AND Nothing But The Truth

“What??” you say, recoiling.  Yes, but I would be out there asking questions.  I’m not sure if most of the protestors wanted to be asked questions.  More importantly, I have my doubts that most of them have asked many questions themselves.  It’s much easier to just go out and yell; scream; wave signs; and, in some cases, burn cars and loot businesses.

Here is the first question I would ask:  Why are you here?  Now, the temptation for most of the protestors would be to start telling me how unarmed Michael Brown lost his life to a police officer’s bullet and about the Garner case, etc.  But, I think it behooves all of them — and us — to answer the “why” questions starting with the word, “because” — something along the lines of “Because I am angry about the grand jury’s decision on the Brown case.”  That’s a start, but then the follow-up question would be, “What do you think should be done about it?”  Is that correct?  No, that should be the #3 follow-up question (I’ll get to follow-up question #2 a little later).

Recently, I was listening to some educated people discussing the situations in Ferguson, Missouri; in New York City; and, now, all over the place.  On this television show, these knowledgeable individuals (two of whom had never worn a police uniform)  spoke very matter-of-factly that there needs to be sweeping “change” and “reform” in our nations police departments.  Now, I have some questions for them:  what specifically should be reformed?  Changes in what?  Take away our guns?  Take away people and put robo-cops out there?  Eliminate grand juries? what do you mean by change and reform, exactly? I listened to the show for a half hour and never heard any specifics whatsoever.

Here in Miami, hundreds of protesters recently blocked a portion of I-95 and caused a massive traffic jam during rush hour (we already have massive traffic jams during this time, so this one was “ultramassive”).   You’ll notice that, in a previous column, I spoke about my experiences in the 1980 riots in Miami and how Ferguson wouldn’t be the last of them.  It won’t unless we do implement some sort of change, so I have some changes to propose.

We need to change what we are teaching our children in the classrooms and households of America, starting when they are old enough to read and write.  I don’t know about you, but I’m 56 and, when I went to elementary school, there was a huge emphasis on being good citizens (citizenship was also emphasized in the Boy Scouts back in the day).  What did that mean?  Well, it meant appreciating our country and helping to take card of it, starting with stuff which third graders can understand, like “Don’t litter!” But, to appreciate something, you have to understand it, don’t you?  So, my change and reform is focused on teaching children that they are citizens and like any give-and-take relationship, their obligation is  to give to the community by understanding it laws and respecting them.  When they get to be middle-schoolers, let’s start talking about the legal process.  Let’s explain to them that we have this wondrous document called the Constitution and that, when people say, “I know my rights,”  it is their duty as citizens to understand those rights.  Let’s teach them–starting in the sixth grade and not stopping until they graduate high school–that everyone in our country has equal protection under the law and that everyone gets this very cool thing called due process.  let’s make them understand and appreciate the 14th Amendment because that part of the Constitution is the most compassionate elements any government has ever created for its citizens.  We’ll teach them that part of this due process thing is states have grand juries.


We take you now to our roving reporter, Nancy Newscaster, , who is on-scene at I-95 in Miami where hundreds of protesters have gathered right in the middle of the expressway to protest the Brown and Garner decisions.  Nancy, can you hear us?

Nancy (with finger in one ear, looks around during that annoying five second delay, then smiles):  Yes, Ramesh, I can hear you! It’s quite a scene over here.  I’m going to talk to some of these protestors and see what’s going on! (She moves closer to a scowling woman carrying a sign which says, “Police=Legalized Murder”)

Nancy: Ma’am, can I ask you something, please? Why are you here?

Protestor:  Cuz, I’m angry! The Police are getting away with killing our young people! We’re tired of it!  We need change and uh…reeee….

Nancy: Um, you mean REFORM?

Protestor: Yeah.  And, we’re angry about them damned grand juries.  They don’t think a young man’s life is worth anything.  We need to get of these damned grand juries!

Nancy: Can you tell us exactly what a grand jury is and what they do?

(Congrats, Nancy, you nailed it! That’s follow-up question # 2!)

Protestor:  Umm…yeah.  They’re a bunch of racists who make sure minorities don’t get any justice!

 Nancy: Well, actually, I can tell you exactly what a grand jury is.  Can you get everyone to move to the side of the road a moment and I’ll explain?

(Here’s the fairyland part of this where the protestors actually move to the side and take a seat, intently listening to Nancy.)

Nancy:  You see, class (a projector screen appears out of nowhere, with a PowerPoint presentation which says, “Grand Juries for Protestors”), a grand jury is actually a layer of protection for the citizens. It’s a safeguard against corrupt or overzealous government, providing a step in due process which give the citizens themselves a chance to test the case for validity.  Grand juries make sure that cases are viable enough to go to trial, so that no one gets prosecuted maliciously for something substantial and lose their freedom or their life because of a prosecutor who wants to imprison them without having a solid case.  If we do away with grand juries for police officers, the 14th Amendment says we would have to do away with them for everyone-including you and your families.

Random protestors: Oh, wow, we didn’t really see it that way.  Gee, thanks, Nancy.  We’ll go home now.  (Protestors pick up their signs and place them in a nearby recycling bin and head off, apologizing to the motorists who are not able to head home.)

And, then,  I woke up!

2015 is shaping up to be full of surprises-I wish you much joy in the New Year.


You’re Not a Cop Until You Taste Them

The department was all astir; there was a lot of laughing and joking due to all the new officers, myself included, filling the streets today for the first time.  After months of seemingly endless amounts of classes, paperwork and lectures, we were finally done with the Police Academy and ready to join the ranks of our department.  All you could see were rows of cadets with huge smiles and polished badges.  As we sat in the briefing room, we could barely sit still anxiously awaiting our turn to be introduced and given our beat assignment, our own portion of the city to “serve and protect.”

It was then that he walked in. A statue of a man–6 foot 3 and 230 pounds of solid muscle; he had black hair with highlights of gray and steely eyes that made you feel nervous even when he wasn’t looking at you. He had a reputation for being the biggest and the smartest officer to ever work our fair city. He had been on the department for longer than anyone could remember and those years of service had made him into somewhat of a legend.

The new guys, or “rookies” as he called us, both respected and feared him. When he spoke, even the most seasoned officers paid attention. It was almost a privilege when the rookies got to be around when he would tell one of his police stories about the old days. But we knew our place and never interrupted for fear of being shooed away. He was respected and revered by all who knew him.

After my first year on the department I still had never heard or seen him speak to any of the rookies for any length of time. When he did speak to them all he would say was, “So you want to be a policeman, do you, hero? I’ll tell you what, when you can tell me what they taste like, then you can call yourself a real policeman.”

This particular phrase I had heard dozens of times. My buddies and I all had bets about “what they taste like” actually referred to. Some believed it referred to the taste of your own blood after a hard fight. Others thought it referred to the taste of sweat after a long day’s work. Being on the department for a year, I thought I knew just about everyone and everything.

So one afternoon, I mustered up the courage and walked up to him. when he looked down at me, I said, “You know, I think I’ve paid my dues. I’ve been in plenty of fights, made dozens of arrests, and sweated my butt off just like everyone else. So what does that little saying of yours mean anyway?” With that, he merely stated, “Well, seeing as how you’ve said and done it all, you tell me what it means, hero.” When I had no answer, he shook his head and snickered, “Rookies,” and walked away.

The next evening was to be the worst one to date. The night started out slow, but as the evening wore on, the calls became more frequent and dangerous. I made several small arrests ad then had a real knock down, drag out fight. However, I was able to make the arrest without hurting the suspect or myself. After that, I was looking forward to letting the shift wind down and getting home to my wife and daughter.

I glanced at my watch and it was 11:55, five more minutes and I would be on my way home. I don’t know if it was fatigue or just my imagination, but as I drove down one of the streets on my beat, I thought I saw my daughter standing on someone else’s porch. I looked again but it was not my daughter as I had first thought but merely a child about her age. She was probably only six or seven years old and dressed in an oversized shirt that hung to her feet. She was clutching a rag doll in her arms that looked older than me.

I immediately stopped my squad car to see what she was doing outside her house at such an hour by herself. When I approached, there seemed to be a sigh of relief on her face. I had to laugh at myself, thinking she sees the hero policeman coming to save the day I knelt at her side and asked what she was doing outside. She said, “My mommy and daddy just had a really big fight and now mommy won’t wake up.” My mind was reeling. Now what do I do? I instantly called for backup and ran to the nearest window. As I looked inside, I saw a man standing over a lady with his hands covered in blood, her blood. I kicked open the door, pushed the man aside and checked for a pulse, but was unable to find one. I immediately cuffed the man and began doing CPR on the lady.

It was then I heard a small voice from behind me, “Mr. Policeman, please make my mommy wake up.” I continued to perform CPR until my backup and medics arrived but they said it was to late. She was dead.

I then looked at the man. He said, “I don’t know what happened. She was yelling at me to stop drinking and go get a job and I had just had enough. I just shoved her so she would leave me alone and she fell and hit her head.” As I walked the man out to the car in handcuffs, I again saw that little girl. In the five minutes that has passed, I went from hero to monster. Not only was I unable to wake up her mommy, but now I was taking daddy away too. Before I left the scene, I thought I would talk to the little girl. To say that, I don’t know. Maybe just to tell her I was sorry about her mommy and daddy. But as I approached, she turned away and I knew it was useless and I would probably make it worse.

As I sat in the locker room at the station, I kept replaying the whole thing in my mind. Maybe if I would have been faster or done something different, just maybe that little girl would still have her mother. And even though it may sound selfish, I would still be the hero.

It was then that I felt a large hand on my shoulder. I heard that all to familiar question again, “Well, hero, what do they taste like?” But before I could get mad or shout some sarcastic remark, I realized that all the pentup emotions had flooded the surface and there was a steady stream of tears cascading down my face. It was at that moment that I realized what the answer to his question was. Tears.

With that, he began to walk away, but he stopped. “You know, there was nothing you could have done differently,” he said. “Sometimes you can do everything right and still the outcome is the same.”

“We work for God.”–(A highly respected veteran LAW and ORDER author)

Is America ready for the true cost of police reform? by Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed. D.

Some people calling for changes in policing probably do have a handle on the answers to those questions, but I contend that many do not.

Protesters across the country have been shouting for “police reform.”  But do they really know what truly reforming American law enforcement would entail–what it would cost?  Do they know what they themselves would first need to bring to the table?  Some people calling for changes in policing probably have a handle on the answers to those questions, but I contend that many do not.  Here are six things that politicians and protesters need to know about what they’d need to do to enable the changes they want in law enforcement:

1.  Bring us at least 25 percent increase in personnel.  If you demand more training, we’ll agree.  Just remember that for every hour a cop is in a training environment that’s one less officer responding to calls.  Either add some badges, or explain to the public why they’ll have to wait for a patrol car to show up.

2.  Bring us holistic support for our minds and bodies.  The realities of police stress are well documented.  Cumulative stress — especially with poor community support — will show up in all the wrong places.  Keep us strong.  That means professional, sustainable mental health initiatives.  Don’t make us wait for a crisis to see the chaplain or counselor.

3.  Bring us education for the public.  Everybody seems to know their rights and not their obligations.  The law requires compliance with a lawful command.  That’s the very un-mysterious resolution to the vast majority of police use-of-force encounters.

4.  Bring us minority applicants that you want to be your police officers.  We would love to have a department that represents our community.  Work with the children in your community — when they are young — to ensure that when they reach the age at which they may apply to become officers, they meet the criteria the profession demands (no criminal history, for example).  One big way to start is by respecting the profession.  It might rub off on somebody who could step up and be a great police officer.

5.  Bring us dignity as victims of violence.  Every justified use of force begins as an offense against the officer, whether resisting or assault.  Stop dropping charges where police are crime victims.  Stop writing checks to every arrestee who says “boo!” Let us sue bad guys.  Give us police leaders and prosecutors who know that a crime against the police is a crime against everyone’s peace and dignity.  We really do carry the badge on your behalf.

6.  Bring it from downtown, not DC.  Policing in a democratic society must be under scrutiny. But let’s do this examination together.  And Let’s do it locally whenever possible.  Washington DC has plenty to do without meddling in the most important function of local government.  We want to server better, not cater to a voting block or approval ratings.

About the author:  Joel Shults operates Street Smart Training and is the founder of the National Center for Police Advocacy. He is retired as Chief of Police for Adams State University in Colorado.

Opening Gallery Now Available

The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department is pleased to announce the addition of the Opening Gallery which highlights events throughout its Opening Day Ceremony on March 1, 2014. It is located under the “About the Department” main menu link and here.

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