Welcome to our new twice-monthly column by a veteran police officer from a Southeastern Michigan department. His identity will be revealed after he retires in the next few years. Deadline Detroit doesn't usually publish anonymous work, but the insights of a cop on the job and the public understanding it can foster outweigh our usual policy.
In these columns, The Anonymous Cop will field your questions and provide perspective on police issues receiving attention locally and around the country. If you have a policing question, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By The Anonymous Cop
They knew who he was.
I’m not a journalist or even a writer, but I’m told the above sentence is an example of “not burying the lead” – I’d call it getting right to the point.
That’s one thing cops generally do well. We’re straightforward. We get to the relevant facts. If we’re breaking tragic news to families and loved ones, we try to be polite and direct. I’ve found that people appreciate it. But we’re not worried about everyone’s feelings in our workplace communication.
So let me start this new series of writings where I hope to enlighten all of us – yes, the officers and policymakers among Deadline Detroit’s readers -- about police work with a simple analysis about the Kenosha police shooting: it shouldn’t have happened.
Plenty of officer-involved shootings prevent further violence. If someone, including the officer is in imminent danger, pulling the trigger and shooting enough times to stop the suspect from doing what they are doing is fully warranted, even encouraged.
(Just as an aside, people don’t stop their actions upon getting shot once like in the movies. Nothing is like it is in the movies, I’ll address this in a later column.)
In those cases, maybe the suspect has already wounded or killed someone. Maybe the setting is a neighborhood with innocent bystanders at risk. Maybe the bad guy – and it usually is a guy -- is getting in a car and could cause further injury or destruction.
But that wasn’t the case in Kenosha.
The original call to 911 came in from a woman who reported her ex-boyfriend was in a place he wasn’t supposed to be. Police arrived, and it’s worth noting how little experience they all had. The “veteran” had seven years on, which in a lot of departments still puts him under 30 years of age. No one was reported injured at the scene or had been threatened with a weapon.
Sure, the “first problem” was the guy not obeying police commands.
But is “contempt of cop” worth someone’s life? Not in my career.
“Contempt of cop,” by the way, is an unofficial term that describes when someone doesn’t do what we say and thus they are contemptuous of our authority. Sometimes this causes officers to lose their composure.
A simple example you may have seen is when we are trying to direct traffic and drivers ignore us and drive through an intersection or onto a closed street. Again, I’ll go into that more in a future column.
As I watched the recent Kenosha video and read the reports as they followed the video release, all I could think was “You knew who he was. Write a report. Get a warrant.”
Before all the details came out, I wondered if there had been activity prior to the cell phone video that would justify the officers’ actions. I had thought maybe the officers thought they were protecting the guy’s kids that were in the car.
I looked for details that would include he had violently assaulted the “complainant” before she called. For all the information that’s available his actions may have warranted an arrest for a misdemeanor here in Michigan, no felony crime occurred.
Jacob Blake was guilty of “contempt of cop.” He ignored the officers’ commands, and the officers felt compelled to make him obey.
They couldn’t get that thought cycle out of their heads. They didn’t have the experience to get that thought cycle out of their heads, or they were never taught to get that thought cycle out of their heads.
And given that no one was in imminent danger and they knew who he was, those officers should have backed away.
They knew who he was -- or at least the call complainant did -- and the officers could have found out through her. They could have then written a report, sought a warrant for his arrest and taken him into custody later.
No one was injured or in immediate threat of injury. Had Blake gotten 10 feet further ahead of the officers, climbed into his truck and driven off, the officers would not have chased him, at least under most department’s current policies.
They would not have tried to ram him off the road. They would not have shot into his truck. They would have let him go and written a report.
If an officer thinks “It’s my way or else,” sometimes the cost of “or else” is more than society is willing to pay.