05.02.15 Put police on probation

Baltimore has demonstrated that a white political and police establishment is not required for police to devalue black men’s lives. In a city with a black mayor, black police chief, and a significant number of black officers, Freddie Gray was still considered nothing more than trash – arrested without cause and killed for nothing more than sadistic pleasure. The problem in this country is not black culture, urban culture, or ghetto culture. The problem is police culture.

While we can rejoice at the indictment of the six Baltimore officers who killed Gray, we are only a couple of months past having a video of Eric Garner’s being choked to death by NY cops not being sufficient to result in an indictment. Piecemeal responses to individual cases of racism and abuse by American police departments are net enough. There won’t be enough videos of abuse to shame bad cops into good behavior. The time has come for concerted national action, including removing sullied DAs and police departments from the first line of investigating abuse and deciding whether to prosecute.

Who knew (I didn’t!) that right here in Maryland we have a “law enforcement officer bill of rights,”  that provides enormous protection to bad cops? While the rest of us have to settle for the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, somehow jurisdictions across the country have decided that being a cop requires extraordinary protection for acts of injustice, no matter how violent and outrageous. Every single one of these misguided laws needs to be repealed or overturned.

I say it’s time to put every single police chief and police officer – coast to coast – on probation. Give all of them 90 days to take training that includes nonviolent techniques, anti-racism, and community building. At the end of 90 days, test them. A written test is a place to start, but more is required. There should be random testing of cops on the beat, by setting them up in contrived situations to gauge their reactions, including comparisons of how they treat white suspects vs. those of color. Let independent committees (comprised of community, judicial, and political leaders) judge the results. And, fire the failures.

Law-and-order types have advocated zero-tolerance policing for years. Now, let’s turn the tables and kick out the bad apples after a single instance of racism or unprovoked violence.

©2015 Keith Berner

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4 Comments on “05.02.15 Put police on probation”

  1. Woody Brosnan Says:

    Keith I understand your anger but you go way too far. It is just as wrong to indict all police and thus police culture because of a the actions of a few as it would be to indict black culture because of Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice or all of white culture because some whites are racists. In working with Safe Silver Spring I have met many fine Montgomery County police officers. I suspect you don’t know that during their training they go to a state mental health hospital to learn how to deal with the mentally ill during incidents. I do agree on the need for better training and oversight, but I don’t agree with putting all police on probation, any more than I favor those right-wing idiots who want to drug test welfare recipients. The police are still entitled to what the six in Baltimore forgot, people are innocent until proven guilty.

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    • Keith Berner Says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Woody. I’ll admit to going too far from time to time, in order to make a point, but I will not admit to going *way* too far. Of course, not all cops are bad. I’d love to hear of an approach that somehow “pre-vets” officers to exempt the good guys from being put on probation. But who is going to make that judgment? That’s the key. In far too many places in the US, police are only judged by their own (or DAs who are in cahoots with them). Also, “innocent until proven guilty” ought to be the law of the land, but police themselves are ignoring that principle as they arrest without cause, use violence without justification, and kill without remorse, often (if not usually) for the “crime” of being something other than white. Sure, police should be treated justly, but it is on them to first of all treat the people justly. Until there is something close to a balance here, I will be less than fully sympathetic to calls like yours for giving the police the benefit of the doubt.

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  2. Shirley Henderson Says:

    Lefty, I once attended a recertification test required for all Mo Co division fire chiefs and it was amazing to watch. Won’t go into much detail but you can observe at the G’burg training center. Yes they did the put-out-the-fire thing but the best part was the interactive film where the chiefs had to react under extremely-difficult-life-related-situations using avatars. The instructors were adding in difficult, distracting situations from their stations. Alas my chief failed but would have two more times to pass or pass out. Does the MoCo Police Dept and others have anything as rigorous and objective as this (not counting target practice, etc)? Having something like this as a part of police training might be better than using taxpayer funds for military equipment. If you haven’t seen the testing center using this type of simulation (not the fire thing) you might find it interesting. Love your work. SSH

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