Minneapolis is on fire while I write, as rioters take to the street and destroy property in the name of justice. I am a 27 year veteran of policing, having served as a State Patrol officer in Missouri. I am not an experienced municipal officer, but have enjoyed the company of officers from an excellent municipal department while commanding a Highway Patrol zone in Kansas City. I write without the results of the many investigations that are currently going on as a result of the death of one Mr. George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis. The optics in this case are appalling, however, there is still much to be learned. Prudent observers will wait for the facts, but the folks who are burning down our cities are not prudent observers.
The noble profession of policing has at it’s core, a certain commonality. Understanding the law, certain techniques, the mastery of modern technology and the pursuit of the common goal of peace and tranquility come to mind. Another desirable trait is the understanding of human behavior, street level sociology and psychology. When presented with the opportunity, peace officers resolve an astonishing number of conflicts with verbiage. This being said, the fork in the road for this profession is somewhere near the city limits of a major municipal community and the wide open spaces of rural America. Let me explain.
I recall riding with an experienced Kansas City police officer in the days before the advent of verbal judo and community oriented policing. This officer was extremely competent, quick thinking and street wise. This assignment was during a period of unrest in KC. We patrolled a section of the city that was less, shall we say, affluent than other parts of town. As we met motorists, I would offer a wave to them if we happened to make eye contact. The officer noticed my gesture and suggested that my waving was viewed as a sign of weakness in this community. So much for my habit of waving casually at motorists on the country roads in my rural patrol zone! When we answered a call, two cars responded, one to handle the call, the second one to watch the first car while the officer responded. In the county where I normally worked, one issue, one officer. Period. Diplomacy was what you reached for first. The afore mentioned fork in the road is real, folks, you can bet on it. The differences between rural policing and municipal policing are actually much deeper than this story would indicate. There is much rage in the cities and policing is not easy there.
Okay. While I am in no way condoning the actions of the officer implicated in Mr. Floyd’s death, I am issuing another plea for sanity. The officer has been introduced to the complicated criminal justice system as a defendant. This system presumes innocence until proven otherwise and burning down our country is not going to result in anything other than further divide, hostility and empowerment to those who see this as an opportunity to vent through property destruction and media scrutiny. Our outrage is based on the narrow optic of the camera catching a police officer using a technique not taught anywhere that I know of, and the death of the arrestee. Ugly……but that is not all there is to this story. Let’s save the condemnation for the whole story…….and not burn down our country in the meantime. The officer in the photo is alleged to be a rogue cop, and the camera is damning, but alleged means nothing until the verdict is in.
In summary, I was blessed. I worked in an environment where policing was respected and the officer’s I served with on every level could rely on diplomacy and reason to solve a vast majority of the problems we encountered. It could be violent, dangerous and we certainly dealt with our share of miscreants who ranged from sociopathic to tranquil, but we could also wave at a motorist we met, the same motorist who might be next to us at a charitable event that night. I was also privileged to work among the professionals in Kansas City, a lesson than I will not forget.
Remember the fork in the road.
Have a great weekend!