find new and younger officers who are well-educated and come at the profession from a different vantage point.

It is, of course, highly intriguing that on the very day I ran the Sandy Holman story, my life once again took a turn for the weird and we had another incident of personal involvement with the police.

I hired Sophie Marconi two weeks ago and last Tuesday, July 5, was her first day.  Not only did she take on the role as my assistant at 20 hours a week, but she also agreed to do the Court Watch Internship.

I lent her the keys to my van to pick up a small desk for our new office and was surprised when I got a call from a police officer about 20 minutes later.  He was asking if I knew Sophie and whether I had given her my keys and what my van looked like.  At this point, I was concerned because I figured she must have been in an accident.

Then he asked the oddest question – asking whether I could look to see if my van was still in its original parking spot.  To my utter shock it was.  At this point the police officer reassured me that her story seemed to be checking out and that he thought everything would be okay.

But I later learned that she was handcuffed in the back of the police car for about 15 minutes as they sorted things out.

The owner of the van believed that Sophie was actually “Sophia,” a former employee who had stolen from her in the past and therefore she, the owner of the van, believed that Sophie knew full well that this was not my van.  But the descriptions of Sophie and Sophia did not match and, when I went downstairs to talk with the police officer and try to help sort things out, it became clear that they were talking about a different person altogether.

In the end, I commend the police for their good work.  It would have been easy to have concluded that Sophie’s story was far-fetched and to have arrested her and let the system work it out.  They didn’t, even though as the chief later told me, the situation was highly unusual.

I know some of the commenters yesterday debated the “what if” question, and someone called me yesterday to jokingly suggest I find an African American employee to do a real world test to see if black people are treated differently than white people in such incidents.  The thought was, once we had conducted the experiment, we could get the story run in the New York Times.

I get it.  I think Sophie’s experience with the police was probably quite different from Sandy Holman’s, and also will be quite different from those we observe in our courts.  She was quite fortunate that we were able to clarify the matter and that the police quickly saw that this was an honest mistake rather than an attempt to steal a van.

I do think it’s fair to ask these kinds of questions – and, in fact, we need to demand answers.  I also think that we need to understand that, for many people, they generally have good experiences with the police and therefore they find it difficult to perhaps understand when some people do not.

One story that was brought to my mind is the night three police officers paid a visit to my house.  My daughter, then probably three or four, had been at the city gym and they noticed a bruise on her face.  For reasons I don’t understand, the employee called the police and they paid us a visit.

They quickly discovered that my daughter had just the one bruise on her, and that it was likely caused, as we said, by our younger boy hitting her in the face with his sippy-cup.  They apologized for the intrusion, gave the kids stuffed animals and went on their way.

Three officers came out, likely because it was me, but in the end it was jarring to have police come to my home, even though they handled it well.

But not every encounter ends well with the police, and when people have to interact over and over and over again, they stop being willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The use of force changes will be easier to enact than changing these kinds of low level interactions with police, which have a chance to escalate into something very ugly.  Especially if one side or the other is having a bad day.

This just further illustrates the complexity of dealing with these sorts of issues.  Again, I don’t think people understand how much time I spend talking to the police, trying to understand how things look from their vantage point.  I really am hoping we can do more stories in the coming weeks from the vantage point of a police officer making a stop.

We’ll see what the world brings us.

—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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44 thoughts on “My View II: Reflections on the Last Two Weeks and the Future of Policing”

  1. Barack Palin

    The officer did not give her a ticket but warned her of the need to fix the car.

    I wonder if the car occupants had been white if they would’ve been issued a ticket?

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      She didn’t even get a Fix-It ticket, but this is proof of racism? Oh please. (Unless she left something out.) … I have had numerous warnings from officers over the years, fix-it tickets, and tickets. Welcome to life in America, call it the car culture.

  2. Frankly

    I see the word “feel” repeated many times in this article.  It is my belief that much of the unrest and division in this country are the result of people that, depending on how you look at it, have developed a sense of entitlement for how they feel, or have devolved to a level of not being about to cope with their feelings.

    That is the other side of the argument for this topic, and it gets absolutely no media attention… because the media likes emotional conflict to sell copy.

    All things being equal… a law enforcement stop of a white suspect and a black suspect… the white suspect would be more likely just be irritated with the inconvenience, while the black suspect would more likely feel like she was singled out and treated unfairly.  And then this difference in “feeling” manifests into a difference in demeanor toward the officer which in turn causes the officer to respond differently.

    And so why then is this cascade of difference the responsibility of law enforcement?  It is not unless there is an expectation for affirmative action sensitivity policing… which is what this piece seems to be implying we adopt.

    In trying to process this endless narrative of cops being white-preferring racists… I keep coming back to the conclusion that cops really just prefer people lacking a large chip on their shoulder.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I read your comment and it is my opinion that you really don’t understand the criticism of the police. I don’t think most are racist. I do know that the Davis POlice Department is undergoing unconscious bias training shortly. I applaude that.

      1. hpierce

        Hopefully, such training will also have a component regarding “age”… gonna’ bet white teenage males have more of a problem with Davis policing in the relatively recent past than minority adults… can personally cite several examples in the ‘traffic stop’ and other areas [relating to my children]… there were cops (the worst one is no longer with DPD) who were into DWWYM (driving while white young male) stops.

      2. South of Davis

        David wrote:

        > I don’t think most are racist. I do know that the Davis Police Department

        > is undergoing unconscious bias training shortly.

        I just read something that Corvettes are pulled over for speeding more often than Buicks.  Most people assume that the Corvettes were speeding more often than the Buicks and we don’t have any protests that “cops hate Corvettes” and “Buick drivers have it easy due to “Buick Privilege””

        Poor white people with crappy cars get pulled over more often than rich white people and most people assume that their crappy old cars had more broken tail lightsm, bald tires and missing mufflers.  When poor black people get pulled over all we hear about is (conscious and unconscious) racist cops and white privilege…

        1. South of Davis

          Frankly wrote:

          > Apparently no unconscious bias against Asians. Why is that?

          Maybe the cops think they are just “white people who are squinting” and look the other way like they do to all the rest of the people with “white privilege” who we keep hearing never get pulled over or get tickets (and all get great jobs through their connections at the Country Club or Yacht Club)…

        2. Frankly

          But that argument shoots holes in your connecting outcome statistics as proof of racism.  If unconscious bias exists for all groups then we would not see any statistical differnce in outcomes.

          And you also make my point that blacks m use have unconscious bias against whites and probably blues too.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            It doesn’t shoot any holes because I reject the comment that outcome statistics are proof of racism. Second, just because every group faces unconscious bias, doesn’t mean the component of that bias is the same for all groups.

        3. hpierce

          David (1:10 post)…

          So, do all racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, political, obesity/skinny, pretty/ugly etc. individuals possess this “unconscious bias”?  All “groups”?  All individuals in these “groups”? [Doing the thing another poster frequently does…]

          If so, that might be an inherent, human, biologically programmed trait… but I reject that hypothesis…  my biases are very conscious…

    2. hpierce

      You raise interesting philosophical, physiological, and/or psychological questions… to what extent are our “feelings” what we choose them to be… are they based on experiential factors, somewhat beyond our control… outside influences telling what we should feel [I think the thing that angers me most is when someone presumes to tell me, “you shouldn’t FEEL that way”… ]… physiological/psychological factors (including, but not limited to mental illness)… how much control do we have how we act on our ‘feelings’… should we act counter to our feelings [I’ve often felt I had to completely repress my ‘feelings’ in choosing how to act/react… but wait… that was just a feeling… a paradox]… who places the ‘chip’ on our shoulder…

      I have no answers, at least at present… but I believe (just a feeling) that they are good questions…

    3. TrueBlueDevil

      Good points. I’m told police have the driving test, and the personality test … if you give a cop lip, are disrespectful, combative… you face greater odds of things not going your way. This is human nature.

      Think of it another way. Who is more likely to have a gun under their seat, a citizen who repeatedly says “Yes, sir”, “No officer”, or a citizen with a chip on their shoulder who says “Why the hell are you pulling me over?” (Whether said or implied non verbally).

      Another interesting point rarely mentioned. Virtually all of these cases where young men were shot, they typically were physically combative with the police officers in question.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        “Good points. I’m told police have the driving test, and the personality test … if you give a cop lip, are disrespectful, combative… you face greater odds of things not going your way. This is human nature.”

        This is something that a lot of police leadership acknowledge is part of the problem that they are trying to fix.

    4. Tia Will

      Frankly

      have developed a sense of entitlement for how they feel, or have devolved to a level of not being about to cope with their feelings.”

      Everyone has developed a sense of “entitlement” to how they feel. You on occasion can become quite belligerent or more recently “packed up your words and went home” over anger that you felt ( your explanation, not mine). But you do not seem to “own” or “cope” with anger since you have frequently justified it as someone “making you feel that way”.

      And so why then is this cascade of difference the responsibility of law enforcement?”

      The answer to this question is really quite simple. They are the professional on the scene.  First, they are the one’s who have voluntarily accepted the job and are being paid to protect civilians. Second, they are the one’s who routinely come armed with lethal weapons. Therefore it is certainly their responsibility to  control escalating emotions. Yet time and again on these tapes of excessive use of force, we see police shouting when speaking would do, using words that many of us never use in our own lives and consider professionally unacceptable and threatening in and of themselves.

  3. Barack Palin

    I’m sure Davis has tens of thousands of incidents every year where the police get involved and the best the Vanguard can come up with is someone gets stopped but doesn’t get a ticket, a van mistakingly gets stolen but it all gets worked out and three officers show up at David’s front door because some worker called in a bruise on his child.  If that’s all we have to worry about it sounds like we’ve got one freakin’ good police dept.  Good job DPD, some of us really appreciate the work you do.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Let’s unpack this comment – tens of thousands? Even if we very loosely define things as interactions rather than calls for service and “incident” I don’t think the number approaches ten thousand.

      Second, you act as if I have access to all incidents. Not even remotely true. This isn’t an open public system.

      Third, let’s say there are only a few bad incidents a year, isn’t that a reason to fix them? Certainly I suspect if I asked the Chief if he had a good department, he would say yes. If they had things they wanted to improve, he would say yes. If the profession was in need of critical reforms, he would say yes. So I don’t see any of this as mutually exclusive.

      1. Barack Palin

         Even if we very loosely define things as interactions rather than calls for service and “incident” I don’t think the number approaches ten thousand.

        How many traffic stops does DPD make every year?  How many bike stops?  How many downtown pedestrian encounters?  How many calls for service?  I think 10,000 is way under their actual interactions.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I stand corrected. Chief says 8000 traffic stops, 60,000 incidents of all kinds. I was thinking the number was like a tenth of that.

        1. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > I stand corrected. Chief says 8000 traffic stops, 60,000

          > incidents of all kinds. I was thinking the number was

          > like a tenth of that.

          If Davis just had one cop working at a time that had one “incident” per hour we would have 8,760 incidents (365 days x 24 hours).

          The Davis Police web site lists 87 Police employees so if we has a tenth of 60,000 that would mean that each employee only had 69 “incidents” a year (a little more than one a week)…

          http://cityofdavis.org/city-hall/city-manager-s-office/staff-directory/-seldept-7

        2. TrueBlueDevil

          Good logic BP, something the left typically doesn’t process. But I’m sure they’ll spin it.

          Same logic likely held for the officer who shot violent criminal Michael Brown. That officer worked in a predominantly black area, and I never recall any history of him having had lots of citizen complaints filed against him or numerous problems. He likely had tens of thousands of interactions with black citizens that went fine, and one 300-pound high criminal tries to kill him, and he’s instantly a racist? Poor logic.

    2. Matt Williams

      BP, I suspect (but do not know for a fact) that if you contacted any of the members of the DPD from the Chief on down through the ranks, and reached out to Landy Black as well, and asked them whether they feel the Vanguard (and David individually) appreciates what they do, they would say “Yes the Vanguard does appreciate what we do . . . and in addition the Vanguard helps us to get better at what we do.”  

      I also think they would say the same thing about Bob Aaronson.

      1. Barack Palin

        Honestly, imo I think they’d only say that to be PC.  I’ll bet that privately they all despise the Vanguard.  Of course we have no way of ever knowing for sure because the DPD has to keep up their appearances.  But do you really think the DPD appreciates the what if a black person instead of a white person did this or that scenarios.   I’ll bet the DPD hates insinuations like that, know they’re professionals and things wouldn’t have been any different.

        1. Matt Williams

          hpierce, how many within DPD have any contact with the Vanguard/David… does it follow that therefore few ”judgments” have been reached about the Vanguard/David?

        2. South of Davis

          Matt wrote:

          > hpierce, how many within DPD have any contact with the Vanguard/David

          I don’t know all 87 people that work for the Davis Police Department and I’m sure that many of them have no idea who David Greenwald or Bob Aaronson is.

          I an going to guess that a higher percentage know what the Davis Vanguard does than know what the Aaronson Law Office does.

        3. Matt Williams

          SoD, do you really think that the people that work for the Davis Police Department don’t know what the Davis Independent Police Auditor does?

        4. South of Davis

          Matt wrote:

          > do you really think that the people that work for the

          > Davis Police Department don’t know what the Davis

          > Independent Police Auditor does?

          I am certain that out of the 87 people listed on the web site as working for the Davis Police Department that some people could not answer the question “What does Bob Aaronson do?  I also think that some people that work for the Davis Police Department could not answer the question “What does Nathan Trauernicht do?” or “What does Matt Williams do?”…

        5. Matt Williams

          Are you saying that they don’t know the name of the Davis Independent Police Auditor or they don’t know what the Davis Independent Police Auditor does?

          Given the fact that past Councils have created the substantial pay difference between the two branches of Public Safety, I suspect that virtually all the Police Department employees are very aware of who their Fire Department brethren are, and how much more Davis values the members of the Fire Department over the members of the Police Department. So I doubt your Trauernicht supposition is correct.

  4. Barack Palin

    how much more Davis values the members of the Fire Department over the members of the Police Department. 

    How much more Davis values the members of the firefighters or how much more some past councils that received firefighter donations and precinct work value them?

    I think the citizens of Davis value both departments equally.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    Reaction to David’s take on Police and Policing (& Politics)

    1. David didn’t include Dylan Noble of Fresno, or countless others who were non-black and shot. It would make his  analysis far different.

    2. I know 3 police officers off hand. None have ever fired their weapon on the job.

    3. I’ve heard reports that national police statistics reveal that black and brown officers are 3.5 times (350%) more likely to shoot black criminals / suspects. If so, this is a huge story … an untold story… and also may reveal the great restraint of white officers.

    4. David, can you please link to this study or story of alleged profiling in New Jersey? The study I am aware of shows that police officers ticket drivers at the rate at which they commit speeding violations, not at their representation in society.

    5. I’m no expert here, Phil Coleman is, but I’m told that domestic disturbances are the most problematic for police departments and have the highest chance of turning explosive. Maybe the incident with your child falls into this broad category, or the fact that there was a suspicion of a serious crime (which was false). Maybe this is why they sent 3 officers.

    6. This is an Election Year.

    7. Progressives don’t want to talk about security, terrorism, the Middle East (falling apart), Russia and China on the move, $9 Trillion in new debt, or a struggling economy with 2% growth over the past 7 years. They want the issues to be bathrooms, abortion, and race. African Americans maker up approximately 12% of the population, but roughly 25% of the Democratic vote, so they need to keep black voters ginned up.

    8. George Soros has contributed through various groups over $33 Million to Black Lives Matter. This is not the first time the socialists / Marxists have leaned on the black vote.

    9. After a 2-decade decrease in crime, murders are up 8% this past year.

    10. A  robber with an AK-47 was recently taken out by a patron with a concealed carry permit in Desoto (?) Texas. Hard to not wonder how many innocent lives could have been saved in Orlando and Nice if there were a few people with such permits.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “David didn’t include Dylan Noble of Fresno, or countless others who were non-black and shot. It would make his analysis far different.”

      What would be different in what I wrote had I included non-black and shot?

      “I know 3 police officers off hand. None have ever fired their weapon on the job.”

      I don’t think any of the Davis Police Officers have fired their weapon on the job. I can tell you didn’t read this article very closely because the PERF section I quoted said, “Most police officers never fire their guns”

      Here is the Seton Hall study: http://law.shu.edu/about/news.cfm?customel_datapageid_6255=465434 This came out in April, the study you are referring to is from 2002. Interestingly enough, that study came out despite the fact that police admitted racially profiling cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. – http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95406 It took me two seconds to google this, as you have said, Google is your friend.

  6. Tia Will

    Progressives don’t want to talk about security, terrorism, the Middle East (falling apart), Russia and China on the move, $9 Trillion in new debt, or a struggling economy with 2% growth over the past 7 years. They want the issues to be bathrooms, abortion, and race. “

    This is one of the most unsupportable comments that I have read recently on the Vanguard. The NYT  and NPR ( which I read regularly and listen to, and which some of you have dismissed as a “leftist propaganda” cover all of the issue that you have cited on a regular basis. The “progressive” issues of bathrooms and abortion are only issues because conservative controlled legislatures have spent great amounts of time passing laws that restrict individual health care rights and attempt to dictate such nonsense as where one can perform physiologic functions. No egregious laws coming from the right, and I guarantee that there would be no push back conversation coming from the left.

  7. Tia Will

    Progressives don’t want to talk about security, terrorism, the Middle East (falling apart), Russia and China on the move, $9 Trillion in new debt, or a struggling economy with 2% growth over the past 7 years. They want the issues to be bathrooms, abortion, and race. “

    This is one of the most unsupportable comments that I have read recently on the Vanguard. The NYT  and NPR ( which I read regularly and listen to, and which some of you have dismissed as a “leftist propaganda” cover all of the issue that you have cited on a regular basis. The “progressive” issues of bathrooms and abortion are only issues because conservative controlled legislatures have spent great amounts of time passing laws that restrict individual health care rights and attempt to dictate such nonsense as where one can perform physiologic functions. No egregious laws coming from the right, and I guarantee that there would be no push back conversation coming from the left.

  8. Miwok

    Since I do not know Sandy Holman, or what race she is, or anything else why I should care whether a stop by DPD for something mechanical is relevant, so I will ask another question (David is so thought provoking):

    As Chuck Wexler wrote in his forward, “Ultimately, this report is about the sanctity of all human life—the lives of police officers and the lives of the people they serve and protect. The preservation of life has always been at the heart of American policing. Refocusing on that core ideal has never been more important than it is right now.”

    Refocusing the “Core Ideal”: Preservation of Lives? You want to refocus that? To What?

    What I see with a large number of these incidents (arguably ignorant, because I do not seek to find all the stories), is that someone doing something illegal like Alton Sterling is being depicted as a hard working person with a job, wife, and family. When challenged for anything, he resists, as he thinks he has a RIGHT to violate the law, since he has been doing it all his life.

    Another example I see is the lack of Mental Health care and kids who may have been diagnosed, then dosed since a young age by psychotropic drugs, then expected to live normal lives with a family and independent living abilities, which they may be incapable of. Like schizophrenics, as soon as they feel good enough they stop taking drugs, then go off the rails.

    Is ANYONE studying this?

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